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Suppress or Express

A woman laughing against a floral backdrop

Suppress or Express

“Big boys/girls don’t cry.”
“Don’t hit.”
“Don’t shout.”
“Don’t be angry.”

Our society has long advocated for emotional “control.” From childhood, we are bombarded with instructions to sanction our outward emotional responses. So, what’s a body to do with its bottled-up, powerful emotions all the time? Explode?

More or less.

Actually, it’s less like “explode” and more like “implode” or “collapse” inward. If you can’t release emotions outwardly and freely, they will be released inward instead. Eventually, the body will “implode” in the form of a headache, back pain, knee pain, stomach pain, or another kind of pain.

Pain is an excess of energy in one place – it’s congestion that can come from the power of suppressed emotions. Suppressing emotional responses imposes a variation of psychic trauma that cultivates a sense of isolation. How sad for society and our health.

Even if you lock your negative feelings tightly in your conscious mind to conceal them from the outside world, you can’t hide them from your subconscious mind. And, your subconscious mind runs your body – protecting you and preparing you to defend yourself. As far as your subconscious mind is concerned, bottled-up emotions are the same as being under attack; it keeps all systems combat-ready to protect against threats. As a result, your feelings will be expressed whether you participate voluntarily or involuntarily.

But, you may not recognize the expression for what it is. Emotions put stress on your body, and they cause changes in the way your body is functioning. Your body shifts into risk homeostasis. Intense emotions cause more intense changes than minor emotions. And suppressed strong emotions, such as grief and rage, keep your physiology from moving back into maintenance homeostasis – you can become “stuck.”

Now don’t infer that we are advocating or condoning wanton behavioral abandon, anarchy, spousal or child abuse, or a total disregard for law and civilized societal customs in the name of “expressed emotions.” No!
So, how do we express our emotions without causing harm?

Anger and frustration don’t have to be expressed immediately. You can wait until after work or another appropriate time. Just make sure you deal with anger, frustration, irritation, and other negative emotions before you go to sleep. Strong feelings require specific physiological responses. If you go to sleep while your body is responding to negative emotions, the pattern of physiological response becomes locked into your subconscious.

So, what do you do to deal with the emotion? First, recognize what’s happening. Negative emotions prime you for a fight. They spark the production of adrenalin. You need to curb adrenalin production before you go to sleep. And you can do this by adjusting your thinking. Find some element of good in the situation that caused the emotion. Examine the situation and find something that you learned from that situation that can benefit you. If you aren’t accustomed to looking at life this way, it may take some doing at first.

But, with practice, you’ll learn.

You’ll learn to recognize negative thoughts and feelings. Then, use your free will to take charge and change your line of thinking.

The practical step when a negative thought pops into the mind is to think: “Cancel that thought!” So, for example, instead of responding to a rude receptionist with verbal or mental comments denigrating her parentage, recognize that (1) she has a job to do, and (2) she faces her own ill-handled pressures and stresses. It is her problem, not yours. For you, it’s a challenge. In the process, you can change your feelings from anger (which harms only you) to non-judgmental acceptance (which helps you and might help someone else).

Exercise helps by venting emotions externally and using residual adrenalin. Physical exercise is an excellent way to “burn off” adrenalin that surges during emotional conflicts. Adrenalin is an irresistible stimulus. If you can’t “fight back” or run during an adrenalin-generating confrontation, you must consciously suppress the natural physical response expressions. At the time, gritting your teeth or clenching your fists is about as far as you can go. Then at an appropriate time and place, you can satisfy the need for “adrenalin expression” with physical exercise.

Laughter is a great adrenalin release. That’s why we sometimes laugh at “inappropriate” times. Funerals. Disasters. Crises. The laughter release is used frequently in tense situations. “Comic relief” in the middle of a super-serious situation often tempers overwhelming tension.

If you suppress the release of intense emotions for weeks or months, you’re asking for trouble. If you must suppress your emotions, you and your body fare much better in life when you suppress them just long enough to be socially acceptable; then do something that allows for health-restoring release.