Emotion Suppression: Effects on Mental and Physical Health

anger faceSometimes when we experience a trauma such as a car accident, witnessing violence or abuse, our minds protect ourselves by shutting off our emotions. The same way our pain receptors shut off to manage intense pain, our mind suppresses strong, negative emotions during times of crises to protect our well-being.

However, suppressing your emotions consciously and deliberately in times when there is no trauma (e.g. death of a family member, loss of a job, argument with a spouse, anxiety for a test, etc.) can lead to damaging effects on your mind and body. Emotion suppression, which essentially is an avoidance of emotion, is a coping strategy that many people employ mistakenly thinking it is healthy or the right thing to do.

Common signs that you use emotion suppression as a coping strategy include

* distracting yourself as a way to keep yourself from reacting

* avoiding talking about the situation because you don’t want to feel negative emotion

* avoiding places, people or objects that remind you of the negative emotions you don’t want to feel

* using substances (such as alcohol or other illicit drugs) to numb the pain

Many cultures, including South Asian culture, believe that emotion suppression is a particularly masculine quality and that emotion expression qualifies you as weak. Unfortunately, no matter how highly it is valued, avoiding your emotions never makes them go away and makes it more difficult for you to manage a similar situation were it to happen in the future.

Research has shown that suppressing or avoiding your emotions in fact can make them stronger. For example, if you are sad because a family member passed away but want to avoid feeling the sadness, you may watch happy movies, try to keep your day as normal as possible and may even talk to friends as if nothing happened. However, the sadness is still present in your mind and a small hiccup in the day may cause you to seemingly overreact to the situation. Even if the object of your emotion is different, this is your body’s way of releasing the pent up emotions. Just as emotion suppression is your body’s way of -protecting you during a trauma, emotion release in a non-traumatic situation is your body’s way of protecting itself from further damage.

Effects of consistent emotion suppression include increased physical stress on your body, including high blood pressure, increased incidence of diabetes and heart disease. In addition, people who engage in emotion suppression regularly rare more likely to experience stiff joints, bone weakness and more illnesses due to lowered immunity.

Research has also shown a connection between avoiding emotions and poor memory as well as more misunderstandings in conversations with others. This is because people who regularly suppress emotion are often less aware of the signals they are sending to others and also less aware of the social cues present in daily conversation. In addition, when one or both partners engage in regular emotion suppression, communication skills often decline resulting in unhealthy relationship patterns and decreased satisfaction in the marriage.

Finally, men and women who avoid emotions, especially negative ones, are more likely to experience high anxiety and depression in their lifetime.

While emotion expression is not always socially appropriate (e.g. you may not be able to burst into tears if in a job interview if you get negative feedback), the importance is to be able to find a time soon after the situation to express your emotions in a healthy manner.

For tips and guidance on how to best manage your emotions, please contact a local mental health professional for a consultation.

How do you manage your emotions? Please leave your ideas below.

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  1. i bottle my emotions ever since i was young and at the age of 21 im starting to see the effects of bottling your emotions. its really frustrating at times especially when it comes to sex. the anxiety just overcomes you and puts you in a bad spot. ever heard of performance anxiety? well, bottling your emotions makes that more of a problem then ever. I cant ever do what i want because of this anxiety and really is starting to piss me off. im writing this comment in hopes that men and women can avoid shruging off their emotions like they are nothing, a habit that is viewed highly in society. That will affect you later in life.
    Excuse my grammer english isnt my first language.

  2. I seem to turn off my emotions and blank out I dont worry about much I dont cry I dont let things bother me never have and dont think I ever will .Is there something wrong with blanking out or is that what they call serpressing emotions .I have been told it is bad for my health but I have never been sick nor am I on any medications and I am 63 going on 64 .Am I normal what ever that is ?

  3. i’m suffering from anxiety disorder nd depression.i was unable to form and maintain relationships with people,unable to form bonds.i wanted to but cud not.i cud not understand others’ emotions and also had a tough time understanding mine.i had no social or to be precise no emotional life.it is not that i was emotionless but cud never understand them.this unexprssed emotional build up throughout my childhood slowly and steadily formed an anxiety disorder and depression.i wanted an answer and doubted that i wasn’t leading an emotionally healthy life.after reading this piece of info i’m sure it was a case of emotional suppression.as i was reading i could actually recall that yes this is what was happening.i unconsciously avoided my emotions cause of some irrational fears,and then slowly started avoiding people nd social events as well.

    Now that after so much suffering, having realized the problem i hope now i can correct it,be more accepting to my emotions and release them and be free and happy.

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  6. more often, im having emotional suppression and try to escape the reality by listening to negative thoughts or social problems that i engaged into. evenhtough im reading some articles about this issues and even coolecting advicers from manyu friends, i still can not able to cope up with and cant express my emmotions against my father. me and my dad dont have a good relationship since childhood. He is alcoholic, smoking, a high school graduate and dont even like to accept defeats, suggestions, and comments. If u wished to argue to him, he burst-out and gone wild like breaking al the figurines inside our house and it made me scared fron then on. I cant express my emotions towards him because im scared. i used to elude or make excuses not to communicate with him due to my wrath and anger to him. What shall i do?

  7. i’m not like many people i live by bearing my burdens and stresses alone. i NEVER tell anyone when I am feeling down. I have been suppressing my emotions and at times i feel my Anger on the verge of exploding into extreme rage. i do my best to bat back this rage, and frustration I’ve held for years. If I explode in Rage i’ll hurt many peoples feelings. i still feel angry at my father.

  8. Hi Mark! My father is somewhat similar to yours, at least he has some common personality traits. And I used to avoid communicating with him, just like you. I found myself waiting for him to take the initiative, before understood that if a change was going to happen, I had to make it happen. So I started making these walks with him. And I focused really hard on avoiding putting blame. I only told him what I felt, in situations that had occured from childhood unitl now, basically what was on my heart.
    I wanted to avoid agitating him, and at the same time teaching myself and him to express emotions in a good way. We are still in this process and it has been really hard. But I think i can see some change in the positive direction.

  9. I need help with a situation. I’ve been bottling up emotions for the past. It’s about an awkward situation with a “friend” whom I talk with outside of school but in school choose to ignore each other. We treat each other almost like ghosts with a occasional yet awkward meetings of the eyes which we both then turn away from one another. I want to talk to him about it but I’m not sure how he will to take it or how to even present the situation from my point of view. Any advice would be much appreciated.

  10. Im 17 and for as long as I can remember I have just not felt any emotions accept anger and sadness i dont want pity I just wanna know what is going on and if anyone else out there is like me … I also have problems relating to people just in general because I dont feel happy or interested in anything ever

  11. Addition- I haven’t ever had any big trauma accept when my grandma died (we were extremely close) but even when she passed I didn’t feel a thing

  12. I feel anxious. I feel like ill collapse sooon if i dont anything about it.
    i keep thinking and i find it hard to concentrate on simple day to day things.
    its increasing day by day.

    I have an exam comming up in december. I am a very determined human being but this time i just feel lost and anxious 🙁

  13. Controlling emotions was a usual practice for me from my childhood.my father was a too stub on kind of person and had always suppressed me through out my life.I was so sick mentally that I wanted my partner to be a simple and lovable girl.but I got a wife who have a disorder.she is more violent than father it seems and shouts and make violent actions in public for very silly reasons not only with me but with anyone.so the state is like there’s nobody to discuss and I have keep silent.this is happening to me for many years. I think the only way out is to become a saint and meditate for the rest of my life.

  14. I suppress them

  15. Society has empirically depended on young men to things shit done. This means you want men who are strong; they are willing to get the job done at any cost. Emotions are seen as distractions. How can a man do his work if he is focused on “petty” things like emotions? Emotions are also mechanics of empathy. When a man cries, it implies he is lacking of self-sufficiency. He is therefore viewed as weak and disgraceful. After years of society propagating this mentality, we, as men, are taught to be cold and unfeeling. “Hide whatever you’re feeling, we need you for a job.” Despite that, we’re still humans. We need to feel. That said, I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable for men to express emotion in public, but in confidence amongst trusted friends and family, it’s almost a necessity.

    Displays of Emotion

  16. @Hari,

    I think you are taking risk. in my opinion, you should not live with your wife anymore if she affect your mental health negatively.

  17. My entire life all I’ve ever done is bottle up emotions. It either isn’t the right time for me to feel it, I’m afraid to feel it, or I just dont want too. My whole life my mother has also been on drugs, or drinking I’ve had to take care of my siblings at a young age and over all grow up way too quickly. I have this constant anxiety of never being accepted and I’m never enough. All in all I’ve been to therapists. Ive done the programs. Nothing will work if you won’t open yourself to the idea of getting better. Its always been “you’re being dramatic” “quit doing that” I’m not allowed to be anything but happy for the people around me and if I do I’m wrong… What kind of life is that…. None. No life. So please if you’re reading this and you’re guilty of suppressing feelings… Its ok to be not ok sometimes… Just open yourself up.

  18. I m doing research on emotions.This is very valuable article for me.This is really very interesting.I need more information and please put the proper references of the article.thanks

  19. I’ve never been able to make my own choice for my own future without my mother somehow countering or contradicting my choice.She often compares me with my siblings and never gives me an opportunity to explain to and tell her my thoughts and feelings.Even when I get to say something,she cuts in the middle of my sentence.We had a fight recently because I wanted to attend Vocational colleges since I really couldn’t study in Science division (I’m not sure the correct word for it,English isn’t my first language) and even after doing so much research and telling her all the pros and cons word by word,she went on the Internet and found less than 5 negative comments from people about vocational colleges and believed those comments wholeheartedly.What really got me upset was when she told me not to believe things you read about on the net,even right after she did that.This just adds to all my pent up anger towards everyone who’s doubted my decisions and I just couldn’t keep the anger buried far in the back of my mind…This wasn’t the first time she told me to “forget about it”,but it got me very frustrated and angry…I’ve been keeping these emotions away for almost 10 years and am now 16…from the start,the emotions have caused me to be unable to have a normal social life and unable to make many good choices,but I’m sure the most recent choice is the best.

    • My mum does that too, it’s the most irritating thing in the world. She has talked me out of pretty much every career choice I’ve wanted to do. Florist, photographer, nurse, social worker and mental health nurse. It really pisses me off sometimes but I feel like I can’t say anything ’cause that will only make it worse, if you find a solution please tell me even though your comment was written a year ago

  20. I think we all intentionally or unintentionally suppress our emotions. To an extent it is okay but the real trouble starts when we make it a habit. Person tends to lost his/her confidence and become cold from inside. It is a very sad but dangerous state of mind where you are left with no feelings.

  21. Darshika Upadhyay

    I loved a boy since my childhood but i was unable to express my feelings to him.I expressed my feelings to him when i came in contact with him last year after a long time then i came to know that he is getting married since then i was in depression .Pls suggest me how to overcome this

  22. who wrote this? I am using this for a research paper. I need to know ASAP

  23. What about the people who dont want others to know their pain? People aren’t exactly easy to trust nowadays and run at the first sign of trouble. I have been hospitalized for suicidal tendencies and lashing out. But now, I dont tell anyone I’m hurting or upset or anything like that. Its pointless. No one else really cares about your problems. Best to just keep them to yourself

  24. I’m 15 years old, when I was younge living with my father and mother before they divorced I wasn’t allowed to show emotion or I would be punished, so I was sorta forced to suppress my emotions. As I was growing up more stuff was going parent problems, girls, fights, etc I continued to suppress my emotions and eventually tried to end my own life. My mother put me through counseling and what not but I would not talk about how I felt, I didn’t want to look weak. The point is now I can’t do social things. I’m too afraid to make friends because I know they will eventually be torn from me one way or another. I’m too scared to start conversations with people and I lost the one girl that matters most because I am too afraid to talk all because I hide my emotions constantly. If anyone is reading this please don’t be afraid to suppress your emotions. It might make you look strong but your really just fucking up your life like I might have if I don’t find a way to fix myself.

  25. Ive been bottling up my emotions since i was young, im now 19 and my life is getting out of hand. Depression is taking over my life and i lost my ability to cry. I was afraid that suppressing emotions may destroy my body from the inside so i looked up and found this article. Now im little bit scared because ive had some physical pain in my heart/stomach/joints and im worried that this might be a reason for all of this.

  26. I am 20 years old and i have been suppressing my emotions since i was very young though i do not know exactly when. it has often affected my life preventing me from making friends or even bonding with my family who probably not understand think im just weird or just the silent tipe in reality its because i just don’t know what to say or do has anyone figured out a way to fix this and if so how!

  27. I’ve been suppressing my own emotions for quite a while (I did this via constant exposure to emotions so I would be, in a sense, numb to emotion, the expression of emotion, and the effects of emotion). It was fairly easy, since I’ve never experienced my emotions strongly in the first place, but I have recently found out the negative effects this can have on my health, so I have stopped consciously blocking them. However, my subconscious seems to have gotten used to the suppression, so I can’t feel very much when assessing a situation and how I feel about it. It is so difficult for me to open myself up to people and talk about this sort of thing in person due to some trust issues that started developing somewhere in elementary school. Any advice?

  28. I’m 17 years old I surppress my emotions and have been for a long time. When I was little I was told to not to get into fights. So I tried to suppress my anger so I wouldn’t act out from my anger. But then later in the future I was in the 1st grade one of my family members had passed and I wasn’t sad. But I think I was having a problem understanding what was going on. Then in the 5th grade I started to keep to myself and being quite most of the time. Then a year later I just stayed from people at the playground at school. I then picked up coloring and sketching but hardly did it. In 10th grade another one of my family members passed. I did not cry. I don’t know what to do when something emotional happens. So I just shut off my emotions. Like building a wall to keep out the feelings. I don’t tell anyone about my problems. I just say school was fine. Or if someone saids to me how are you I say I’m fine. I don’t know if I need help or how long I will be like this. But I don’t care/worried about it.

  29. Hi, I have a question. How do you really know if you’re bottling your emotions? I’m asking because I’m kind of introverted, I don’t like being overly social and constantly keep my thoughts to myself even when I’m around my friends or family. Also, when my parents complain about something I’ve done, criticise me or someone says something I don’t like I always put up an emotional barrier, try and keep a straight face and say nothing until it’s over. I hardly talk about my feelings – not counting little brief, one minute talk that involves my emotions – and it is emotionally tiring. Although I’m not sure if that counts bottling up your emotions, does it? And if so how can I stop this from continuing?

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