The Fine Line Between Containing Emotion and Stoicism

There are times when we need to contain our emotions. We learn the art of this growing up; from our parents when we were given the space to be frustrated in the moments of not getting something we wanted, from our teachers when we quickly realized that we were “sharing” them with 28 other children, from society in general. The ability to contain is what helps us get through difficult times – we inherently know we can’t be a complete mess around our co-workers and family members, even though we may feel like it. It is then, in our moments of alone time, that the tears come and we can release what has built up in our effort to get through a challenging day.

But what is the difference between containing emotion and being stoic? I have worked with many clients whom I would categorize as being fairly stoic in their emotions. It is almost like a tightness, a guardedness; not only are they containing emotions from others, they are also containing them from themselves. I had one client describe it as “Express emotion? In our house, it felt like I wasn’t even allowed to experience it.”

When we move from containment to stoicism, it has most likely been taught to us. Very often, it is homes in which we were taught or shown by example that emotions were meant to be private, at all costs.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Although it will initially feel like a violation to your system, it first starts with giving yourself permission to explore. First by going backwards and spending some time looking at how emotions were expressed in your family, and then by looking at how you can move yourself towards feeling a little looser in the emotions department. This will begin the process of giving yourself the freedom of the natural ebb and flow of emotion.

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