Why Do We Suppress Our Feelings?

I often speak about our emotional system and how it is wired to work for us. With every experience we go through, there is a feeling attached to it. And so why the tendency to suppress? Why do we push them down, set them aside, ignore them completely? Suppressing our feelings catches up to us at some point – by way of a build up – or perhaps we will experience them physically, with pains in our tummies and tightness in our chest.

For those who would say that they generally suppress their emotions, it has most likely come from childhood emotional neglect. We can’t come to understand our emotions or sense validation for feeling something, if we didn’t have a parent that was attuned to our emotional needs. Very often, clients will remark that they “went to no one” when they were upset, or have memories of being dismissed or chastised for their outward display of emotion. Lesson learned? “It is safer to suppress.”

Sometimes we suppress our feelings because of learned behaviour. Clients have often noted to me that they have no memories of their parents crying – not at funerals (even of significant family members), not out of frustration, not out of empathy. Lesson learned? “It is not safe to cry in front of others.”

And sometimes an experience can shut down a particular emotion. A client once spoke about her mother’s anger management issue; as a result, there was no room for anyone else to express anger as it was shut down immediately by the mother’s need to ‘out anger’ everyone. As a result, this young woman under-reacted to her feelings of anger, she would dismiss it to the point where her own needs suffered. Lesson learned? “There is no space for my anger.”

The first step in allowing our feelings to have some space is to recognize the suppression. When we can explore where we feel the suppression started, we can begin to give ourselves permission to give those feelings a little bit of space; to recognize that they are okay, that they are meant to help us process experience, that we can feel comfortable with them in their rightful place.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@ratlady


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