Last month, we explored the importance of social well-being, and how relationships can affect both our physical and emotional lives. This month and next month, we will try to understand how important positive emotions are towards building resilience in our lives.
First, what are emotions?
Emotions are our feelings. What you feel when you love on your children or your pet, the bounce in your step when you hear your favorite song, or the sadness that bubbles up when you think of a lost loved one. Emotions can feel negative or positive and are unavoidable; you can’t control which ones come up and when. Though we all try to control our feelings, it rarely works in the long run. One way we try to control emotions is by avoiding them, distracting ourselves as best we can. That strategy is called repression.
All of us repress feelings
Repression means, for example, putting the feelings in the storage closet, where we don’t have to look at them. Why do we do it? Repressing feelings defends us from having to face them. I think we would all agree, it’s a lot easier to distract ourselves by watching a ball game, than to face the feeling of resentment we have towards our boss or family member.
How do we recognize emotional repression?
Sometimes we talk ourselves into repressing our negative feelings with phrases like: “get on with it”, “stop being weak”, “just be grateful”, or “you’re being dramatic.” Just because we push those feelings into storage does not mean they disappear. In fact, they may reappear as many common medical issues like: colds (Pennebaker, 1997), chronic pain (Beutler, Engle, Oro-Beutler, Daldrup, & Meredith, 1986), heart disease (Myers, 2010), and a weak immune system which increases risk for cancer (Weihs, Enright, Simmens, & Reiss, 2000). Unfortunately, emotionally stuffing our feelings also can lead to bad habits like overeating and substance abuse. Some behaviors that you may use to try to stuff your feelings are:
· Drinking too much, overeating, watching too much TV, or overworking
· You put on a smile in front of others to avoid others knowing you’re struggling
· Always being too busy to stop and deal with your feelings
Exercises: how can you be more aware of and cope with repression?
- Naming: when you feel certain negative emotions, being able to call them by name instead of stuffing them can be helpful. For example: “there is anger” or “here is anxiety” and identify where you feel it in your body (ex: in your shoulders, or in your stomach).
- Mindfulness: Acknowledge your negative emotion by naming it, then let them pass on by. Emotions don’t stay forever, they come and then go, just like clouds in the sky.
- Consider watching the Pixar movie, Inside Out as a way fun way to imagine how our brains and bodies work together with our emotions.
Sometimes recognizing our negative emotions can be the first step in giving our positive emotions more space. If you feel like your emotions are hard to live with right now, give Rapha Centre a call, we can help.
Outpatient Addiction and Recovery Community Mental Health
482 Interstate Drive, Suite D 1615 McMinnville Highway
Manchester, TN 37355 Manchester, TN 37355
P| (931) 444-1000 P| (931) 450-8255
· Beutler, L. E., Engle, D., Oro-Beutler, M. E., Daldrup, R., & Meredith, K. (1986). Inability to express intense affect: A common link between depression and pain? Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology, 54, 752–759.
· Myers, L. B. (2010). The importance of the repressive coping style: Findings from 30 years of research. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 23(1), 3–17.
· Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Opening up: The healing power of expressing emotions (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
· Weihs, K. L., Enright, T. M., Simmens, S. J., & Reiss, D. (2000). Negative affectivity, restriction of emotions, and site of metastases predict mortality in recurrent breast cancer. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 49, 59–68.