What is Emotional Suppression?
Emotional suppression is simply the avoidance of emotions. It is a coping strategy that people use with the belief that it is healthy or the right thing to do.
Many people are taught to believe that they are not meant to express emotions such as sadness, anger or frustration and this becomes an ingrained belief and way of living.
Such beliefs then create strong neural connections and pathways in our nervous system. In other words, our brain and nervous system becomes accustomed to suppressing feelings that eventually it becomes the norm.
Signs of Emotional Suppression include:
- Remaining busy as a way to distract yourself from what you feel
- Avoiding talking about the situations or experiences because you don’t want to feel the emotions
- Using substances or food as a way to numb the pain
- Avoiding people, places or things that remind you of the emotions you don’t want to feel.
Stress and the Effects of Emotional Suppression on the Body
Stress is detected by the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal axis (HPA axis). Specifically the hypothalamus detects stress, which in turn fires to the pituitary. The pituitary then sends message to the adrenals for fight or flight, which results in hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to be released.
Persistent emotional suppression is also a form of stress, which affects the HPA axis and thus your physical body.
Stress hormones (as a result of emotional suppression or other forms of stress) will have a negative impact on various bodily systems including the digestive system, immune system, and neurological system.
Canadian medical doctor and author, Gabor Mate, speaks of how psychological factors such as uncertainty, conflict, a lack of control and lack of information are considered the most stressful stimuli and strongly activate the HPA axis.
Clinical professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, Noel B. Hershield writes about the field of psychoneuroimmunology, which shows compelling evidence on the link between the brain and the immune system.
He states that an “individual’s emotional makeup, and the response to continued stress, may indeed be causative in the many diseases that medicine treats but whose origin is not yet known”. Some of the diseases he refers to include scleroderma, the majority of rheumatic disease, inflammatory bowel diseases and multiple sclerosis.
Research also shows that suppressing emotions can result in:
- Physical tension and pain
- Increased incidence of mental illness including anxiety, depression, substance abuse or dependency
- Physical illness as a result of stress taking a toll on the endocrine, lymphatic and immune systems.
- Gut or digestive health issues.
- Weight gain
Becoming Aware of Emotions:
Allowing suppressed emotions to surface in a safe and health manner takes time and patience.
Some ways to begin the journey of allowing feelings to surface and be released include:
- Mindfulness and meditation: allow us to become more aware of unconscious thought patterns or emotions that are running our lives in the present moment. So we can choose how we respond.
- Accessing mental health professionals such as psychotherapists, social workers, and counselors.
- Working with integrative and holistic health professionals such as energy therapists, meridian therapists, Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors, naturopaths, biofeedback specialists, craniosacral therapists and so forth.
I hope the article above allows you better understand emotional suppression, bring more awareness to feelings you may avoiding and safe ways to work through them.