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The dangers of repressed emotions

“Your emotions make you human. Even the unpleasant ones have a purpose. Don’t lock them away. If you ignore them, they just get louder and angrier.” ― Sabaa Tahir

Every single day, we encounter stimuli in our external environment that trigger a mix of emotions within us. Some are positive, others are negative. Naturally, we welcome positive emotions because they make us feel good—variants of good. But when it comes to negative emotions, we rarely address them. As a matter of fact, we either suppress or repress them.

To better understand what ‘suppression’ and ‘repression’ mean, let’s take a simple example: Say, we’ve had the roughest of days at work, and at the end of the day, we get back to a messy home and an argument with the spouse that quickly escalates to an unwanted magnitude. It is, indeed, a negative stimulus and so, the negative emotion of anger stirs up within. In response, we could react in three probable ways: One, we could acknowledge our anger, and share it with someone, express it irrespective of how we are feeling. Two, sensing our rising anger, we could suppress it with the help of the classic mechanism of deep breaths, counting to ten. That would mean shifting our focus and glossing over the emotion. Three, we could repress our emotion.

Studies show that our subconscious mind, sometimes, represses the surge of negative emotions because it perceives them as harmful to our psychological wellbeing and self-image. According to the study Repression: Finding Our Way in the Maze of Concepts published by the National Centre of Biotechnology Information: “Repressive-defensiveness is characterized by a non-conscious avoidance of threatening information.” And so, a person with repressive tendencies is likely to remain sociable and cheerful, who rarely complain about their misfortune. Their self-image too is positive. However, when such a person encounters someone who discusses an emotional problem, they are inclined to quickly change the subject in an attempt to avoid dealing with negative emotions.

So, what is the right way to handle negative emotions, given there are various ways to deal with them? Responds clinical psychologist Dr Joy Bannerjee, “It is in our best interest to acknowledge our emotions and feel through them. The more we become receptive to a spectrum of emotions that surface from within us, the better we’d become, at not only acknowledging them but also at processing and expressing them.” When we shun away negative emotions—either by suppressing or repressing them, we only bury them alive. They fester until one day they emerge to cause greater damage.

The more we keep them buried, the more they surface. Letting them surface, airing them out is the only way to experience the much-needed catharsis.


According to an article published by Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine How Emotional Processes Affect Physical Health and Well-Being, pent-up emotions can deteriorate our overall wellbeing. They can adversely affect our immune system making us susceptible to physical illnesses; they can lead to somatisation—an unconscious process wherein emotional pain is converted into physical pain, and they can shorten the lifespan. The article states, “Freud uncovered links between repressed emotions and physical symptoms nearly one hundred years ago… Over 80% of all doctor visits involved a social-emotional problem, while only 16% could be considered solely organic in nature.”

Negative emotions can wreak havoc on the state of mind. The more we keep them buried, the more they surface. Letting them surface, airing them out is the only way to experience the much-needed catharsis. Let’s look at a few simple ways to address the complex layers of emotions:

Acknowledge them

Anger, jealousy, guilt or fear, the first step to deal with negative emotions lurking within is to acknowledge them. Judging emotions and labelling them as good or bad never helps. Emotions are just emotions, and there is nothing wrong in feeling them. The more we accept them for what they are, the more we can feel and process them.

Write about them

Writing is almost a cathartic experience, a seamless way to air out the intense and complex emotions we feel from time to time. A journal of emotions and connected thoughts is always a useful tool. Experts say the key lies in being as descriptive as possible about how we feel, and why we feel the way we do. The more we record our emotions and the thoughts that triggered them, the better we are likely to get at decoding our own psyche. The better chance we have at navigating through our own thoughts and process everything we feel.

Use them to fuel creativity

Strong emotions—both positive and negative—are often the greatest source of inspiration. Some of the best artistic and creative endeavours in history have emerged from tapping into the intensity of human emotions. Art, in any form, has the ability to reach into the recesses of the deepest of emotions. Emotions, when allowed to spur art, become the fuel for creativity.

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