Emotion Regulation: The Risks of Ignoring Emotions
We have all heard the phrase “don’t let your emotions get the best of you.” This phrase means it is a bad idea to allow your emotions to control you. Emotion regulation has become a popular topic in recent years as we see the consequences of ignoring emotion and letting tensions build without a release. When you suppress your emotions, you end up feeling overwhelmed and out of control.
Can you think of a person who offers practical, problem-solving solutions rather than empathy to emotional problems? A high percentage of my clients report that they have someone in their life who gives them solutions rather than empathic care when an emotional situation arises. Maybe you are a person who gives solutions rather than empathy or maybe you are in a close relationship with someone like this. People often mean well when they take this approach. However, they are trying to help you feel better in ways that suppress emotions. They want you to “suck it up” and move on. Sometimes people approach others or themselves this way because they are not comfortable feeling negative emotions. This is not the healthiest way to deal with your emotions. Suppressing your emotions can lead to a whole host of problems that we will discuss in this blog.
Meta-emotion is the term used to describe how a person feels about emotions. While some people consider themselves to be “feelers or empaths,” others do not see emotions as beneficial. Prior life experiences contribute to how we feel about expressing emotions or experiencing others’ expression of emotions. Growing up in a home with a parent with intense emotions, being told to stop crying, or having parents who made comments like “suck it up, buttercup” can cause a person to have a maladaptive view of negative emotions.
Furthermore, viewing negative emotions as “bad” can result in unhealthy ways of coping with emotions. Emotional suppression is a coping style used to hide or push away negative emotions. This coping style is a defense mechanism that people use to protect themselves from unwanted feelings by focusing on positive thoughts and ignoring negative thoughts that are connected to negative emotions (1).
Emotional suppression may appear to help those who do not wish to feel “bad,” but there are several risks associated with this type of coping. Not being able to feel and process our negative emotions leads to an increase in anxiety, depression, and PTSD (3). Studies have also linked health issues like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and hypertension to suppressive copers (2). In addition, continuing to suppress negative emotions can lead to a condition called alexithymia, which is a mental condition when people lack the ability to feel both positive and negative emotions (3).
It may seem helpful to ignore negative emotions temporarily in order to avoid feeling down, but the evidence is clear that suppressing emotions is detrimental to our wellbeing. If you would like to learn about the positive effects of feeling emotions, be sure to read the second blog in this series.
- Garssen, B. (2007). Repression: Finding our way in the maze of concepts. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(6), 471–481. doi:10.1007/s10865-007-9122-7
2. Mund M, Mitte K. (2012, September 31). The costs of repression: a meta-analysis on the relation between repressive coping and somatic diseases. Health Psychol, 5, 640-649. doi: 10.1037/a0026257
3. Santarnecchi E, Sprugnoli G, Tatti E, Mencarelli L, Neri F, Momi D, Di Lorenzo G, Pascual-Leone A, Rossi S, Rossi A. (2018, June 18). Brain functional connectivity correlates of coping styles. Cognitive Affective Behavioral Neuroscience, 18 (3), 495-508. doi: 10.3758/s13415-018-0583-7