Repressed emotions are feelings you unconsciously avoid. These are different from feelings you actively push aside because they overwhelm you. Repressed emotions can lead to health problems over time.
What Are Repressed Emotions?
Some people express their emotions openly. Others tend to hide them. But hiding your emotions doesn’t necessarily mean you’re repressing them.
There’s a lot of debate about repressed emotions. There are also many definitions.
Repression usually refers to the tendency to avoid uncomfortable feelings. You unconsciously push painful feelings, thoughts, or memories out of your consciousness. This lets you forget them. You may do this for fear of damaging your positive self-image. These are unprocessed emotions. But they can still affect your actions.
Repressed emotions can be a way to protect your mind from painful situations. This can happen to a child who is abused by a parent or caregiver. They might repress the memories of abuse and their emotions. They then become unaware or partly unaware of them. The abuse still affects them, though. It might cause relationship problems in adulthood.
What’s more, some people have a tendency to unconsciously avoid negative feelings that threaten your self-image in all your experiences.
Or, you might see yourself as always in control of how you feel and try to avoid conversations where people talk about their troubles. These are repressive tendencies. You might unconsciously do this so you don’t have to feel sadness or anxiety. Those feelings can make you feel like you’re losing control.
You might’ve learned to repress your emotions if you were raised in a dysfunctional family. You learn how to communicate and control your emotions as a child. Dysfunctional families have members who haven’t gotten help for things like:
They might also have problems like abuse, addiction, or mental illness. But no one talks about those problems. This leads to children and adults who repress their emotions and deny their own needs.
Repressed emotions can also lead to things like:
- Denying feelings
- Ignoring feelings
- Avoiding communication
- Avoiding touch
Suppression vs. Repression
Repressed emotions are not the same as suppressed emotions. Suppression happens when you actively push uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or memories out of your consciousness. This is because you don’t know what to do with them.
Some people call suppression shutting down. Sometimes this leads to numbing yourself with scrolling on your phone, watching TV, or doing any other activity so you don’t have to feel your emotions.
This type of behavior can be temporary. You might do this in your workplace when you’re frustrated with a coworker but you still have to work together and finish a project. You set aside your feelings because you don’t really know what to do with them and then deal with them later at home.
Signs of Repressed Emotions
There isn’t a lot of research that indicates that repressed emotions cause health problems.
But your overall emotional and mental health is directly linked to your physical health. Repressed anger or other negative emotions may be tied to a higher risk for things like:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Digestive problems
- Low energy
You might also have problems in your relationships. You could have trouble:
- Saying what you need
- Facing conflict
- Feeling connected and intimate with others
How to Release Repressed Emotions
You might not realize that you repress your emotions. If you have trouble in your relationships or you’re uncomfortable with negative feelings, these might be signs that you tend to unconsciously avoid them.
The best way to learn to take charge of your emotions is to see a licensed therapist. They can help you understand your feelings. They can also teach you ways to manage conflict and communicate better.
You can practice expressing yourself on your own, too. Try these tips alone at first and then with someone you trust. When you feel positive or negative emotions:
- Say what you feel out loud in the moment.
- Use “I” statements that help you own your feelings (“I feel sad” or “I feel angry”).
- Eventually practice with friends and acquaintances in moments of conflict.
Speak from your experience when you express your emotions. Don’t blame the other person. Be ready and willing to hear their point of view.