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By Brianna Wiest
Many people will agree that suppression is the least effective emotional regulation strategy available, and yet, it’s the most common go-to coping technique. In a sense, emotional suppression is simply just ignoring your feelings, or invalidating them by believing they’re “wrong.” This is dangerous because your emotions are responses that are designed to keep you alive and well. This problem is created, of course, from basic emotional intelligence not being common knowledge. Rather than face the scary unknown, we just avoid it.
In 1988, Daniel Wenger conducted a groundbreaking study that showed just how insidious emotional suppression can be. The results of his research were the ability to identify the “rebound effect of thought suppression.” Essentially, the group in the study that was instructed to push away thoughts of a white bear had more thoughts about the white bear than the other group, which was allowed to think about anything (including a white bear). Ever heard the phrase “what we resist, persists?”
Long story short: you can’t avoid your emotions. You can’t deny them, invalidate them, or suppress them. You can only try to ignore them, but for reasons more powerful than your conscious mind can grasp, they will make themselves known in many other ways. Here are a few ways suppressed emotions resurface in life/signs you may be experiencing this, too:
1. Your self-image is polarized: you either think you’re the greatest person on Earth, or a worthless piece of garbage, with little in-between.
2. You become anxious when anticipating social situations, as you feel you cannot just show up as you are, so you will have to “perform,” or be subject to judgment from whoever is there.
3. You catastrophize. One bad remark from a colleague is cause for an existential breakdown about your self-worth; one argument with a partner is cause to re-think the whole relationship, and so on.
4. You exist in comparison to others. You feel you are only as attractive as you are more attractive than someone else, or the most attractive person in the room, and so on.
5. You cannot tolerate being wrong, as you associate making a mistake with being invalidated as a person.
6. You have random, almost completely unprecedented bursts of anger over very small, unimportant things.
7. You complain constantly – about things that don’t even really warrant complaint. (It’s a subconscious desire for other people to see and acknowledge your pain.)
8. You’re indecisive. You don’t trust that your thoughts or opinions or choices will be “good” or “right” the first time, so you overthink.
9. You procrastinate, which is just another way to say you are fairly regularly in a state of “dis-ease” with yourself. (You can’t simply allow flow, which is a product of suppression.)
10. You’d rather feel superior to other people than connected to them.
11. When someone you know is successful, your immediate response it to pick out their faults, rather than express admiration or acknowledgement.
12. Your relationships end for similar reasons, you feel anxiety over similar things, and even though you assume time will diminish these feelings or responses, the patterns persist.
13. You’re resentful of whomever you think is responsible for your pain, or your lack of success, or your inability to choose.
14. You feel as though you can’t really open your heart to someone.
15. You suffer a “spotlight complex,” in which you feel that everyone is watching you, and is invested in how your life turns out. (They aren’t. They’re not.)
16. You’re afraid to move on, even though you want to. You may be ready to move on mentally, but until you completely process the accompanying feelings, you’ll remain exactly where you are.