Bottling up emotions

Leaving your emotions to ferment can take years of your relationship and your life, writes Cat O Dowd.

If your partner has done something to really upset you and you bottle it up, research shows that you are much more likely to be aggressive. If you’ve had a bad day at work and you suppress your emotions you can come home and take it out on your partner. Another study shows that suppressing emotions can also take years off your life.

This study asked participants questions, such as “Do you try to be pleasant so that others won’t get upset?” and, “When you are angry do you let people know?” When repeated ten years later, it was found that premature death rates are the highest amongst those that bottle up their emotions.

Researchers have guessed why this causes early deaths. Maybe because people use drugs, smoking, drinking or over-eating as coping mechanisms for their suppressed emotions. Perhaps the stress of bottling it all up disrupts hormonal balances leading to illness and damage in the immune system.

Suppressing our emotions can shut down and close our partners out. We might not mean to do I tor even want to do it but it could be a learned behaviour from our parents or an attempt to avoid conflict. Sometimes we can’t cope or deal with an emotionally painful scenario because of our paralysing fear. We can bury emotions down deep inside where they rot. This fermentation can seriously harm relationships and increase resentful feelings. Buying peace at any cost creates deep unhappiness.

Swallowing down our hurt means it bubbles up later in negative ways and manifests itself; in low self-esteem, unconsciously hurting and punishing our partner, internalising our pain so it turns into self-destructive behaviour, venting about your partner, losing patience for your partner at little things and so on.

People try to avoid feeling their emotions through denial and compulsive behaviours such as over-eating, sexual activity or drug abuse, addiction to pornography, intimacy avoidance, and keeping excessively busy as a defence mechanism. We use so many unhealthy techniques to help repress our feelings. Learning to identify these emotions and releasing them can help improve and enhance our relationships and health.

Thankfully, we can reverse emotional suppression. I’ve helped many couples adopt new, healthy emotional communication styles. Telling our partner how we feel emotionally can open the gates of communication and help us feel more grounded. Learning how not to run away from our emotions and numb out the pain can force us to step out of the victim role and into a place of self-responsibility.

I always tell my clients to start identifying how they feel. As simple as it sounds, ask yourself, “What do I feel right now?” Write the answer in a journal. Notice what tensions you are feeling in your body when you feel certain emotions. Rather than rushing for the cigarettes or your individual crux, notice the feeling in your body and the source of the emotion and work on that instead. Try telling your partner, “I feel hurt because of X,” rather than bottling it all up. Confrontation, rather than bad, is the first step to things improving.  Come see me to learn more techniques.

Words: Cat O Dowd – Relationship Counsellor, Sex Therapist, Art Therapist