Have you ever wondered if you are repressing your emotions? Do you feel numb? Or perhaps unsure about how you really feel?
I have a friend who has had some very traumatic events in her life. She recently told me that she deals with troubles by pushing everything down. This worked well until she broke up with her partner. Years of repressed feelings are now coming to the surface.
If any of that resonates or you just want to learn more, read on for some telltale signs that you may be repressing your emotions.
1) You’re ruining your health
Suppressing how you really feel can seriously mess with your mind and body. Our emotions exist for a reason – they push us to take action and protect ourselves from harm, just like our ancient ancestors had to do.
Even though we’re not running from wild animals now, ignoring what your feelings are trying to tell you can still lead to big health problems.
With our busy modern lives, it’s easy to shove emotions aside instead of listening to what our bodies are trying to say. But research shows this comes at a big cost.
Holding in anger, grief, sadness, and more leads to physical stress, with direct links to heart disease, weakened immunity, digestive issues, and chronic health conditions.
Pushing down feelings also raises cortisol, the key hormone behind the stress response. Over time, high cortisol diminishes memory, ramps up aggression and anxiety, and increases the risk of depression and disease.
Basically, ignoring emotions equates to ignoring warning signs from your body. Take time to tune in, process what you feel, and address the underlying message. Your mind and body will thank you.
Suppressed emotions manifest physically in many ways. Headaches, back pain, insomnia, fatigue – these can all be signals of buried feelings begging for release.
Yoga, meditation, journaling, or talking to a friend are healthy outlets to start freeing trapped emotions. Don’t ignore what your body is trying to say.
2) Going on autopilot
Do you find yourself just kind of arriving in places but you don’t really remember the journey?
Are you zoning out and just getting things done like a robot? Or maybe you don’t really take the time to hear what your partner or family member says to you, because it’s too painful?
And so instead you create your own reality to live in.
This is an understandable coping mechanism but is ultimately unhelpful. Why? Because it’s really the opposite of mindfulness and self-care. If you aren’t paying attention to your body and mind, it’s hard to know what they really want from you. So you end up just running on clockwork.
Going through life on autopilot not only disconnects you from the present moment, but also from your deepest needs.
So what can you do?
Make a conscious effort to be fully present, even when doing mundane tasks. Notice sights, sounds, and textures around you. Engage your senses instead of numbing them. Wake up to the vibrant aliveness in each moment.
3) Flipping out over small things
Do things frequently make you feel angry? Or stressed?
You’re doing your best to deal with life and then suddenly a small thing happens and you flip out.
If it feels out of proportion, then it’s possible that you have been ignoring your feelings. Hints that maybe you are already stressed or angry or even resentful. Then when something small comes up, it can become a trigger for something much bigger.
When we bury major feelings like heartache or grief, they don’t disappear – they accumulate within, unseen. Eventually, even minor provocations can unleash a flood of emotions that have been building under the surface.
Don’t wait for an explosive meltdown.
Make time to acknowledge and process any suppressed emotions, in a safe way.
4) Papering the cracks of your inner sanctuary
I had a friend who told me that she was always happy. Except – she wasn’t, but she didn’t know. Until she started noticing all these terrible nightmares and strange physical symptoms.
So why was she repressing her feeling? Well, she had come from a family where it often wasn’t encouraged for her to express different feelings, so she had essentially learned to just display positivity at all times. Again that might seem great on the outside – be happy!
But underneath she wasn’t noticing that there was a lot of pain wanting to be given attention to. Unresolved emotions. If held for a long time without attention, they often become unhealthy. They can even lead to physical illnesses.
But if, like my friend, you keep papering the cracks of your inner sanctuary, you might not notice that anything is wrong.
We all have an inner world of great depth and complexity. When we conceal parts of ourselves in shadows, it dims our inner light.
Find supportive friends or a counselor who will allow you to freely express any feelings without judgment.
5) Feeling overly tired or weary
Something I learned from training as a focusing guide, is that repressed feelings can show up in unexpected ways.
For instance, people with trapped sadness may start to feel tired. Then they go to the doctor, they are told that nothing is wrong.
One of my focusing teachers started to feel very tired after she gave birth. At first, she didn’t know why or what to do. But then she did this practice called Focusing, guided by its creator – psychotherapist Gene Gendlin. Gene encouraged her to connect to her body. When she did there was a pain, which became a feeling of emptiness in her womb.
Within a short time, she realized that it was because her birth had been difficult, and her baby was taken from her (temporarily) very soon after. There was an inner sadness about this that she had not been consciously aware of.
By connecting with her womb, she was able to connect to and then release this feeling that was causing the tiredness.
Unresolved grief, anger, fear, or regret sap our energy. Make time for stillness each day. Without any agenda, tune into your body. Let any sensations or emotions rise to the surface. Give them space to be felt without judgment. This emotional “clearing” can renew your sense of being alive.
6) You’re coming across differently to friends and family
If repressing your emotions is a new thing for you, then this point applies.
You know how it is when you notice someone behaving differently, but they don’t seem to see it?
If you have recently begun repressing your emotions then your whole demeanor may be different. Hopefully, one or more people that know you would point out the change in your personality.
There are many reasons we can seem different to others, from situational events to hormonal changes or other health-related issues, going as far as imbalances in your gut microbiome. So be sure to check out your physical health too.
Personality changes are often gradual, so we may not notice them in ourselves. But trusted friends can provide an outside perspective on shifts in our mood, communication style, intro/extroversion, or interests over time. Their feedback is a gift – reflect on it, and consider if buried emotions plays a role.
7) Encouraging those around you to repress their emotions
Your behavior might be affecting others unexpectedly.
Like my friend who thought she was always happy, children may learn that it is ‘better’ to withhold their feelings.
And partners may avoid telling you what they really think and feel. They may decide it’s okay to ignore your feelings as you don’t express them. They might see you as emotionally unavailable, or it may just set the tone for the relationship.
If you feel this has happened to you, know that it’s ok. You can change this. Your feelings are always there, waiting to be reconnected to.
If you’re trying to avoid trauma or even if you don’t know why you are repressing your feelings, becoming aware is the first step.
Then very gently you can start to notice things in your body, sensations, thoughts, anything, and see where it goes.
Depending on you and your life it might be best to do this with a counselor, coach or therapist.
Having a qualified person to lovingly hold space can be one of the most powerful gifts we can give ourselves. Family and relationship counseling could also be valuable.
The things we do when we repress our emotions – last thoughts
We teach others how to treat us. If you deny your own emotions, you indirectly teach those around you to do the same. And in turn, this impacts how you treat yourself.
Break the cycle by owning all of your feelings. Let your authenticity inspire loved ones to freely express themselves too. Create an emotionally honest space where everyone can flourish.
Healing happens by reconnecting with emotions waiting below the surface. A therapist can help, but simply gently noticing bodily sensations is the first step. From there, suppressed feelings can be addressed, leading to greater self-awareness and inner peace.
What matters most is your willingness to courageously feel all of your emotions, even the difficult ones. Set an intention each day to be open and attentive to anything arising within. Be gentle, and respectful with resistance (those resistances can be honored, get curious about them too!). If you’ve been through trauma, consider a trauma-informed guide, a trusted companion or a therapist to ensure you do this safely.
Then, with compassionate curiosity, discover your inner landscape. This emotional awareness will spread throughout your life, making you happier and healthier!