Posted on Nov 30, 2022

“The long-term pain suffered by suppressing emotions is far greater than the short-term pain of confronting them.” ― Sam Owen

Triggers, Trauma, and Emotional Suppression–Oh My

Learning how to identify and let go of repressed emotions can be a complex but incredibly rewarding and life-changing journey. 

NOTE: This is a long article because emotions are such a BIG topic.  Settle in, read this thoroughly, you won't be sorry you did. :-) 

Believe it or not, so many of my clients, my loved ones, and even I struggle with this process. We’ve lived most of our adult life managing–and often stuffing–our feelings, not actually being in the “feels.” 

As humans, we've learned early on that it was safer to bury powerful and difficult emotions because they got the message that big feelings are weak--"big boys don't cry," vulnerable--"don't feel sad, it makes me sad," or inappropriate--"children are meant to be seen and not heard," and were never allowed to express themselves openly. 

Or perhaps they were never encouraged to share what was really on their chest because parents often don't know how to feel their emotions and therefore cannot teach their children. (Can you relate?)

When you learn to suppress your feelings as a kid, they become even harder to identify and release as an adult—simmering just below the surface and wreaking havoc on your body through the years. 

The pathway to greater peace, calm, confidence, even better sleep is through discovering, owning, and experiencing your feelings. And guess what? You CAN do this very thing–without your world falling apart. 

Feelings don’t just go away (they linger in your body)

Here’s the thing about emotions. Like waves, they ebb and flow and come in different shapes and intensities. And, (as the famous book by Bessel van der Kolk says right in the title) “The Body Keeps the Score.”  Emotions are: energy in motion.  The are not inherently "good" or "bad," until we label them.  When they are not processed or metabolized, they stay in the body, hence the saying, the body keeps the score.

We’re constantly taking in information from the external world through the lens of our own unique paradigm. (see photo to the right that says it all) Our environment and relationships send signs to our nervous system about how we should feel, based on upbringing, past experiences as well as past traumas. And whether we consciously feel those feelings or not, the emotions affect our brains and bodies.

These external “triggers” could look like:

  • A heartfelt Father’s Day social media post shortly after the passing of your own dad.
  • Your best friend giving you the cold shoulder for choosing a solo retreat over her baby shower.
  • A sensation of failure when you fall off of your yoga routine after a full month of committing to it religiously.
  • Anger when someone gets a promotion over you.

These events create emotions within us–even if we don’t notice them right away. (Remember, emotions=energy in motion.) When we don’t take a moment to process all the stimulus coming at us every day, the emotions don’t just go away–they become emotional baggage. Think of a metaphorical backpack that weighs us down, drains our energy, and impacts our mood. 

We all carry unexpressed emotions from experiences to some degree. There’s no avoiding it. Our bodies may let us know by a tightness in our chest or pain in our hips after an emotionally draining day. Or, you may feel a dry throat when you’re nervous, or even a “punch” to the chest when you receive bad news. 

If you tune into those messages and turn TOWARD those hidden emotions, you can move through them gently, rather than suppressing them and hijacking your whole life. 

Does this mean you what to work with EVERY SINGLE EVENT that you experience?  No, not exactly.  The good news is that you can move the energy of emotions through you without necessarily having to work with the story behind the emotions.  In fact, this weeks practice is all about working with emotions in your body.

How to work with your emotions in real-time 

The most effective way to release your emotions and not recycle them is–you might have guessed it–to feel the feeling right then and there.  (I promise, you won’t die—even though you may feel overwhelmed or scared the first few times you practice.)

It may even seem counterintuitive to lean in when it comes to facing your negative feelings. I mean, hard feelings are—hard. And may require support from a friend, planned self-soothing, or even professional help. But embracing your feelings can bring more lightness in your life and significantly improve your emotional well-being over time. 

Below, you’ll find a few reflection prompts that are intended to help you learn what your initial, conditioned responses to your emotions are–and how to turn toward emotions rather than away.

    1. What do you notice about your thinking patterns in regard to emotions? Is there a belief inside you that what we may label as "negative" emotions are bad, weak, or embarrassing? What have you made feeling emotions mean about you? When you think of someone else having an emotional reaction, what are your judgments?
    2. Reflect on your go-to reaction to a big emotion–Is there a tendency to avoid and distract from a negative thought through numbing and escaping behaviors? You may find yourself driven to work out intensely, pick up a bag of chips, or watch Netflix when you sense a “negative” feeling building.  NOTE: Don't make these reactions wrong, seek to understand how they may have been serving you.
    3. How do you respond when others check in with you? Do you feel uncomfortable when asked, “how are you?” You might have the habit of telling close ones and ourselves you are fine (Feelings Inside Not Expressed) when honestly you really could use someone to talk to. 
    4. How do you respond when others have emotions around you?  Reflect on your reaction to being with others who are emotional and express any negativity. Do you have a habit of shifting negative behavior to the positive—like you just cannot stay present for someone else’s “stuff?” You may notice that even though you get along well with others,  you struggle with emotional intimacy and close friendships when everything’s not always coming up roses.

Journaling your answers to these questions may help you notice how much you suppress your emotions and whether that suppression causes problems for you today.

How to see emotions as friends, not enemies

As human beings, we will experience many emotions throughout our life. A lot of them. ALL the feelings are a natural, normal part of our human experience. Life is actually richer and more rewarding when we embrace our full emotional range.

The problem lies in the label of positive and negative. Many of us have been conditioned to interpret emotions as enemies. Feelings like grief, anger, loss, sadness, and frustration can be a lot to handle in the moment, so I understand why.  We avoid things we think will be negative, painful, or uncomfortable.  When we suppress emotions, we can suppress the ones we want too. 

When we give value to our emotions (and not negate or shoo them to the side), they can be the key to sharing our full selves with those around us and feeling connected to ourselves and our communities.  And remember, connection is an invaluable aspect of a mindful and fulfilling life. 

I’d love to find out more about what feelings make you want to run and hide. Because when we can feel big loss, sadness, or pain without fear, we can ALSO feel even bigger joy and contentment. That’s the GIFT of letting your emotions come up and out of you!

I love supporting my clients in emotional empowerment while we gently release the baggage and get comfy letting ALL the feelings come in and sit by the fire. 

If you want a safe space to dive deeper into and feel more comfortable with your feelings, I offer private hypnotherapy sessions. Here’s the link you need.

Let’s get to know one another and I’ll share how hypnotherapy can be the right resource to see yourself fully, without judgment, and make lifelong changes in your wellbeing, peace, calm, and confidence.

Much love and many blessings,

Sara Raymond