Supressing Emotions? How to Address It

Suppressing emotions?

Your emotions are an integral part of who you are. They help you understand yourself, your situation and the world around you. Unfortunately, they’re not always positive.

Some people have a tendency to suppress their emotion, pushing them aside when they feel uncomfortable to avoid dealing with them. Maybe you don’t know what to do with the negative feelings, so it’s easier to avoid them entirely rather than process them. However, there’s a big problem with this approach.

Your emotions, when they’re not processed, have a tendency to bubble up underneath the surface. Think of it like a bottle of soda. Everything that you suppress is like shaking up the bottle, building pressure within it. Eventually, something happens that pushes you over the edge. Like the shaken bottle of soda falling off the edge of a table, you could explode, unleashing a big, messy, sticky situation on everyone in the area.

Understanding Emotional Suppression

Emotional suppression is the process of avoiding processing negative emotions. In psychoanalysis, there’s a slight difference between emotional suppression vs. repression that’s worth defining. Repression is a subconscious process that a person isn’t really aware of. Suppression, on the other hand, is intentional and conscious. The person knows they have that feeling and chooses to ignore or deny them.

Sometimes, people choose to suppress emotions they think are embarrassing or make them appear weak. This could be in response to trauma growing up or being told to stop crying because a situation isn’t that bad. Other times, people feel like they’ll never be able to accept the feelings, like in the case of grief after a significant loss.

Signs of Emotional Suppression

Emotional suppression can impact most areas of your life. Because your physical and mental well-being are closely linked together, some can even impact your health.

Common physical signs of emotional suppression include:

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Tension and muscle pain
  • Indigestion and other digestive symptoms
  • Weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue

Beyond that, constantly suppressing your emotional state and avoiding the issues that cause the negative feelings can have some pretty big effects on your life, including:

  • Responding disproportionately to situations: You may not react emotionally to a situation in the way that most people would expect. For example, some present with no emotional reaction at all, or become angry or anxious over a relatively harmless occurrence.
  • Use of unhealthy coping mechanisms: Some people turn to unhealthy coping strategies to avoid their feelings. Some may turn to escapism, constantly watching television or gaming to distract themselves. Others might use drugs or alcohol to numb themselves.
  • Unhealthy defense mechanisms: Others still will do everything they can to avoid their triggering situations or emotions. For example, they may fall into avoidance, refusing to go into situations or places they know will upset them. They might avoid the places or situations where they feel like they’re likely to be triggered. Some may simply deny they’re upset and carry on like nothing happened.

Consequences of Emotional Suppression

Perhaps one of the most significant consequences of emotional suppression is the potential it has to decrease the rate of feeling positive emotions. The Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions in psychology states that positive emotions broaden the mind whereas negative emotions have a narrowing effect. By remaining in a negative state and suppressing emotions for an extended period of time, they slowly restrict their ability to experience and perceive positive emotions.

In other words, suppressing emotions over time leads to increased states of negative emotions and becomes almost habitual. This aversion to negative emotions can spill into other areas in your life, slowly reducing your tolerance to cope with stressful situations.

Strategies to Address Emotional Suppression

Rather than suppressing negative emotions, the healthy way to cope with a stressful situation is to learn to regulate how you feel. Strategies to address emotional suppression can feel uncomfortable at first because they require you to face the negative situation head-on and actually feel what you’ve buried for so long.

At the heart of this, you’ll find mindfulness strategies. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your current emotions without judgment, which allows you to feel and process them.

Therapy for emotion suppression is always an opportunity, but many people opt to try their own strategies before committing.

Developing Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your emotions as they present themselves. It allows you to stop, analyze how you feel and put a name to it. This is an important first step in facing your emotions head-on instead of suppressing them because it turns your attention to them rather than trying to hide them.

The next time you’re experiencing an emotion, try exploring it. Ask yourself what you are feeling and why. Pay attention to how your body feels, physically and emotionally and identify the sensations with names.

Identifying Emotional Triggers

Everyone has their unique emotional triggers. When you notice strong negative emotions rising, stop and ask yourself why you’re feeling that way. Did you feel upset about a disagreement? Did something not go according to plan? Whatever the reason, note it down.

As you begin to understand your emotional triggers, you can work on remaining calm when you know they’re present.

Breathing Exercises

Instead of suppressing your emotions when they arise, try some stress-reducing coping mechanisms. These will allow you to handle your emotions well in the moment, allowing you to process and sit with them without feeling overwhelmed.

One of the simplest breathing exercises you can do is known as box breathing:

  • Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose for four to five seconds.
  • Hold the breath in your chest for four to five seconds.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for four to five seconds.
  • Wait four to five seconds before repeating the process.

This encourages your body to slow down, activating a parasympathetic nervous response that alleviates stress and slows your heart rate. As the physical symptoms of stress reduce, you’ll likely feel less overwhelmed by the situation and be able to process your emotions with a clearer mind.


Exercise offers a wealth of benefits for your physical body, but it’s also incredibly important to your mental health. People who play sports, for example, tend to have better mental health and less susceptibility to negative emotions. Numerous studies reveal that sports and exercise improve attitude and mood and also encourage resilience.

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to see these benefits, either. Even just taking a bike ride or going for a walk can help reduce stress. It raises endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters while also reducing levels of adrenaline and cortisol, the ones that make you feel stressed. 30% of people who exercise report feeling less stressed after and 35% say they’re in a better mood after exercise.

Seeking Professional Help for Emotional Regulation

If self-help methods for emotional regulation aren’t enough, professional help is often a valuable tool for learning how to express emotions. This method of addressing emotional suppression focuses on developing key coping mechanisms.

Emotion regulation therapy is its own specific field, teaching these strategies. Beyond that, other options include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), two therapies that emphasize coping strategies for a range of situations and emotional triggers. To learn more about these therapies and other options available, contact us at (866) 653-6220.