March 21, 2024

Unveiling the Hidden Impact of Emotional Repression

by Angela Legh in Perspective0 Comments

Emotional repression, the act of suppressing or denying one’s true feelings, is a pervasive yet often overlooked phenomenon in society. From childhood onwards, many people are conditioned to hide or ignore their emotions, leading to a myriad of negative consequences for mental and physical well-being. Your parents never learned how to effectively and positively deal with their painful emotions. They unconsciously modeled repressive emotional behaviors that you may have unconsciously picked up.

The Roots of Emotional Repression

The seeds of emotional repression are often sown in childhood, where well-meaning caregivers may discourage the expression of certain emotions. Messages like “big boys don’t cry” or “calm down, it’s not that bad” teach children to suppress their emotional responses. Over time, these learned behaviors become deeply ingrained, shaping how individuals perceive and interact with their own feelings. Young boys were the primary recipients of emotional repression messages; leaving generations of men out of touch with their feelings.

The Mask of Stoicism

One of the most common manifestations of emotional repression is the mask of stoicism. The facade of strength and composure that individuals present to the world, even in the face of profound inner turmoil.

The idea that your feelings should be hidden perpetuates the cycle of emotional repression, embodied in the phrase “Keep calm and carry on.” The famous British stiff upper lip encourages suppressing messy emotions, perpetuating the cycle of emotional repression.

Stoicism suggests strength in masking emotions, regardless of internal turmoil. However, this approach ultimately undermines emotional authenticity and suggests that vulnerability is weak. This can lead to greater distress in the long run. Behind this mask lies a complex tapestry of suppressed emotions, ranging from sadness and anger to fear and vulnerability. While appearing stoic may offer a sense of control and protection, it comes at a cost to your overall well-being.

Escapism as a Coping Mechanism

Escapism is another common coping strategy employed by individuals struggling with emotional repression. Whether through numbing behaviors such as alcohol or substance use, self-harming, or binge-watching television, the numbing effect is only temporary. Underneath, the energy of the emotion builds with each use of a repressive coping strategy. Escapism may also manifest in excessive work, exercising, compulsive internet use, online gaming, gambling, or compulsive shopping. Despite offering temporary relief from uncomfortable emotions, escapism only serves to perpetuate the cycle of repression. Continued emotional repression results in a buildup of repressed feelings and further entrenchs negative patterns of coping.

The Toll on Mental Health

Emotional repression takes a significant toll on mental health, contributing to feelings of anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Continuously pushing aside or ignoring emotions doesn’t make them disappear—they fester beneath the surface, seeking release in harmful ways. The emotional coping strategies modeled by your parents taught you how to deal (or not) with the emotion. But don’t blame your parents, because they learned the strategies they used from their parents.

The Impact on Relationships

The effects of emotional repression extend beyond the individual, permeating their interpersonal relationships as well. Parents model emotional coping strategies, whether consciously or unconsciously, often passing on these patterns to their children. Difficulty expressing emotions can strain relationships, leading to misunderstandings, resentment, and a lack of intimacy. Partners may feel disconnected or shut out, while friends and family may struggle to provide support when emotions remain hidden. The most important aspect of breaking this cycle is recognizing the impact of emotional repression on both oneself and those closest to us.

Breaking Free from Emotional Repression

Seeking support from a therapist or counselor can be incredibly beneficial in this process, offering a safe and non-judgmental environment to explore and express emotions. Techniques like mindfulness meditation, journaling, and creative expression are powerful and positive tools for releasing pent-up emotions and fostering greater emotional freedom.

Embracing Emotional Authenticity


Angela Legh

Angela Legh is the author of the Bella Santini Chronicles, a children's book series that plant seeds of emotional well-being. Each book of the series takes children on a journey of self-discovery.

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