The High Cost of Emotional Suppression

Written by
Michael Wells

The High Cost of Emotional Suppression

It's Greater than You Think

Written by
Michael Wells

The High Cost of Emotional Suppression

It's Greater than You Think

Written by
Michael Wells
SERIES

This article is part of the series 

Developing Emotional Maturity

.

This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.

QUESTION
"What is the consequence of emotional suppression? Emotions aren't really that important, are they?"

How many people do you know that are truly, genuinely happy with their lives?

Most likely, the majority of the people you know are stressed, overweight, depressed and anxious... all at the same time.

Many are so stressed that they are regularly sick, and feel on the verge of a breakdown.

In an age when we have more comfort and security than we've ever seen in human history- humans seem to be the most unhappy with our lives.

We're miserable, and we don't see a way out of that misery, or we're working hard to "achieve happiness" externally, through our careers, or our relationships. Because... as long as we work hard enough... we'll be happy someday, right?

But this is not how happiness works.

Finding Happiness

Happiness is not something you earn, it's something that you naturally have when your emotional state is balanced.

Take away the stress, the anxiety, the negative thoughts, and there... you are blissfully happy.

The reason is simple- your brain evolved for survival, and it will automatically reward you when there are zero threats, and when your basic needs are met... Because you have done well.

Happiness is that simple. So, so unbelievably simple.

So why do we all feel so fucked up?

When you understand happiness, the answer is obvious.

We're not happy because we don't know how to process and let go of our negative thoughts & emotions. Instead, we hold onto them tightly, full of shame, and try diligently to suppress them.
This means that in our brain, there is always a threat, ever-present, ready to swallow us whole.

We feel like a goldfish in a fishbowl, with a giant cat peering at us hungrily.

Goodbye, sleep.

Hello emotional suppression... the arch-enemy of happiness.

The High Cost of Emotional Suppression

Fair Warning. This is going to hurt.

I've always known that "first world" people are stressed out, anxious, and deeply unhappy, but until I began researching this I didn't grasp how deeply and savagely this problem runs.

Emotional Suppression affects every part of our lives. Our mental and physical health, of course... but even our relationships, families & societies are directly harmed.
People don't just melt down. They blow up, too.

I'm going to dig into some gory details here, but we all need to know this.

We're Constantly Suffering

Obviously, when you're accumulating a big pile of unresolved emotions... you are going to suffer terribly.

The whole evolutionary point of "negative" emotions is to draw your attention aggressively towards something that needs fixed, urgently.

When you suppress negative emotions, they don't go away. Your brain knows that the problem still exists, and it will continually remind you of that reality.
This is what stress is.

Your stress gradually increases, day after day... and that means your attention is drawn more and more aggressively to the very emotions you're trying to ignore.

Been there? Are you there now?

How much are you enjoying your life?

We Actively Limit our Enjoyment of Life

Unbelievably... we suppress our positive emotions too.

This one relates most directly to modern males, and this absolutely fascinates me. Discovering things like this is why I journal.

Most men feel uncomfortable with the idea of expressing an unrestrained positive emotion. As a boy, we would be teased for being too childish, or too feminine, or possibly looking "gay." When you're a young man trying to develop a sense of masculinity, that's tough.

To see this, look closely...

  • In general, happiness is OK.
  • Excitement and enthusiasm are usually OK, in moderation.
  • Joy? Like... fully unrestrained joy? That's kind of weird.

Want very direct evidence of this? Let's get deep and real.

One of the single most intense experiences of joy for a man is a sexual orgasm.

When a woman orgasms, quite often she will let her emotions loose. In that moment of intense joy, she will fully embrace that moment. She will sing her heart out. She will thrash about wildly, completely losing herself in the pleasure.

Ideally, at that same moment or within the next few seconds, her male partner is experiencing exactly the same orgasmic bliss.

I have zero doubt that it's just as intense.

But how does this man react?

Most men will suppress all of that intense joy into a a grunt... a brief groan of pleasure... or maybe just a contorted facial expression.

And that's all he'll show you. Sorry ladies.

He did enjoy it, I promise, he just doesn't know how to share that with you.

Why is it that a man would think that this extreme moment of joy should be suppressed? Why is there such deep shame in expressing his pleasure?

Think hard about that.

Here's another one...

Why is it that when a man experiences the biggest and most joyful events of his life, like the birth of his child, getting married, or winning a lifetime achievement award, or maybe winning $100 million- that he's more likely to break down in tears and sobbing than to look happy?

It's not rocket science.

Once our emotions become too intense, we lose the ability to suppress them and the floodgates just open wide. All the emotion comes pouring out like a tsunami of energy, completely engulfing us and drowning our world.

Meltdown time.

Mental Health Suffers

Stress is essential, but it's designed to be brief.

It provokes you to make a change, like solve a problem, or exit a situation, and once you do that the stress disappears.

When we suppress our emotions, we're no longer listening to them and the incredible wisdom and nuance they give us about our world.

Instead we stay in those unhealthy situations, frozen, and the stress stays with us continually. Something in our world is wrong, and we know it... but we're just not dealing with it.

Long-term this causes all kind of problems like depression and anxiety. It encourages irritability. And in those extremely overwhelming moments, there is often a suicide risk, because we simply can see no way out, back to a happy life.

Let's look at some hard facts...

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
  • One in six Americans takes some kind of psychiatric drugs- mostly antidepressants. Twelve percent take antidepressants; 8.3 percent take anxiety drugs, sedatives or sleeping pills and 1.6 percent take antipsychotic medication.
  • Most people who take antidepressants are taking them long-term.
  • In 2013 alone, 23,000 people died from prescription drug overdoses. Nearly a third of them died taking benzodiazepene anxiety drugs.

That's some serious shit. We're talking about a major crisis in mental health- and rather than fixing the problem, we're suppressing it even harder with psychiatric drugs.

Physical Health Suffers

Your mind and your body are deeply connected, so long-term stress is a killer to your physical health too. Literally.

The heightened cortisol level has many negative health consequences;

  • poor quality of sleep
  • weight gain
  • cancer risk
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease

And much more.

High levels of stress, depression, and anxiety also means that we can easily become dependent on outside things as a crutch. Maybe we're over-eating, or we drink too much. Maybe we've developed a porn habit, or a gaming addiction. Maybe we've become reliant on antidepressants or recreational drugs.

Almost certainly, we're too stressed and anxious to invest energy in the important things...

  • getting exercise
  • eating healthy food
  • socializing and building good relationships
  • sleeping and resting well
  • learning and developing our skills

When we're overwhelmed we make bad choices for our future.

The People we Love Suffer

When we're highly stressed, we're not the only ones who suffer.

For our wives or husbands - emotional suppression makes us emotionally unavailable, moody, and unable to empathize.

For our children - we come home stressed from work, and have no time or energy to play with them and give them the attention they need.

For our co-workers, bosses, clients, neighbors and friends, we're stressed, anxious, depressed, easily agitated and difficult to work with.

Life sucks for us, but it sucks for everyone who's near us just as badly.

The World Suffers

You can see where this is going, and this is the part that hit me the most.

If everyone is continually stressed, suppressed, depressed, miserable, and unable to empathize with others, what does that mean for society as a whole?

We look at situations like the gun massacres in U.S. schools, or the phrase "going postal," and think, well that's a weird anomaly, right?

Except it isn't.

  • In the U.S., in 2019 alone, mass shootings ( incidents where 4 or more people shot ) were so frequent, they averaged more than one per day - and it's far worse in 2020.
  • In the majority of mass shooting perpetrators, there were clearly identified triggering events which caused intolerable distress that pushed individuals into action.
  • Most of these mass-murderers are not "crazy" in any clinical sense. Psychiatric studies show that severe mental health problems are behind less than 30% of active shooter attacks.
  • And to my emotional suppression point, it's striking that the shooters are all men.
Consider what frame of mind someone must be in to be so depressed, they choose to end their own lives.
Now consider what frame of mind someone must be in to lose their shit so badly, that they decide to kill a whole lot of people, too.

Afterword

Emotional suppression is not free, and at a societal level, it's affecting everyone.

Let's highlight some key points here.

  • The whole point of negative emotions is to provoke action.
  • Avoiding action, and ignoring or suppressing those emotions won't make them go away... instead they accumulate.
  • Over time this intensifies into extreme levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and rage.
  • Internally, they cause mental and physical health issues.
  • Externally, they erode relationships, they destroy families, and can have catastrophic consequences to society.

If you care about your health, your happiness, the lives of the people around you and society as a whole, stop suppressing emotions, and learn how to process them instead.

Read more articles about...
SERIES

This article is part of the series 

Developing Emotional Maturity

.

This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.

First published on 
. Last updated on 
November 24, 2020

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      Addendum

      Males also die by suicide three to four times more often than females.