At some point in our lives, we all have indulged in bottling up our emotions. This includes all the thoughts we keep to ourselves, unspoken words, and unexpressed emotions. Being trapped in our own thoughts and feelings may create this inner turmoil that feels exhausting and paralyzing. Consequently, it may result in a prolonged burnout, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and displeasure towards life.
The term “bottling yourself up” refers to suppressed, unexpressed feelings, and emotions that we don’t vent out. When not given an outlet to express ourselves, these internal experiences adversely affect our psychological and physical health. Avoiding emotions and not addressing the way one is feeling might have a negative long-term effect. Thus, how an individual communicates emerges as the key reason why one chooses to bottle up. Environmental and social factors may also play a role.
Bottling ourselves up prevents us from living our life to the fullest. It’s like we are a walking volcano with the lava (our suppressed emotions, feelings, and thoughts) inside. This emotional suppression is often confused or interchangeably used with the term repression which is in fact quite different. While emotional suppression is voluntary and under one’s control, repression is mostly unconscious. Suppression is the voluntary form of repression (Freud, 1892) where an individual consciously tries to push down their feelings and thoughts from being addressed. Even though both fall under the broad category of defense mechanisms, neither of them are healthy mechanisms of emotional regulation.
Various experimental studies have reflected how bottled-up emotions impact one’s mental and physical health. One study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester found that individuals who bottled up their emotions show higher chances of premature death resulting from various causes; they also presented with a 70% risk of being diagnosed with cancer (Chapman et al., 2013). Another research conducted to determine the association between suppressed emotions with cardiovascular and cancer mortality over a span of 12 years, showed a surprising number of 37 deaths by cardiovascular and 34 deaths by cancer (out of 111 deaths from 729 people). The results of this extensive study indicated that emotional suppression increases the risk for early deaths, including those caused by cancer. Even though these suppressed and unexpressed emotions have long been suspected to affect one’s health negatively, further investigation is required to better understand the biopsychosocial mechanisms involved and the nature of these associations between emotional suppression and different types of mortality.
Individuals who lack a conscious awareness of the negative emotions tend to intentionally suppress or avoid confronting those distressing emotions. The adverse effects of these are first noticed in behavioral changes and later on at a psychological level. Even though the sheer relationship shared between our emotional and physical health is direct and reciprocal, people tend to forget this time and again.
So why do we do this? Why do we keep everything up to ourselves when it hurts and affects our psychological well-being? One of the major reasons why people hide their emotions and feelings is to avoid coming across as weak. As much as humans have evolved over the years, the notion that expressing our feelings or sharing our innermost experiences makes us weak still persists. Statements like “Men don’t cry”, “Stop being so touchy”, and “Don’t act like a crybaby” often stop individuals from expressing themselves. In today’s world where every person has the freedom of speech, these beliefs may act as roadblocks. Another reason people bottle their emotions is to avoid getting hurt. Suppressing one’s feelings may prevent us from being vulnerable in front of others.
Some common yet considerable negative consequences of bottling ourselves up include:
- Relationship problems
Masking our emotions with a smile or the classic “I’m fine” will only end up getting back at us in unhealthy ways. It might affect our relationships adversely, be it with our spouse, parents, coworkers, or kids, with the biggest harm being done to the relationship we share with ourselves.
- Health issues
Chronic illnesses like higher blood pressure, insomnia, heart issues, and diabetes are the by-products of such unexpressed emotions that are deep-rooted in us for a long time.
- Early death
As cited in numerous scientific journals and studied by researchers, suppressed feelings lead to premature death caused by various reasons.
- Poor communication
It goes without saying that when our relationship with ourselves is poor, there’s no way that we can effectively and efficiently communicate with others. Whether it’s our family, friends, or colleagues, we won’t be able to share a healthy communication bridge if we’re not open to the emotions we feel deep inside.
- Unhealthy lifestyle
A poor attitude towards life becomes a given when one pretends everything is okay, even when things aren’t really going well. This leads to more displeasure and dislikes towards life in general.
By now, we know that suppressing and keeping everything to ourselves does more harm than good. So what are the healthier alternatives to prevent this emotional buildup? Here are some-
- Being true to ourselves and our feelings
We lie the most throughout to ourselves. Not only do we avoid feeling and facing the emotions which scare us or aren’t so pleasant, but also we tend to push them and avoid confronting them. Addressing emotions, thoughts, and feelings, will help us process and understand situations better.
- Practicing mindfulness
Developing the ability to be present at every moment and taking life as it is can help. Practicing mindfulness helps us develop a positive outlook toward life and opt for healthier coping mechanisms to regulate our emotions better.
Not everything is meant to be kept hidden in our hearts. Sharing our emotions with our close ones tightens our bond with more warmth and honesty. Expressing our feelings and thoughts lets our near and dear ones know about our current and overall life situation. This in turn provides us with the much-needed emotional support.
- Conscious living
Being conscious and fully aware of any moment we spend allows us to understand every situation in our lives from all aspects. This presents us with better solutions to problems and gives us a head start during tough times.
- Seeking help
Talking to a therapist guides us towards learning improved methods of emotional expression. It allows us to have our very own personal and safe space which provides us with comfort while we get in touch with our innermost feelings.
It’s completely fine to keep certain things to ourselves. But problems occur when we start masking our feelings and keep our emotions to ourselves because we’re too scared to express them. With the help of a professional, one can definitely learn better emotional regulation mechanisms. The tools and techniques that we learn through effective therapy can help us for a lifetime. Learning to face and address our emotions is beneficial for our mental health and may help us lead a healthier life!
Namasya Nandini Swain
Clinical & Research Intern, PsychLine.in
Crystal Raypole. (2020, July 30). It’s Tempting to Mask Your Emotions, but It Won’t Do You (or Anyone Else) Any Favors. Healthline.
Jainish Patel, Prittesh Patel, O. A. (2019, February 12). Consequences of repression of emotion: Physical health, mental health and general well being. Open Access Pub | Peer Reviewed Journals, Open Access journals. https://openaccesspub.org/ijpr/article/999
Benjamin P. Chapman, Kevin Fiscella, Peter Muennig. (2013, August 6). Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-Year follow-up. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939772/
Wendy Rose Gould. (2021, November 1). The dangers of bottling up our emotions. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-dangers-of-bottling-up-our-emotions-5207825