It is generally observed that for the sake of being pleasant, some people extinguish their anxiety, fear and anger and in the process of getting others to accept them in the society, they do not present themselves truly. Most of the time, they crush their actual feelings to come out. It becomes injurious to their hearts in due course of time. To live in the society and pose ourselves to be highly cultured, we learn to suppress our base instincts, to civilize our uncivilised urges – to hide our raw feelings and tame the ignoble savage. It is also true that social ties would not hold, things would fall apart, if our emotions were always exposed. If we expose an indecent feeling toward our colleague or best friend, that would definitely endanger a partnership or relationship.
So we become socialised and learn to impose emotion controls, issue restraining orders on our feelings. There are clear benefits to concealing some emotions, but there are also costs: like most human interventions with nature, the socialisation process produces side effects.
While it is at times necessary to keep certain emotions out of sight (when we’re on the street), it’s harmful to try to keep them out of mind (when we are alone). Denying ourselves the permission to experience unwanted emotions or feel indecent feelings when we are alone, is potentially harmful to our well-being.
We are told that it is “improper” to display our anxiety when delivering a lecture, so we suppress any form of anxiety when we’re writing in our journal. We learn that it is indecent to cry while sitting on the bus, and so we hold our tears even when we are in the shower. Anger does not win us friends, and over time we lose our ability to express anger in solitude. We extinguish our anxiety, fear, and anger for the sake of being pleasant, nice to be around-and in the process of getting others to accept us, we reject ourselves.
When we keep emotions in when we suppress or repress, ignore or avoid-we pay a high price. Much has been written about the cost of suppression to our psychological well-being.
Sigmund Freud and his followers have established the connection between established the connection between repression and unhappiness; eminent psychologists like Nathaniel Braden and Carl Rogers have illustrated how we hurt our self-esteem when we deny our feelings. And it is not only our psychological well being that is influenced by our emotions, but our physical well-being as well. Since emotions are both cognitive and physical-influencing and being influenced by our thoughts and physiology-suppressing emotions influence the mind and the body.
The link between the mind and the body in the field of medicine has been well established-from the placebo effect to the evidence tying stress and suppression with physical aches and pains. According to Dr, John Sarno, a physician and a professor at New York University School of Medicine, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, and other symptoms are often “a response to the need to keep those terrible, antisocial, unkind, childish, angry, selfish feelings… from becoming conscious.” Because there is less of stigma in our culture against physical pain than against emotional disease, our subconscious mind diverts attention-our own and others’-from the emotional to the physical.
The prescription Sarno offers to thousands of his patients is to acknowledge their negative feelings, to accept their anxiety, anger, fear, jealousy, or confusion. In many of the cases, the mere permission to experience one’s emotions does not only make the physical symptom go away, it alleviates the negative feelings as well.
Psychotherapy works because the client allows the free flow of emotions-positive and negative. In a set experiments, psychologist James Pennebaker demonstrated that students who, on four consecutive days, spent twenty minutes writing about difficult experiences, were happier and physically healthier in the long run.
The mere act of “opening up” can set us free. Pennebaker, supporting Sarno’s findings, recognizes that “Once we understand the link between a psychological event and a recurring health problem, our health improves.”
While we do not need to scream while walking on Main Street, or shout at our boss who makes us angry, we should, when possible, provide ourselves a channel for the expression of our emotions. We can talk to a friend about our anger and anxiety, write in our journal about our fear or jealousy, and, at times, in solitude or in the presence of someone we trust, allow ourselves to shed a tear – of sorrow or of joy.
We would be happy if we feel ourselves freely and express, whenever there is an appropriate opportunity without hurting others. Be happy and allow yourself to feel freely.