Repression of emotion is one of the most common strategies of regulating emotions used by humans. People may suppress emotions for a number of reasons.  Just a few reasons may be: (1) When they have expressed emotions in the past, they were ignored. (2) When they have expressed emotions in the past, they were punished. (3) When they have expressed emotions in the past, they were shamed. With these three examples, individuals may learn/begin to believe that suppressing emotions is less painful than the consequence(s) associated with expressing their emotions. However, it is important to remember that our emotional status has a direct and profound influence on our physical and mental health.

Research has shown that over 80% of all physicians’ visits are related to a socio-emotional challenge, while only 16% would be considered solely pathophysiologic in nature. One study discovered that 84% of 567 common complaints, such as dizziness and chest pain, indicated no medical diagnosis (Kroenke K, A D Mangelsdorff. (1989) Common symptoms in ambulatory care: incidence, evaluation, therapy, and outcome. The American journal of medicine86. 262-266).  Additionally, a recent study out of the UK discovered that about 25% of all new specialty referrals, and about 20% of all referrals requiring surgery, resulted in no particular medical diagnoses. (Reid S, Wessely S, Crayford T, Hotopf M. (2001). Medically unexplained symptoms in frequent attenders of secondary health care: retrospective cohort study. Bmj 322, 767).  It is apparent that we need to have an understanding of how repressing our emotions can cause such symptomatic suffering. Additionally, this understanding can be helpful in curtailing staggering medical costs when symptoms are born out of emotional imbalance. 

Unfortunately, individuals with difficulties managing their emotions subject their health and wellbeing into negligence and, as a result, are more likely to display substance abuse, poor nutrition, disordered eating, abnormal sleep patterns, and behaviors that are injurious to oneself. It is important to clarify that feelings and emotions are not responsible for these health disorders and sicknesses. Instead, it is the ongoing dependency on self-defense, against the expression of emotions and feelings, that creates the tension required for the disease to thrive (Cramer P. (2000) Defense mechanisms in psychology today: Further processes for adaptation. , American Psychologist 55, 637).  On the other hand, the free and uninterrupted expression of emotional possesses creates sustainable benefits for physical and mental health and general wellbeing.

Whatever the reason a person may struggle with expressing emotion, the costs can be great.  If emotion suppression is a struggle, a self-defense mechanism, or just a way of life, please consider allowing yourself to take refuge in a safe, nonjudgmental place to unearth these emotions. Your physical and mental health are invaluable.  Allow yourself the gift of honesty with your emotions and you will be significantly healthier for it.

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