Nearly everyone hides their feelings from time to time.
Say your partner reveals something at a family gathering you asked them to keep private. You’re upset and embarrassed, but you pretend everything’s fine until you get home, where you can talk alone. You don’t want to argue in front of your extended family and make the conflict worse.
Occasional emotional suppression generally won’t cause problems as long as you eventually work through them in healthy, productive ways.
It can become an issue, however, if it becomes a pattern and affects your ability to communicate authentically.
People generally learn to suppress emotions for a few key reasons.
To avoid showing ‘weakness’
Showing emotion can put you in a vulnerable place, and it’s pretty normal to want to avoid exposing vulnerabilities to others.
You might worry expressing certain emotions will lead others to judge you and believe you can’t manage your feelings. As a result, you hide your sadness, fear, frustration, and other so-called negative emotions.
You could also have some concerns around others using these feelings against you, especially if that’s happened to you before.
To avoid getting hurt
People often hide emotions to protect their relationships.
When someone you care about does something upsetting, you might choose to hide your annoyance.
Yes, their actions bothered you. But if they react negatively when you tell them how you feel, you could end up triggering an even more painful conflict. So, instead, you choose to avoid conflict entirely.
This desire to avoid pain often stems from an underlying lack of trust in yourself and others.
If people have manipulated your emotions in the past, you might fear trusting someone new with your feelings. You might also lack faith in your own ability to handle conflict in a positive and productive way.
Lack of confidence
If you grow up receiving the message that your opinions and feelings don’t matter, you’ll likely learn to hide your feelings from an early age.
This often happens when parents and caregivers judge or criticize you for expressing your emotions. This judgment isn’t limited to negative emotions, either.
Some restrictive caregivers reprimand children for any outburst, negative or positive. Eventually, you may no longer feel safe expressing your opinions and feelings, so you hide them to prevent further criticism.
Caregivers who mask their own emotions can also reinforce the idea that you should do the same.
Masking emotions can have some pretty significant effects on physical and emotional health.
By hiding your emotions, you prevent clear communication with the people in your life. This lack of communication makes it tough to navigate conflict.
When you can’t work through problems, they’ll probably keep happening. You might eventually become angry and resentful, and these feelings could trigger the conflict you wanted to avoid. You could also start avoiding people who provoke certain emotions, possibly losing relationships you value.
Emotional suppression can become so much of a habit that it begins to happen unconsciously, so you might also notice you begin to lose touch with your own feelings.
A classic example of this involves anger. Many people believe it’s better to tamp down anger than express it.
But suppressing your anger means you don’t address it, so it continues to build and seethe under your mask of calm. Eventually, when you can’t hold it back any longer, you might blow up — and not necessarily at the person who made you mad.
You might think you can hide your feelings fairly well, but people who know you can usually recognize when something’s bothering you.
Insisting “I’m fine” and “Nothing’s wrong” can confuse and frustrate them when the opposite is clearly true. If they know you aren’t telling the truth, they might feel hurt by your lack of trust and begin losing trust in you.
If they do believe you, they might lose confidence in their ability to understand you or decide they don’t know you as well as they thought. Eventually, they could begin to question the strength of the relationship.
In either scenario, the relationship you wanted to protect still ends up being damaged.
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Any one of these concerns can affect long-term health and longevity, especially without treatment.
It can take time and effort to learn to share your feelings openly. These strategies can help you get more comfortable with your emotions and overcome the urge to suppress them.
Mindfulness refers to your awareness of the present moment and ability to experience things as they happen.
Emotional mindfulness means acknowledging and accepting feelings as they come up, even if you choose not to express them immediately.
You might think, “Wow, I’m really angry right now. I don’t want to start a fight, though, so I’m going to take a moment before trying to explain why I’m so upset.”
Sitting with emotions allows you to fully experience and understand them. This deeper understanding can make it easier to understand your role in the situation and explore potential solutions.
Share your feelings honestly
Your emotions are part of your life experience. Discounting them can eventually invalidate your identity and sense of self, and prevent you from achieving personal goals.
There are ways to share feelings, even negative ones, without being rude. It helps to practice emotional communication by first opening up to loved ones and others you trust.
Try using “I” statements to bring up feelings respectfully.
For example: Two of your friends keep referencing their Zoom hangouts in your group chat — hangouts you weren’t included in. Instead of nursing hurt feelings privately, you might say, “Hey, I feel kind of left out! Why don’t we have a group Zoom next time?”
Another example: Your boss denies your request for a raise. What if you calmly explain why you deserve it instead of shutting down?
Respectfully expressing your disappointment could encourage them to reconsider their decision. Pretending you don’t mind sends the message that you accept the situation as is.
But since you really don’t accept it, you walk away feeling frustrated and resentful. These feelings might eventually affect your work performance, making a future raise even more unlikely.
Talk to someone you trust
If you don’t get a chance to express your emotions, talking about them later can still help, particularly if you can’t change the circumstances.
Say you’re struggling with a co-worker who consistently makes pointed remarks and does small things to annoy you. You’ve politely asked them to stop and made your boss aware of the situation, but the behavior continues.
At work, you stay calm and try not to show your irritation. At home, you vent to your sympathetic partner. Knowing you can share your annoyance later helps you get through the day without getting too worked up.
Keeping a journal can also help you practice expressing emotions as they come up. Journaling may not have quite the same impact as talking to someone who can validate your distress, but it can still help you process difficult feelings.
When masking emotions has become a long-standing pattern, you might struggle to overcome this habit alone.
Talking to a therapist can help you learn to improve emotional expression.
Therapy also offers a safe space to work on getting more in touch with your feelings.
Once you feel more comfortable with your emotions, a therapist can:
- teach effective communication and conflict resolution skills
- offer guidance on strategies to cope with intense feelings
- help you address mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and stress, associated with hidden emotions
Occasionally concealing emotions is pretty normal. It might even seem like the best option in tense or public situations.
But when you hide your feelings because you fear how others will react, you end up denying your own experience. This might seem like a good way to avoid conflict and emotional pain, but it usually comes back to bite you in the end.
Learning to express emotions authentically isn’t always easy, but a therapist can help. The tools you learn in therapy can empower you to communicate more openly, without letting fear of the potential consequences hold you back.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.