The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Emotional Repression

I am trying to conquer my emotional repression by being over emotional.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner: Here is an email that I received. This is from Stacey. “Hi Dr. Kenner. I have been emotionally repressed for years.” Now, emotional repression is when you don’t allow yourself to feel. “I am trying to feel again, to de-repress. I’m in a new relationship, which is my first in many years. There have been many occasions in which I allowed myself to be open and vulnerable with my new partner whom I trust wholly, and that’s going well. My problem – sometimes I become overly emotional and my partner gets frustrated with me. Then I obsess when we have even a minor disagreement. How can I learn to feel my emotions, express them in ways that are not harmful and not obsess so much when we disagree? I want to shelter my partner from blowback. Can you recommend any techniques or maybe some books on how to de-repress? Thank you so much time for your time and attention. Stacey.”


Okay, so what is emotional repression, Stacey? That’s when you’ve said to yourself, on some level, I don’t ever want to feel these bad feelings again. So all of us have been through situations where maybe we feel really guilty and we say, “I don’t want to ever feel this feeling.” Maybe you were punished by a parent. Maybe you felt so angry, you felt rageful and out of control, and you said, “It’s scary. I don’t ever want to do that again.” Maybe you lost a loved one and you said to yourself, “I don’t ever want to feel that depth of pain again. It is excruciating. It’s like a knife through me.” So you send your subconscious a message that says, “Don’t let me go there again.” And your subconscious is obedient and it says, “Okay! We’re going to make it so that you don’t feel these rotten feelings anymore.” What happens, though, our subconscious can’t say, “Don’t feel just this one feeling.” Our subconscious says, “Emotions are dangerous. Don’t feel. Negative emotions are dangerous,” and it generalizes to all emotions. 


If you have a coping strategy of repression, protecting yourself from experiencing any painful emotions, the guilt, the anger, the sadness, the grief, an odd thing happens. You tell yourself not to feel these yucky emotions. We block them. And we block the positive ones too. So what happens if you were looking at a heartbeat and you see it going blup-blup-blup-blup, and you see it on a monitor and it goes up and down, up and down? And what happens if you flatten out that line? You’ve got a person who is physically dead. It’s a flat line. And when you flatten out your emotions, and get something like a flat line or just a few little rolling hills, you’re doing the same thing. Your emotional life becomes flattened out, and even though you feel like you’re protecting yourselves, you’re not. You’re making your own emotions, your own responses to your own values or disvalues, your enemy. 


So many of us have been repressed. I’m sure I was at one point, I know I was, and have come out of my shell wonderfully. When we practice not letting ourselves feel, we can make that into a habit. We can make it second nature to us. And then we try to live our life. We try to have a romantic relationship, and you can’t feel the highs. And you don’t want to go down to those lows. And you can’t feel in life in general. Everything is muted. So you do want to allow yourself to feel, to live, but when you’ve tagged feelings as something to fear, you’re working against yourself. When you kill your emotional expression in your relationship, your new relationship, you are not there. 


So the good news is that you’re aware of the pattern, your repression, and you’re allowing yourself to experiment. You’re allowing yourself to experience and express your emotions. But there’s a downside. Because you’re new at expressing emotions, the power of them can sometimes be overwhelming and you may not know how to assertive express them. So you can use some skills there. Now, recommend a book or two in a minute. Also when your boyfriend disagrees, maybe that was the injury you had as a child, that people disagreed and you can’t deal with it. You want to learn how to deal with it so it doesn’t feel horrible.


So now, the skills – you can get the book Mind Over Mood on my website, And learn how to decode your emotions and how to recalibrate them if they’re out of whack, how to rebalance them. If they’re not based fully on reality. You can come up with better coping strategies. How to express yourself properly. There are wonderful skills if you’re dealing with anger. There are anger management books. Again, you can go to my website, You can get the book Prisoners of Belief, by McKay and Fanning, and that helps you not always think the worst thing in a situation. It talks about avoiding that negative bias, and you can also get my book on romance, with Dr. Ed Locke, The Selfish Path to Romance, how to love with passion and reason. And look up visibility.