Are You Suppressing Your Emotions or in Control of Them?

Let’s say you had an argument with your partner in the morning, 30 minutes before work video meeting in Zoom. To have a reputation to uphold and look “professional,” you try to stay positive and pretend to be focused on videoconference and be in business mode.

Are you controlling or suppressing the outburst of emotions you feel as a result of the morning situation?

The furniture delivery is late for 3 hours. You’re reaching out to customer support to find out the reason, and they annoyingly inform you the order will be delivered tomorrow. You had to get off work today. You got angry but instead of complaining, you just “swallow” the negative feelings and hang up with irritated “Thank you.”

Are you controlling or suppressing your emotions?

It happens all the time. We all experience a great spectrum of emotions daily and are challenged with the events requiring us to take the control of emotions. We try to maintain them, making conscious or unconscious choices about our feelings.

These choices directly impact our:

  • Thoughts
  • Actions
  • Well-being
  • Relationships with others and ourselves

The difference is the way we manage emotions and how we feel in the result.

But how to recognize this difference? Is emotional suppression an effective self-regulative strategy? What are the coping mechanisms we can learn to use emotions to our advantage and be happy? Find out these and more in this article.

Why Are Emotions Important?

Emotions are present in every aspect of our lives, and they are very important. Why?

  • Whether we’re happy or sad, angry or content, emotions are the biological feedback, responses to what’s happening in the world.
  • They provide cues on how we should act and behave in life, and what’s next.
  • They give information about what the events, things, or phenomena mean for us, how they can impact us and what may bring to our lives.
  • Our emotions guide us to behave in a way that can help us cope with challenging situations.
  • And it’s safe to say that emotions are fuel for survival.

Human emotions are the compass guiding our thoughts and behaviors. But they can be confusing. Each day we’re hit with so many emotions, both positive and negative, that sometimes it may be hard to tell how we really feel. And they can be overwhelming to the point that it may be impossible to keep on normal daily functioning.

To use this compass properly and let it help us navigate our lives wisely, it’s critical to understand emotions and know how to control them. And to make use of these responses, there are tools like emotional self-awareness and regulation. These are some of the components of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Being able to understand emotions and then use this information to guide us toward the life we want is one of the most important skills we can develop.

How We Regulate Our Emotions

Emotional control or emotional regulation is the ability to manage emotions.

It is a set of tools we use to consciously or unconsciously choose:

  • When to experience emotions
  • How to react to them
  • How intense they should be

Controlling is not a refusal to feel. And good emotional regulation skills are linked to improved well-being. However, it doesn’t happen by magic, although we wish it could. Emotional regulation is a complex process that has several strategies.

For example, if you feel angry or upset because of the argument with your partner right before a work meeting (turning back to the first case at the beginning), you might try to distract yourself or suppress your feelings to adjust and be present in the work situation. Both are examples of emotional regulation or control.

And if you choose to take a deep breath, finish the phone call, and not get out your anger and disappointment with furniture delivery and poor customer service (the second case), it’s also an example of emotional regulation.

The difference is in the strategies used and outcomes for your well-being. In this context, it’s possible to categorize them into adaptive and maladaptive.

Adaptive emotion regulation strategies:

  • Acceptance — “My problem is real.”
  • Emotional processing — “I try to explore and understand my emotional experience.”
  • Problem-solving — “I try to figure out what I can do about this.”
  • Distraction — “I switch my focus on something else.”
  • Conflict resolution — “I have to talk with my partner, we should resolve the morning conflict.”
  • Revaluation — “It’s actually not as important as I thought.”
  • Positive appraisal — “OK, I’ll take this challenge!”
  • Social support — “I need someone to talk with.”
  • Emotional expression — “I let myself express what I feel verbally or nonverbally.”
  • Cognitive reappraisal — “I see the bigger picture and can reinterpret the meaning of the event.”
  • Self-soothing — “I give myself pat on the back and prioritize self-care.”
  • Humor — “There’s something funny in this situation.”

Maladaptive emotion regulation strategies:

  • Self- or other-blame — “It’s all because of me (you)!”
  • Withdrawal — “I don’t want to see anyone.”
  • Rumination — “I can’t get it out of my head.”
  • Suppression — “I’m restraining my emotions and keeping them inside.”
  • Repression — “I unconsciously avoid my emotions.”
  • Denial — “The problem doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist…”
  • Self-devaluation — “It’s all my fault, I couldn’t do better.”
  • Worry — “I’m just thinking about possible negative outcomes.”
  • Catastrophizing — “This is terrible!”
  • Self-harm
  • Substance use

Though, it’s important to note that these strategies are unique for every person as well as the emotions we experience. Some of them are not the best advice for dealing with an emergency. And in some situations, adaptive strategies can be maladaptive and vice versa. For example, as in the case with suppression.

Emotional Suppression

Suppressing your emotions means you are purposely not acknowledging, accepting, and understanding them. It can happen when people do not have adequate coping mechanisms for their feelings, deny their true emotions, and believe they will simply go away if they continue pushing them down. But then they find that their day-to-day lives are somewhat disrupted by a sense of unease.

Often, emotional suppression, as well as repression, can be developed in childhood. Neglect of the negative emotional experiences of children and phrases like, “You get what you get so stop crying” or “Your emotions are a sign of weakness” discourage children to explore, acknowledge, and express their emotions and feelings in the long term.

Emotional suppression is often insidious and linked to denial. Once we have experienced a hurdle of negative emotions, we consciously force ourselves not to think about them the rest of the day. This can be dangerous, preventing us from living our lives to the fullest.

Is emotional suppression positive?

Most people suppress their emotions because they believe it’s the right or safe thing to do. In the short run, suppressing uncomfortable emotions is an adaptive strategy of emotional regulation if you want to adjust to the situation.

For example, in the workplace, you may be suppressing your true emotions to maintain a professional appearance. Or, you suppress your anger to keep the tone of the conversation neutral or just not to spoil someone’s day.

Emotional suppression can be beneficial for the short-term, but necessarily “in combination” with other adaptive strategies of emotional regulation.

For example, you can suppress negative emotions after an argument with your partner before a work meeting. But it’s necessary to address your emotions after, turn to the situation, talk with your partner and mental health professional, find ways to resolve the conflict and achieve peace of mind and relationships.

Constant suppression of your emotions is counterproductive. It can have a negative impact on your relationships, work, and well-being.

What are the negative effects of emotional suppression?

First, emotional suppression has long-term negative effects on health. These include:

  • Disrupted sleep
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic pain
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • The development of eating disorders
  • Increased risk of substance abuse

Second, suppression allows people to continue with behaviors, relationships, or work conditions that are not helpful for them. By literally putting things off until the worst of times, people risk leaving their problems unaddressed and unhealed.

Often, emotional suppression is the easy choice. But when we constantly suppress our emotions, we can end up feeling stuck. Instead of working to resolve issues, we may blame ourselves, ignore our emotions, and sink in shame, negative self-talk, judgment, and complaining.

When you suppress your emotions and feelings, either because you’re trying to control them or you worry the outside world will interpret your emotions negatively, you’re actually not in the charge of them at all. Rather, they seem to take control of you, causing rumination and bringing more pain inside.

How to Regulate Emotions Better but Not to Suppress Them

Healthy emotional regulation is the core of emotional resilience. This requires some skills to develop, practice to use, and efforts to invest.

Being in control of your emotions means you can consciously deal with any of them, and recognize, understand, and use them to your advantage. You can respond to your surroundings with awareness and balance.

Emotional regulation is about your relationships with yourself and the outer world.

It’s a powerful skill that can help you:

  • Lead a more self-aware life
  • Get along with others more easily
  • And deal with problems more effectively

That takes care and practice but can be learned and nourished with some strategies:

  • Pay attention to how emotions impact your daily life
  • Identify what you feel and your emotions
  • Recognize triggers
  • Accept all of your emotions
  • Prepare an action plan
  • Practice journaling 
  • Express yourself
  • Prioritize self-care
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat healthily
  • Try grounding & self-soothing
  • Make time for hobbies
  • Exercise regularly
  • Relax when you need it
  • Find your mood boosters
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Try yoga and meditation
  • Seek social support
  • Talk to a therapist

Regular practice of these strategies improves the skill of self-regulation and the quality of life, boosting your happiness and resilience.

How a Mental Health Professional Can Help You Manage Your Emotions

All of us need professional help when trying to regulate our emotions. It is so important to ask for a therapist’s help right away if you are having emotional problems.

An online therapist on Calmerry can help you:

  • Be more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and use the tools at your disposal to fix issues instead of suppressing them
  • Accept and name the emotions by their proper names
  • Stop repeating the pattern of denying or ignoring your true reaction to a situation or experience
  • Pursue healthier patterns of coping with emotions
  • Find the ways of processing unpleasant emotions so they don’t significantly impact your daily life
  • Focus on self-regulation and developing tools for it, rather than just “managing” ourselves better
  • Reflect on aspects of life that are under your direct control
  • Find a coping mechanism that works best for you in your situation
  • Treat mental health disorders linked with poor emotional regulation

And also — “The Heart has its reasons that Reason knows nothing of.” A therapist can help you acknowledge these reasons. They can provide you with a better understanding of why you experience these emotions and equip you with the tools to manage them to lead a fulfilling life.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more