Is it hard for you to express negative emotions? Are you at a loss when it comes to emotional pain, hurt, or heartache, and what to do with it? Do you stuff difficult emotions and not express them as you should? There is a level of trust needed to be vulnerable to others in expressing emotional pain. Physical pain can feel easier to deal with when emotional pain isn’t expressed. Emotional pain can be hidden, suppressed, and boxed away, creating a powder keg if not expressed. You can’t just experience positive emotions and be healthy. You have to be able to express negative emotions as well. If you are an emotional stuffer, as I am, you might need some help with this.
Well, hello there! Don’t feel alone, you’re in good company. It doesn’t come easy for some of us to express negative emotions and that’s ok. For clarification, the negative emotions that I have problems expressing are hurt (that’s a big one) anger, sadness, guilt, and fear. I think fear is a strange one, but I don’t like to admit if I am afraid, I rarely will. This seems like it could be a good thing, and it is to an extent. It is also a reckless quality and can be dangerous to not express fear. I have friends that are afraid of things that I see as adventurous, and I am usually the one who takes the first leap. I have common sense, I don’t do things I know are dangerous, but I have confidence that overrides fear.
Acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step toward a better you. We first have to identify that we have a problem expressing emotion before we can work on solving it. I know that in my case, I have known for quite some time about my inability to express hurt, but actually doing the work needed in addressing the problem has not been done. It takes time and effort. Emotional expression is not easily altered, it takes deep, deliberate work.
Learning to express emotion starts at birth. Crying is our first expression of emotion and used to start with a spank from some well-meaning doctor. Some babies know how to wail at an early age, and some are calmer, never crying much at all. When our needs aren’t met as a baby, the crying continues as a way to call attention to our discomfort. As we grow up, we learn what is and is not acceptable emotional expression. Parental guidance is the biggest factor in learned emotional expression. Were you able to express yourself as a child in a safe and effective manner? Personality is also a big factor: some kids have no problem making their feelings known, some throw themselves on the ground in tantrums whereas others would get their behinds paddled for an outburst like that. In order to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult, there is work to be done in expressing negative emotions. Luckily, we have our lifetime to learn, it’s not too late, but the sooner the better.
When you are hurt, as a young child, your emotional expression can be stunted. If you are unable for whatever reason, to express that pain, it will affect you until you are able to. It may take many years for you to realize this and understand that you have to look back and find out: when did this start? There is a reason for stuffing emotions, it isn’t situational, there is a cause. Whatever happened, it has to be voiced and given the attention needed for a healthy change to take place. Now there is a vast array of circumstances that affect us detrimentally when we are young. The crux of the matter is: have you been able to emotionally heal from these circumstances? Were you able to acknowledge and receive loving support through the hurt you experienced? For me, the answer is no, I was not. I believe that has directly affected the way that I respond to hurt and negative emotions. I stuff them because I wasn’t able to express them when I needed to at a very young age.
Don’t be surprised if you have no idea why it’s difficult to express hurt or other emotions. You can’t think of a single issue at all. If you stuff your emotions at some point, you learned that was the best way for you to deal with the uncomfortable emotion. Something happened to cause this, something you couldn’t express. It took me decades to realize this because… I stuffed it really well. Once I recalled that I was abused at a very young age, I was able to start putting pieces together and start healing. I encourage you to take a look at your childhood. You didn’t start this as an adult, there was something that kept you from expressing your hurt. I learned to avoid negative emotions for most of my life. I’m not saying I didn’t have them; I just didn’t effectively deal with them.
When looking back at your life try to find the “when and why” you started suppressing negative emotions. It can be from a lack of support when you needed it, a traumatic or chaotic experience that occurred, and for whatever reason, you couldn’t get your emotions out. Perhaps you didn’t feel safe, accepted, or able to be vulnerable and therefore, you guarded your feelings to protect yourself. It’s a defense mechanism and a form of self-preservation. People who suffer traumatic events as children will develop ways to cope that can cause emotional suppression. To heal is to express, and as I write this, I feel a wash of sadness and regret. The sadness is that I wasn’t given the acknowledgment and ability to process my trauma and the regret is that my parents thought that was the best thing for me. They only wanted me to be a happy and healthy little girl and, in their mind, never speaking of it was best. They didn’t know. People didn’t talk about those kinds of things back in the early 70s. They were protecting me by moving on. I don’t even know if my mother knew. I told my father, and he took care of it, and I never had to worry about seeing that man again. So, for me, the blame goes directly to the janitor at my church. That is where I place the blame.
After looking at life and coming to terms with my trauma I have been able to let it go. It took me a lot of soul-searching, counseling, and self-help work, but I am doing and have done the work. Our circumstances are individual, we each have stories causing us to hold our emotions in and not express ourselves in a healthy manner. I can only speak from my experience, and upon examining my childhood and early adulthood, I can piece together my emotional responses and my self-protecting behavior that began at 6-7 years old. I remember clearly being so frustrated at myself as a young girl because I would cry at the drop of a hat and had no idea why. I had three brothers and as the only girl, it didn’t go over well when I cried all the time. I’m sure my brothers teased me about it, but the frustration I felt as a young child was strong. I made myself stop crying. I worked hard at it and by the time I was 10, I could control my crying and that was that. I didn’t understand that crying is a part of healing, I didn’t understand that there was a reason to cry. I still don’t cry. I have gone years and it takes a large crisis or a lot of alcohol to allow me to cry. I’m getting better at it though. It takes time and effort, counseling, soul searching, journalling, and acknowledging the feelings in order to heal. Finding people that I can share my story with, my family, and friends, speaking my truth; that is how the healing works. This blog I write is healing for me. Take a step for yourself, and use any of these suggestions but whatever form it takes, speak your truth. That is what will lead to healing.