How Emotional Suppression Affects Our Physical Body

“Be strong.” “You can get over this.” “Don’t let them see that you are weak.”

These statements are ones that we hear often, either from those around us or from ourselves, after we go through hard times. We are told that the best way to deal with pain, grief or sadness is to lock it in, suppress it and not let it affect our everyday lives. I see this often in my patients and very commonly, these moments of suppression correlate strongly with the onset of disease.

A common misconception in our culture is that not showing emotion equals emotional strength. This could not be further from the truth. Expressing emotion honestly actually requires more strength than avoiding an issue. And, it can also be deeply healing.

Holding it In

Our bodies can be very metaphoric. When we hold in feelings like anger, resentment or sadness, those emotions have to go somewhere. Unfortunately, in many cases, suppressed emotion gets held within the body, paving the way for physical imbalances. Of course our environment, what we eat, how much we sleep, etc, play a huge role in overall health, but so do our emotional bodies.

For example, emotional suppression can create blockages and literal physical constipation within the body. Another example might be if you experience chronic coughs, sore throats or thyroid conditions. Your throat embodies your ability to speak and could indicate an inability to say what you truly feel.

Other examples of emotions manifesting as illnesses include:

  • Carrying the emotional weight of others: this sometimes manifests as shoulder, neck and back issues.
  • Not feeling loved or feeling inadequate: this could appear through concerns of the heart
  • Unexpressed grief: this is often uncovered when one experiences chest constriction or heaviness, asthma or lung issues.
  • Lack of support in your life: this often creates issues with the hips and structure of the body.

To learn more about the metaphorically physical ways that our bodies carry our emotions, pick up a copy of Louise Hays’ book, You Can Heal Your Life.

Pent up, suppressed emotions can wreak tremendous havoc on the body. If left unchecked, they could even play a role in leading to serious issues like heart disease, autoimmune illnesses and cancer. Instead of holding your emotions in, let them out in productive ways.

Here are a few productive ways to resolve your emotions that I often talk about with my patients:

  • Write down in detail what you are angry about or afraid to express, journal and get to the root of your feelings. If you don’t want to keep what you’ve wrote, burn it and let it go.
  • Go to a private, quiet place and yell as loud as you can about the things that are frustrating you. Perhaps we can’t yell in public, but nature has a wonderful way of healing us. Let nature take on your burdens, or simply walk in the grass barefoot and feel the support of nature beneath your feet.
  • See a therapist or psychologist to talk through your pent up feelings. Or perhaps just use a friend who is willing to listen, but be real regardless of who you are talking to.
  • Start being more real and genuine about your emotions on a daily basis.

Embracing the Now

People also suppress emotions like guilt while taking on the burdens of the world. They say to themselves, “I should have done_____ or_____.”

"Should" is a heavy word; it expresses regret about how things unfolded and prevents us from living in the moment. Instead of dwelling in the past, accept that you did the best you could with the knowledge and resources you had at the time. Learn from what happened and move on with those important lessons.

Practice self-forgiveness and self-love. Look at the WHY of repeating circumstances in your life that trigger anger or sadness. Why did that event upset you in the first place? Find the root of your emotion, express those feelings, and move forward, stronger and healthier.

Layers of Emotions

Very often, we see anger disguised as sadness expressing itself in physical pain. We can help to address each layer of emotion that is causing a physical imbalance. Don't fall victim to distractions like TV, the computer, gossip magazines and becoming a workaholic. These only create avoidance patterns and more suppression. Utilize the list above, or come up with your own ways to get to the bottom of what you are truly feeling.

Most importantly, remember that being strong does not equal suppressing your emotions. Being strong means getting in touch with your true feelings and expressing them in healthy, productive ways.

Invest the time to discover what works for YOU. We are all different, so some of us enjoy journaling to uncover our answers while others hate it. Don’t feel stuck by what works for “everyone else.” Find what helps you best uncover your emotions and invest your time in that.