What is Emotional Repression?
“Repression can have a devastating effect on the relationship we have with ourselves.”
As humans we are feely creatures. We cry at sad movies, we cry at weddings, we cry when we’re tired, when we’re angry and just as easily we can erupt into hysterics at the sight of a meme. We go high, we go low, we go fifty shades of mad and that’s what being a human is about. But 6 months ago I stumbled across the notion of repression. Repression, you ask… is a concept developed by Freud back in the day. Now I know Freud is a controversial character, a new age perv*rt of sorts with a penchant for cocaine and incest and to be honest some of what he claimed was barking mad but he was dead right on a couple of things - and repression was one.
Repression is widely linked to depression. It most likely begins in childhood when children are brought up in an environment where the expression of negative emotion isn’t encouraged. Rather than deal with the wrath of a monstrous authority we take to repressing. It is basically the mind's ability to repress painful memories from our conscious mind. So as a kid we feel anger, except we know anger isn’t received well at home so instead of expressing it, acting it out and running amuck we stuff it down as if everything is ok and on we go. These emotions can be too painful for us to deal with and anyone who’s grown up in Ireland knows that avoidance is the best tactic. Except it’s not. Because any feeling you don’t allow yourself to feel is taken on a detour to the unconscious, where it hides until it is expressed. Stashed away with the rest of those horrid feelings we’d rather not deal with - fear, anger, sadness, jealousy, shame, doubt and grief. Packed away ‘safely’ so that you never have to feel them again. Except you do. Because if you don’t they will come back to haunt you, be that through mental health issues like depression, or anxiety or physical illness like stress related autoimmune disease or maybe something much more subtle altogether. Like disruption of sleep, focus, motivation, concentration and more.
Repression too can have a devastating effect on the relationship we have with ourselves. On how we talk to ourselves and on how forgiving we are when we mess up. And given that we spend 24/7 with ourselves you do not want a mean girl sabotaging the hell out of every opportunity. Everytime we scold ourselves, or barate ourselves for not doing or being enough our sense of self is diminished. We lose confidence in who we are and our standards and expectations for ourselves drop opening up a whole host of issues in itself that can lead to a feelings of being stuck, unfulfilled and generally MEH.
Signs That You Have Repressed Negative Childhood Emotions:
You Have Strong Reactions To Certain People
Specific Places Or Situations Freak You Out
It's Difficult For You To Control Your Emotions
Keeping A Job Has Always Been Difficult
You've Always Struggled With Fears Of Abandonment
Friends Often Say You're "Acting Like A Child"
You Have A Tendency To Self-Sabotage
Friends Have Called You "Impulsive" On More Than One Occasion
You Often Feel Emotionally Exhausted
You Always Feel Anxious
You Seem To Have Issues With Anger Management
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, then most likely you are dealing with repressed emotions. The energy needed to keep these emotions locked down in itself is enough to have you wiped after a day of little action. But how repression impacts each of us varies entirely from person to person. For some it can be total disinterest, for other outbursts of anger, but as with all mental health issues they are complex and individual so there is no one size fits all. But if you do suspect that something might be a little off but you can’t quite name it, like periods of disinterest, a lulling sadness or just a niggle that you can’t seem to shake then it might be time to speak to a therapist.
About The Author
Siobhan is a Trainee Psychotherapist, Mental Health Advocate and Editor of crakd. She’s also embroiled in an intense love affair with eclectic interiors and colourful food.
Follow Siobhan on Instagram @siobhan_scan