• nancy

Why Did we Learn to Suppress our Emotions?

Updated: Oct 30


in the middle of November,

while driving through the windy roads towards Yosemite Valley

and daydreaming about starting a creative business,

the word "emotions" traversed my mind


usually in my imaginative state

i get inspiring visions,

like photographs that suddenly disappear,

but for that moment, it felt like the wind whispered "emotions"

and floated away


i started reflecting on emotions,

they exist to help guide us

how to survive, take action,

connect with other

they make life colorful

intense and meaningful

so why is it then

we are shamed for them

why are most adults not honest about our emotions?

especially the way we experience and display them


we're not trying to lie

but we often attempt to minimize them

either by restricting facial expressions

or keeping feelings bottled up entirely

and putting up figurative walls

perhaps we do not want emotions to control us,

so the moment we feel anything

especially if it's not socially acceptable or deemed "negative",

it gets suppressed

this can happen in a second

almost instantaneously


i used to suppress all the time

anger -- gone

fear -- gone

shame -- gone

compartmentalized until later


in the moment, i was surviving

ultimately, i would become depressed

always functional,

but very numb

my cognition slowed and my sleeping increased

so did my laughter and smiles

nobody asks questions if i feigned happiness

it was a private battle

discussed with a therapist

yet secret from my family and friends

i spent a lot time reflecting on the medical world's perspective on depression

the therapy world's perspective

as well as my own

yes, it could be a chemical imbalance,

even a thought imbalance,

but what if i don't know how to feel my feelings?

perhaps my nervous system was so overwhelmed with feelings

it shut down


i was scared of my feelings

maybe many of us are

perhaps we don't know what to do with them

because nobody taught us

they told us to hide them

because they too

felt shame

that they didn't know what to do with them either


when my first love broke up with me

he told me i was so sensitive

i would cry if a rock fell

it was embarrassingly true

the energies and feelings around me

vibrated through me

it was overwhelming as a child

as a teenager

and continually as an adult

i didn't know what was mine

or another's

so a part of me hid in shame


many years past

but working in family medicine forced me to address emotions

again and again

although i worked mostly with asian patients

who learned to deny their feelings

as it is socially more acceptable to somaticize

most people denied their own emotional distress

despite their outwardly calm appearances

i could see other people's depression and hopelessness

feel their aching neck and back

as if it were my own

fatigue washing over me

yet, because it was so familiar to me

i could mirror it back with kindness

people would feel seen

and trust was built


anxious patients were my crux

they frustrated me the most

because the feeling hit so close to home

my family threw their anxieties onto me

and i never knew how to stop them

other than running or hiding


it's such a chaotic energy

spiraling out of control

picking me up with it

no matter how much reassurance

or testing or imaging i ordered

there would always be another issue

and another proclamation

"i do not have worries"

as i watched their eyes and thoughts bounce all over the room

"i do not have stress"

as their egos gripped the situation

telling them a foreboding future of pain and loneliness

and their bodies tensed all the same

my patient and i sat in our denial

our fears basked together

exhausting each other


by the time i confronted my anxieties

i felt i had lost everything

success, dreams, love, friendships

but here i was

still miserably alive

but not really alive

and there was nothing left but to address my fears

no longer did i distract myself

i meditated with my fears and worries

i talked to them

asked them what they wanted to tell me

and what i could do to help

it was as if a toddler version of me

wanted me to hold her and promise

"please take care of me so i'm not hurt

or scared anymore"

"oh darling, i'm so sorry

i forgot about you," i told her

and promised her i would listen


now

i really listen to my anxious patients

let them know their concerns are important to me

and that they are very important to me

because it's very possible

nobody held them when they needed it

when they were helpless

and with this grounding

i ease their mind and heart

and ask them to come with me towards a world that is not harming them

that they have the power to do now

what they could not do then

which is acknowledge their emotions are important

and they can learn to support their emotions

and understand themselves


what my heart tells me now is to no longer to deny my emotions

but to speak its truth

to embrace in this blessed universal ability

to be alive and connected

and know that emotions are our guides

to healing ourselves and others



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