Have you ever played the game of Jenga? Carefully trying to build a balanced tower with its own pieces until it all falls down. Even though we know it is bound to fall, we feel disappointed when it finally does. Why is that? Now imagine that tower to be yourself which is standing strong in the beginning because of all the blocks closed stacked together called emotions.
You see how delicate yet strong is this connection between the emotions that can make us or break us if we are not careful enough about managing them well. This is what happens when we repress our emotions. It has the strength to break us in a way that it gets extremely difficult to even understand the cause of it.
As Daniel Goleman said,
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand,
if you don’t have self-awareness,
if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions,
if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships,
then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Emotional repression happens when we are trying to subconsciously protect ourselves from a traumatic event and the emotions attached with it, or even an unsettling memory. But how do we know if we are repressing our emotions? If you feel ‘indifferent’ or ‘numb’ often, feel uncomfortable when people talk about their feelings or ask you to share yours, feel stressed and restless for no known reason, and also when you feel upbeat most of the time and don’t let yourself focus a lot on distressing emotions, there could be a possibility that you have been subconsciously repressing your emotions over the years, and now emotional expression is making you feel uncomfortable.
Now that you are not consciously aware of your emotions, your past experiences, how is it that you can manage them? Try playing Jenga with your eyes closed. Dealing with emotions without being able to identify and express them is like building your life with one half of your mind shut. Sooner or later, that tower will fall, and we won’t even be aware of why that happened.
The first step to building this tower more mindfully is being aware of its building blocks — your own emotions, how they function, how you manage them, what role does each emotion play in your life and so on. That sounds like a lot, right? How do I even do that?
Let’s look at some basics that you can follow –
Give a name to each block, and try to be as specific as you can about that emotion. When we name our emotions specifically, it gives us more clarity about how we are actually feeling and what could be the possible cause of it. ‘I am feeling sad’ v/s ‘I am feeling lonely and disappointed’- which gives you more clarity?
Acknowledge and accept that these emotions exist, even if they make you uncomfortable. These blocks have someplace in that tower and denying their existence won’t make them go away. What you do with it is something that comes later.
Share how you feel. For a person who has been repressing their emotions all this while, asking them to share seems a bit of a stretch. But what if you do it within your own personal space. Try writing about how you feel, make it a safe space for you to just identify and acknowledge your own emotional experiences.
Seek help from a mental health professional. While the end goal is always to learn the ability to regulate your emotions by yourself, sometimes it’s difficult to work on it alone, and it needs professional support. When we work together, we also gather the strength to deal with the resistance in unearthing and addressing these discomforting memories and emotions, and there’s no harm in seeking help for doing that for your own good in the long run.
Going for therapy is like having a person sitting on the other side of the Jenga tower, helping you gain perspective about how it looks on the other side, and then make a move consciously yet effectively. Emotional expression happens when you feel secure in a place, with someone even if it is yourself, and we need to learn how to make that safe space for ourselves.
(The author is Counseling Psychologist, BetterLYF Wellness)