Are you repressing your emotions?

Are you repressing your emotions?

Are you a dependable and successful person and seemingly nothing fazes you? You could be coping with stress and anxiety by repressing your emotions, causing risk to your health and relationships.

The New York Times reviewed studies from Stanford University School of Medicine, University of Wisconsin and the Yale School of Medicine to get a better idea of the type of person who represses emotions. These people are called “repressers” and have the ability to unconsciously forget unacceptable emotions, ideas and even memories. They are not acting under a guise – most are unaware of how their body is reacting to stress and anxiety.

Stanford researchers believe one in every six people may be a represser. In a study of 120 managers and engineers at an aerospace company, the researchers found that repressers had higher blood pressure and reacted with an even greater rise in blood pressure to a simple stress test than non-repressers did. Yale’s study found that of 312 patients treated at an outpatient clinic, repressers tended to have lower levels of certain disease-fighting cells of the immune system and higher levels of cells that multiply at the time of allergic reactions.

“The University of Wisconsin study found those who were able to tune out feelings like anger and anxiety could do so because of the way their brain functioned,” says Dr. Lance Reinke, a neuropsychologist at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “There is an actual lag in the brain when it comes to a person’s perceived negative messages going from one side to the other.”

Dr. Reinke says early experiences in childhood relationships mold personality types such as these, pointing to the “nature” versus “nurture” debate. “This neurologic component gives credence to the ‘nature’ aspect of this personality type in addition to the previously understood nurture aspect,” he says.

Yale’s medical school researchers have begun to put together a personality portrait of the person prone to being a represser. Usually, they are the people who are rational and do not exude emotion, care about meeting other people’s needs and are dependable and successful. However, their marriages can go poorly because they are unable to emotionally engage in close intimate relationships.

“It is important for people who repress their emotions to realize they are doing it and the effects it may have on their overall health,” says Dr. Reinke. “Our brain is incredibly adaptive, both consciously and unconsciously, yet at times, our unconscious adaptation can lead to unhealthy patterns of living.

Dr. Reinke suggests the following action to begin undoing this loop of repressing emotions:

  • Seek counseling
  • Pursue positive thinking; cognitive therapy addresses negative thinking and seeks to help one rewire how they perceive the world
  • Recognize if you have any gaps in your social, emotional, family, spiritual and physical needs that need attending to
  • If recommended by your physician or psychologist, seek biofeedback treatment. Electrodes are used to detect subtle physiological responses, helping a person learn to control responses and see the difference between their experience and how their body actually behaves.

“Those who repress their feelings have developed a perceived effective coping skill that may be adequate in the short-term, but is not functional for your health in the long run,” says Dr. Reinke. “With professional direction and encouragement, each of us can learn to experience our feelings and respond to them in healthy, productive ways.”

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About the Author

Jennifer Benson
Jennifer Benson

Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.