Fear, anger and sadness – how negative emotions affect our health

We all have them – memories in our lives that we would prefer never to think about again and that we would like to lock away far away. The reason for this is usually the painful and unbearable feelings associated with them. Suppressing these feelings is basically possible and for certain phases of life an important survival strategy, but in the long run they do not disappear. Although the process of suppression is often unconscious, it requires enormous energy expenditure and can be detrimental to mental health in the long term.

What are feelings anyway?

Emotions are subjective states that arise whenever our thoughts interact with our environment, both consciously and unconsciously. They are generated by our interpretation and put us into relationships with other people on a very individual basis. With the help of our feelings we then have the possibility to put ourselves in others’ shoes and to understand their needs. Likewise, they offer us access to ourselves by pointing out inner states of tension and unmet needs. The neuronal basis for feelings is provided by the limbic system, the emotional center in the brain. It is closely networked with other areas of the brain, which then influence our behavior.

Why and with which strategies can feelings be suppressed?

The reasons why feelings are suppressed can be very diverse. Beliefs such as: “Feelings are evidence of weakness,” “It’s not right to be angry,” or “Men shouldn’t cry” can have their origins in childhood. However, pushing away unpleasant feelings can also be a protective mechanism to ensure psychological survival. Traumatic experiences that remain unprocessed are a very popular example of this. Although the strategies for suppressing negative feelings can be very individual, they can be fundamentally divided into two groups:

Distraction: by evaluating, questioning and rationally classifying a feeling, our mind gets the upper hand. As a result, the feeling can be more easily pushed away and dismissed as irrelevant or ridiculous. The mind can be directed to something other than feeling the feeling. Television, internet use, excessive going out or working represent some classic manifestations. As a result of all this, there is neither space nor time to devote to the feelings.

Anesthesia: Classic anesthetic mechanisms are drugs like alcohol or nicotine, excessive eating and the urge for ever new experiences. Often these mechanisms occur before the negative feeling is even consciously perceived.

Which negative feelings do not want to be felt?

A number of negative feelings exist that we can suppress – including:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Envy
  • Disappointment
  • Jealousy
  • Sadness
  • Heartbreak
  • Aggression
  • Worry
  • Hatred

Among the three most commonly repressed:

Anger is a very strong emotion that arises increasingly in unpleasant perceived situations, for example, when the personality is attacked. It has two very significant functions: On one hand, it can create fear in those around us, causing them to choose to try to relax the situation, flee, or engage in confrontation. On the other hand, anger also acts as a stimulant to prepare ourselves for conflict. When anger is admitted, physical symptoms such as an acceleration of breathing, heartbeat or blood pressure can occur. Anger in particular is often suppressed because it is usually considered inappropriate in our society today. This is just so problematic, because it can also be a decisive impetus for change and the resolution of conflicts as well as problems.

Grief is a feeling of pain or dismay that arises in situations beyond our control. It is often a reaction to a tragic event such as the loss of a loved one, job, or rejection. Basically, grief helps us to process and is necessary to accept experiences and to dare a new orientation. Physically, it can be reflected in fatigue, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite and strength, and general malaise.

Anxiety helps to recognize dangers in time and has a protective mechanism. It makes us feel stressed, nervous and makes us more cautious and attentive. Basically, anxiety is triggered by situations that are classified as subjectively threatening. These can be exams, a visit to the doctor, or concern for fellow human beings. However, fear also offers the chance to get us out of our comfort zone and to let us be courageous. It offers the opportunity for development and doing new things. Physically, anxiety typically manifests itself in tenseness, increased heart rate, and sweating.

Why suppressed feelings are a problem

Suppressing feelings first of all requires a lot of energy. Sluggishness, exhaustion or tiredness already occur without any activity having preceded. This can be compared to an air-filled ball that is repeatedly tried to be pushed under water. It works, but requires constant attention and effort. Despite the high energy expenditure, feelings do not disappear at all, they accumulate over time and push themselves back to the surface in the form of physical complaints (such as high blood pressure, stomach problems or heart disease), but especially through mental illness. There, suppressed feelings are reflected in anxiety states, depression, a burnout or addictions.

In all the clinical pictures that are based on suppressed feelings, the affected person at some point no longer even knows what he or she is feeling. This is very bad, because feelings are the human navigation system to know whether something is good or bad for you and accordingly control your thinking and also your actions. It can no longer be used for dreams and goals and conflicts are avoided in order to avoid further negative feelings. This in turn makes it more difficult to lead relationships that live precisely from feelings. Due to the permanent effort, affected people also observe that they are not fully present and, for example, can no longer follow conversations with full attention

Repressing negative feelings is one thing, but the danger is to suppress all positive feelings and not to be able to feel them anymore. As a result, a feeling of numbness and apathy towards life and isolation can quickly set in.

Important: Many scientists agree that about 90 percent of all illnesses are caused by emotional legacies . These legacies consist of a bundle of feelings that are a kind of record of the past in the nervous system. This suggests to the subconscious mind that it is exposed to the same environmental conditions as it was then.

Help for self-help – or professional support?

Processing one’s own emotional world can be done in a variety of ways. Some like to talk about their feelings, others prefer to exercise. In any case, it is very important that the feelings are consciously allowed and not judged. The following additional suggestions can protect against the suppression of feelings:

  • Writing feelings off your chest
  • Take a long walk in nature
  • Letting feelings out when you feel like it
  • Reflect on the meaning of a feeling
  • Taking the chance to learn and grow from a feeling
  • Process feelings through relaxation in meditation and yoga

However, facing your feelings and allowing them does not mean losing your temper. Especially when you are just beginning to look at your feelings and find a good way to deal with them, extreme attentiveness is required. If no one in your circle of acquaintances can be confided in, there are many self-help groups that you can join. If this does not provide any relief and everyday life demands more energy than it gives, it is advisable to seek professional support from a psychotherapist.

  • Barnow, Sven; Reichenbacher, Christina: Gefühle Im Griff: Wozu man Emotionen braucht und wie man sie reguliert. Heidelberg, 2013.
  • Hansch, Dietmar: Successful against depression and anxiety. Heidelberg, 2021.
  • Lechner, Christina: Emotion management and self-regulation. Facharztjournal Clinicum (2017), Vol. 3.

Categories: Anxiety disorders

Verena Klein
Author Verena Klein
"LIMES Schlosskliniken specializes in the treatment of mental and psychosomatic illnesses. With the help of the blog, we as a clinic group would like to examine the various mental illnesses in more detail and present different therapies as well as current topics."

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