We all experience painful or difficult emotions from time to time, such as anger, sadness, fear, shame or guilt. While some emotions are healthy to feel and can help us learn and grow, others may be too overwhelming or difficult to handle in the moment. When we are unable to fully process an emotion, we may unconsciously repress or bottle up those feelings.
Repressed emotions are emotions that have been deliberately ignored or buried deep within us. We may do this as a protective response, to avoid feeling psychological pain or discomfort. But unfortunately, repressed emotions don’t just go away. They can fester under the surface, and may eventually resurface as anxiety, depression or unhealthy behaviors. Learning how to safely release repressed emotions in a healthy way is important for our overall wellbeing.
Why Do We Repress Emotions?
There are many reasons we may repress emotions. As children, we are taught that expressing certain emotions like anger and sadness is unacceptable. We may be punished for displaying them, so we learn to hide what we feel. Experiencing trauma can also lead us to bury emotions in order to cope or survive at the time.
We may also repress emotions that we judge as being irrational, unreasonable or too overwhelming to deal with right away. But ignoring how we truly feel doesn’t make those emotions disappear. In fact, the energy required to bottle them up takes a toll on us. Repressing emotions can contribute to stress, anxiety, depression and various health problems.
Finding Healthy Ways to Release Emotions
Releasing long-buried emotions may feel scary or overwhelming at first. But with some preparation and self-care, you can begin to safely process repressed feelings and find relief. Here are some healthy ways to start releasing repressed emotions:
- Talk to a mental health professional. A licensed therapist can help you work through repressed feelings at your own pace in a judgement-free space. Therapy provides tools to gradually unpack and constructively express difficult emotions from your past or present.
- Journal or free write. Writing freely without censoring yourself can help suppressed emotions begin to flow out. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write continuously without stopping, expressing whatever comes up. Or journal about past experiences that may have triggered buried feelings.
- Express your feelings creatively. Arts like music, painting or dance allow us to tap into emotions through creativity instead of words. See what suppressed feelings emerge as you experiment with different creative outlets.
- Practice calming activities. Soothing practices like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, being in nature or spending time with pets can help create a grounded, relaxed state from which to safely access repressed emotions.
- Open up to trusted friends or relatives. Sharing your experiences with trusted loved ones helps you feel heard and supported. They may even share relatable experiences about working through difficult emotions.
- Allow yourself to feel and validate your emotions. When repressed emotions arise, instead of criticizing yourself for having them, accept them without judgment. Remind yourself it’s normal and healthy to feel and release them now.
Releasing Repressed Emotions Takes Time
Remember that allowing suppressed emotions to surface is a gradual process that takes patience, courage and self-compassion. Don’t try to force it before you’re ready. Pay attention to any overwhelming feelings that may arise, and take a break if needed. Give yourself time to integrate any intense emotions between releasing sessions.
With supportive tools and practices, we can safely unravel even the most deeply buried feelings from our past. Processing these emotions allows us to heal and move forward to a more fulfilling life. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, releasing repressed emotions can ultimately leave you feeling lighter, freer and more emotionally balanced.