Why NOT expressing your feelings is holding you back
Updated: Sep 15
Do you find yourself clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, feel butterflies in your gut or tears welling up?
Do you believe that a grown woman shouldn’t cry or get upset?
It's so common to have inherited a belief that having certain feelings are "bad" or "wrong" - because that's what society or the adults around us have taught us, when we were growing up. So, we instinctively bury them, deep inside until they come out at the wrong time towards the wrong person, resulting in relationship problems!
Many of us have learned from a young age that expressing emotions wasn’t okay. In fact, we may have been led to believe that it indicated we were “out of control,” “weak,” or “too emotional”. Does that resonate?
Perhaps you were made fun of when you were younger for crying. Or you may have grown up in a household where you were taught to suppress your emotions—that you weren’t supposed to upset people.
As adults it is vital to be aware of our emotions and honour how we truly feel. There are no wrong feelings. We feel how we feel.
Do you believe that anger is bad or that fear is a weakness?
Here is a truth bomb
There is wisdom in our emotions. Each emotion has encoded within it exactly what we need to draw on to deal with a situation. So, in many ways anger is helpful. It shows us the boundary of what is acceptable to us.
All of our feelings are meant to push us away from pain and steer us toward pleasure. When we examine our feelings, we see that our emotions are powerful tools. You need emotional intelligence and sensitivity toward others, but anger, for example, can be channelled to move you away from unnecessary pain. Our emotions come up for a reason.
Fiona was constantly trying to please those around her, in her work and especially her marriage. She wanted everyone to like her. She would hide her anger and frustration because growing up her dad was often angry. He didn’t deal with it in a healthy way and she was fearful of becoming like him. So instead she avoided her anger, hid, and suppressed it.
When she brought up these feelings, she realised that when she avoided her anger and held it in, she ended up taking on all the housework duties as well as her busy full-time work. Rather than telling her husband she didn’t want to take on an unfair share of the workload, she would simply shoulder it and tell herself that she shouldn’t be angry.
Once she got in touch with her anger, she was able to let her husband know it wasn’t okay. She told him she wasn’t satisfied with the situation, it wasn’t making her happy, and it wasn’t working. And once her feelings were expressed, she realised that her husband was not fulfilling her needs; was a chauvinist and not a team player. She left her marriage and began working on her self-love and self-esteem. This was all because she harnessed her anger toward a result that was for her highest good.
These beliefs about emotions are part of our early programming, but just because it’s what we were taught doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what’s best for us. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that it’s true.
When I talk about our early programming, I'm often discussing the experiences, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions encoded in our unconscious.
Our belief system is set during our early programming as young children. In our first six years of our life, we’re particularly malleable. Our brains are set for imagination, discovery, and possibility. We’re in what’s called a hypnogogic state during those years, we’re easily formed and impressionable. During that time, we’re learning what’s okay and what’s not okay.
During our early childhood, within our brains, our neural pathways are being laid down. Think of it as a computer’s operating system. Life filters through - shaping the way we see and experience different things. This then defines how we view the world, how we view ourselves, and what beliefs we adhere to.
As we become adults, we may realise there are certain aspects that don’t serve us. Some pieces hold us back. (Like that voice telling you, “I am not enough,” or, “I am too emotional.”)
Maybe we were taught to fear certain situations or to believe the world was unsafe. While these beliefs kept us safe when we were younger, they no longer apply to us as adults and we can let them go.
As we grow and evolve into the person we hope to become, it becomes necessary to explore our internal makeup. Eventually, we may realise our beliefs aren’t necessarily truths. Our beliefs don’t dictate reality. What we believe may even limit our reality, preventing us from realising our full, vast potential.
We may think, “This is simply how it is,” or “this is how I am,” rather than understanding the ways to grow and overcome behaviours and beliefs holding us back.
How many times have you been faced with a situation, like standing up to someone who upset you and thought, “Oh I could never do that! I’m a nice person!” or “I’m too shy to do that,” or “I shouldn’t feel angry.”
When we hold back our feelings because we believe we should or because it counters who we think we are, we’re limiting ourselves. We may miss opportunities and let successes pass us by.
For many people, even acknowledging the underlying feelings they feel is tough. Admitting them aloud, or even to themselves, is even harder. Yet, sometimes exploring our feelings, uncovering ourselves, and expressing ourselves empowers us helps us get a better sense of what’s really going on.
We may think we’re beyond unconscious thought. Many people think they have full control over what goes through their mind…yet psychologists, neuroscientists, and behaviorists have explored the way our unconscious drives our behaviours, whether we like it or not.
Have you ever eaten food when you weren’t hungry?
Gone out with someone because you didn't want to hurt their feelings?
Put off a task for no reason?
Have you ever claimed you couldn’t do a job because you believed it wasn’t in you?
Have you turned an opportunity of marriage down because the “timing didn’t feel right”?
Do you gravitate toward routine?
These are all examples of our subconscious overriding our logic. We may know the action we’re taking (or not taking) isn’t serving us or moving us forward, but we rely on our default reaction because it feels safe and familiar.
Once you recognise this, it becomes easier to get out your feelings and work through the beliefs about yourself holding you back.
When faced with a situation, ask yourself: what am I really feeling?
Say it out loud.
Such as “Fear!” or “Frustration!”
It seems a little funny at first, but soon an awareness takes hold.
Saying it out loud helps self-awareness occur even faster.
If you’re trying to identify your emotions, look at your body—butterflies, hands sweaty, jaw clenched-these are all clues to your emotions. Did your behaviour change in response to a comment or a situation? Did you go home and eat a giant piece of cake? Did you feel apprehensive? These indicators clue you into what you’re feeling. Now put the words onto those feelings:
“I FEEL angry.”
“I FEEL sad.”
“In this moment I FEEL joyful.”
When we acknowledge our feelings, almost like magic, it calms our limbic system and brings us back online. By expressing it, we’re able to channel the energy behind the emotions, name them, and express them fully. If we’re sad, we can cry. If we’re angry, we can truly feel that anger. Once we feel the emotions, we’re able to complete them. The experience is integrated, and we can then move onto the next activity. We don’t need to hang onto the emotions forever. Think of a baby—they cry, they express their feeling, and then they move on. We don’t need to hold onto our feelings.
When we acknowledge how we’re feeling, we start to explore the why behind our emotions.
For example, when you’re about to talk to your lover about a comment that upset you. You may explore your thoughts and feelings. Why did the comment upset you? What other feelings does it bring up? Are you feeling hurt? Anger? Fear at the prospect of discussing it with them directly?
Once you get out your feelings, we gain clarity. Why are you feeling hurt? Maybe because you felt unseen when your lover chose to go out for a drink with an attractive colleague. You felt jealous, insecure. Perhaps you even felt threatened. Your desire (your needs) to be seen, heard, and respected wasn’t being met.
When our needs aren’t being met, we often feel fear. We may feel sadness, hurt, even anger over our yearnings that are unfulfilled.
When you realise this is how you feel, you may decide to express this to your lover. The prospect of expressing your feelings may fill you with another feeling—fear. We may tell ourselves, “I’m not a confrontational person,” or “I prefer to avoid conflict at any cost.”
Once you’ve addressed the fear, you can look at these statements about who you think you are: are you really someone who avoids confrontation at any cost? Or is this simply part of your old belief system? Is this something you believe about yourself that’s not really true?
Heather Prince is founder of FEARLESSLY MOVING FORWARDS METHOD
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