Not many of us know or understand how to navigate our emotions very well. In fact, many of us avoid our emotions, thinking that avoidance is control. Some of us grew up in cultures or societies where expressing emotions had a negative connotation; hence they needed to be kept under control. As a result, the few of us who grew up in these environments avoided our emotions.
Before we dive into some signs that you are not comfortable with your emotions, let’s explore our emotions. According to Hilary Jacobs Hendel, emotions fall into two categories– core emotions and inhibitory emotions.
Core emotions include anger, sadness, fear, disgust, joy, and excitement– the main characters of the Pixar movie Inside Out. They are the basic emotions. Inhibitory emotions include anxiety, guilt, and shame. The role of these emotions is to keep you in the good graces of your respective social groups. They are there to ensure social bonding and connection.
One common way you may avoid your emotions is through procrastination. The reason procrastination works well it allows you to believe that you are ignoring your feelings. For example, you have a project due soon, but you keep putting it off for the last minute. What you are putting off is not only the project itself but all of the emotions attached to that project.
However, procrastination may not always manifest itself in the example above. It can also manifest itself as productive procrastination–where you do everything but the task that brings up certain emotions.
But, procrastination does not guarantee that you will never feel those unwanted uncomfortable emotions. Procrastinating is not an effective way of coping with your emotions. The only thing it does is stress you out.
- Excessive sleep
Another way that people avoid their emotions is through sleep. Sleep is a great tool to avoid engaging in activities that bring up difficult emotions. However, it doesn’t prevent you from feeling those emotions. Excessive sleep can also be a physical manifestation that you have to ignore your emotions for too long. Since it is a common symptom of some mental health issues, excessive sleep can also indicate that you’ve ignored your mental and emotional state for too long.
Deflection or blaming others is another sign of emotional avoidance. Deflection is a quick way to remove any responsibility or accountability for your emotions. It makes it easier to disengage from your pain and anger when you place the blame on someone else.
- constant “self-improvement”
This strategy may seem incongruent, but constantly self-improving can is a sign that you are avoiding your emotions. Trying to achieve growth and improvement is generally a good thing, so why is this construed as a sign of emotional avoidance. Well, ask yourself why you need to constantly improve yourself. Is there something that you are trying to mask or make up for?
For some, constant self-improvement is a way to mask their self-doubts and insecurities. You doubt that you can succeed in your current state. Hence, you try to be better so that you can succeed. However, once you feel like you “improved” you might feel like your improvement was not good enough. This behavior can trap you in a cycle of anxiety and self-doubt and stir more difficult emotions within you.
- focusing on others
One last sign that you are avoiding your emotions is by focusing on other people. Focusing on others and helping them is not a bad thing. It’s wonderful when you have that opportunity. However, some people use altruism as a way to mask their emotional pain.
Helping others is often a rewarding experience. But, in this context, it can make you feel worse. You may end up feeling exhausted and may be rejected.
Before helping others, please take care of yourself first.
I understand allowing yourself to feel certain emotions can be a very undesired experience. It may even be exhausting. But, your emotions are incredibly powerful. They influence your thoughts, behaviors, and actions. How you handle something that is happening to you now will affect your future. So, please try to learn to accept and navigate your emotions.
If you are unsure or afraid to go on this journey alone, please seek the assistance of a licensed therapist.
As always, take care!
Boyes, A. (2021, September 10). 8 ways people avoid their emotions. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/202109/8-ways-people-avoid-their-emotions.
Fisher, M. (2020, June 25). Recognizing and coping with negative emotions: Called to care: Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. John Hopkins . Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/about/community_health/johns-hopkins-bayview/services/called_to_care/recognize_cope_with_negative_emotions.html.
Jacobs Hendel, H. (2018, February 27). Ignoring your emotions is bad for your health. here’s what to do about it. Time. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://time.com/5163576/ignoring-your-emotions-bad-for-your-health/.
Jacobs Hendel, H. (2018, October 15). The common ways people avoid emotions. hilary. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.hilaryjacobshendel.com/common-ways-to-avoid-emotions.
Oppong, T. (2020, January 28). Suppressing your emotions can be incredibly bad for your health. Ladders. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/suppressing-your-emotions-can-be-incredibly-bad-for-your-health.
Wignall, N. (2020, January 13). 7 signs you have an unhealthy relationship with your emotions. Medium. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://medium.com/mind-cafe/7-signs-you-have-an-unhealthy-relationship-with-your-emotions-1120f1648e2a.