Why You Shouldn’t Suppress Your Emotions

Ted talks are fabulous if you’re interested in the subject matter, but this one transcends the intellectual interest test because it provides answers that we can all use.

In his talk, Depression: The secret we share, Andrew Solomon eloquently describes why our attempts to help depressives are ill fated from the outset and what we can do that would actually be helpful.

He also hilariously illustrates the secrecy that depression engenders by telling the story of a husband and wife both (separately) confiding in him that they are hiding the same medication in the same bedroom – from each other.

The key line in Solomon’s talk is near the twenty minute mark when he points out that, ”Shutting depression out (not talking about it) strengthens it.”


If our clinical work in this field over the past 31 years has revealed anything, then clearly it is this concept.

Any emotion bottled up inside, whatever the reason, sooner or later boils over in an eruption that is volcanic in its nature.

RELATED: How to fix any emotional upheaval in 20 minutes or less

Anger is perhaps the most common problem area, so we’ll draw an example from there. It may be prudent to not express your outrage at a demeaning or belittling task assigned by your boss. Similarly, an explosive reaction to a suggestion from your partner may end the relationship or spark a bigger argument, so best to keep it in right?

No. Because here’s what really happens…

You hold on to it for a short while, then get busy, ‘get over it’ and think you’re ‘rising above’ the temporary aggravation. The reality is that, over time and without a proper outlet, these same suppressed feelings add up. Some would even go so far as to say that they fester, meaning they grow in magnitude and intensity.

As long as one has the intellectual and emotional capacity AND the emotional intelligence required to control these strengthening emotions buried somewhere in our psyche, life appears to be okay. Sadly, that’s the exception and not the rule.

In most cases, one or both of these scenarios emerge…

1. The festering mess gets too big to control.

2. The constant hyper awareness of self required to “keep the lid on it” falters.

In both cases the result is an outburst of emotion so great, so large and so intense that both the owner and the observer are surprised. Anecdotally, this is referred to as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Specifically, what we see is that the emotional response to the triggering words or deeds is way out of proportion. We refer to this as “old” emotion in the sense that it has been stored up. It is not all genuinely about whatever triggered the outburst.

This is a practical example that pops up in our workshops regularly, and it’s very similar to the communication breakdown that Solomon refers to with depression. In short, the very emotion that needed to be controlled in the first place has become the controller.

Solutions are many and varied, but what we have found to work with amazing reliability is creating an environment where individuals can safely (and without damage to others) express what has been constrained for so long.

We agree wholeheartedly with Solomon’s suggestion that not addressing emotions strengthens them. Perhaps put a bit more bluntly…

Shutting your emotions down is always a recipe for disaster.

Your success in life is totally dependant on you learning to manage your emotions.