The Logic of Emotion: Why Repressing Your Feelings Doesn’t Work

Humans are passionate creatures. Like water, we can be calm and serene in one moment, and tempestuous in the next. For centuries, philosophers have marveled at the sheer complexities of human emotion, at our ability to be both compassionate and merciless in the same breath.

But despite this fact, some of us would rather be like the fictional alien race of Vulcans: rational, logical, and never ruled by emotions. We sometimes feel so ashamed by what and how much we feel that we spend our lives looking for a way to disown our feelings.

What may not be obvious is that many people with maladaptive daydreaming struggle with this too. Sometimes they use daydreaming to run away from uncomfortable feelings. Or, they may project unwanted emotions onto specific characters of their fantasies.

These actions are not always a bad thing – we all need an escape from time to time. But too much of this can keep us addicted to maladaptive daydreaming – and prevent us from working through issues that may be holding us back.

If we want to have a healthy relationship with our daydreaming, we need to make sure that we’re not using it to cover up our feelings. That’s why we’re going to delve into the importance of owning our emotions – not just to control our MD, but to achieve emotional healing.

Understanding Emotions

Surprisingly, many people don’t understand the nature of emotions. Popular culture tends to depict the emotional realm like an ocean: mysterious, mercurial, and unfathomable.

But when we look closely, cracking the feeling code isn’t as hard as we think it is. At their most basic, our emotions are a mirror of our mental and physical state, reflecting how well we are meeting our needs in any given moment. For instance, if we feel grouchy whenever we don’t get enough sleep, then we will know to change our behavior, go to bed earlier, and avoid making the same mistake in the future.

According to American psychologist Paul Ekman, there are five general classifications of emotions: enjoyment, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. While some emotional responses are innate, others we learn from the people around us.

At the end of the day, the ultimate purpose of our feelings is to help us survive. They’re our inner barometer that helps us judge which experiences are desirable, and which experiences are undesirable. As animals, we have a natural inclination to seek pleasure and avoid pain, because that’s what maximizes our chances for survival. Without our emotions, we have no reliable way of telling the difference.

Tracing Our Emotional Heritage

We humans haven’t always had a poor relationship with our feelings. At several points in history, what we consider to be human emotions were first considered to be reflections of the divine.

Our ancient myths are littered with stories of deities and heroes who are highly passionate and moved by their emotions. Greek mythology speaks of the god Zeus’s impulsive love affairs and the jealous acts of Hera, his wife. In Hindu traditions, the mother goddess Kali becomes intoxicated with bloodlust and nearly destroys the world if not for her lover Shiva’s intervention. East Asian myths feature the story of the compassionate Quan Yin, who gives up her place in heaven to ease the suffering of humanity.

So what has changed? We can’t know the answer for certain, as human societies are too complex and rarely shaped by just one factor.

But for some of us, our beliefs about our emotions have been shaped by early Western influences. Between the 16th and 18th century, the emergence of the scientific revolution brought the birth of modern science and with it, an emphasis on rational thinking. Rationality became the hallmark of a civilized mind, while emotion was associated with a wild, primitive state. These attitudes still carry on today, making it difficult for us to connect with our feelings in a healthy way.

Why We Struggle With Our Emotions

The culture we grow up in usually determines what relationship we have with our feelings. Our training begins with our parents, who teach us emotional behaviors, whether positive or negative. Our understanding of emotions in childhood can color our perspective as adults.

As we learn to conform to social expectations, we figure out quickly that some emotions are appropriate for us to show and others are not. We might even classify certain ones into categories like “good” and “bad”. Gender roles can fuel these belief systems, too. Men are given the message that being emotional makes them “weak” and “unmasculine”, so many struggle to be open about their feelings. Women are shamed for expressing anger and rage which can cause them to tolerate abuse or injustice.

These lessons get even more complicated if we factor in negative childhood experiences. If at any point our emotional needs were not met, we’ll try to stuff them down just to cope. Without a postive influence to set us on the right path, we can remain in our dysfunction as we enter adulthood.

The Dangers of Repressing Our Emotions

Once in a while, we might get away with pushing our feelings aside, but this won’t last for long. Our emotional nature is not so easily tamed. Our feelings don’t disappear just because we want them to.

The reality is, our feelings don’t take kindly to being ignored. If there’s one thing you need to understand about emotions, it’s this: if you don’t deal with your feelings, your feelings will deal with you. And the lessons they’ll take you through to remind you of that fact are far from kind.

If you don't deal with your feelings, your feelings will deal with you.

Repressed emotions tend to bring out the worst in us. They make us behave in ways that are not natural to us, so much so that when we look back, we wonder what had gotten into us.

Sometimes we project our emotional issues outward, subconsciously looking to other people to heal our wounds. We can look for validation in the wrong people and end up in abusive relationships. We might lash out at our loved ones and blame them for our own mistakes. At our worst, we can become emotionally needy, desperate for attention, and even manipulative.

On the flip side, we might even turn our emotional pain inward. When we’re in this state, depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses can take hold and cut us off from other people. The isolation only makes us feel even worse, so to cope, we might drown out our feelings in self-destructive behavior, falling into addictions and self-harm.

Maladaptive daydreaming can be another consequence of repressed emotions. If our feelings are too painful to face, we’ll dissociate into our fantasy worlds. This becomes a problem in our recovery process. If we try to cure our MD without dealing with the underlying emotions, we’ll just be spinning our wheels.

3 Ways to Acknowledge Your Feelings

The best way to think of emotions is like energy: you can’t destroy them, but they can only be directed or transformed. Here are three ways you can address your feelings and direct them in a positive manner.

1. Experience them in the moment.

This point is the most important part of accepting your feelings. When a situation triggers an emotional response, don’t stuff it down or try to deny it. Feel the feelings in that moment. Pay attention to any physical reactions, such as tightness in the chest, headaches, stomach upset, and so on.

Of course, sometimes we can’t always act on our emotions in the moment, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about them. When this happens, make a mental note to revisit it later, which brings us to the second method.

2. Write them down in a journal.

Although it’s easy take this option for granted, journal writing is a great way to put our feelings in words.  When we write them down, we give them validation. They subconsciously become more real to us, and we can no longer deny their existence.

What’s more, it’s not always easy to pinpoint exactly what we’re feeling and why. Writing allows us to make sense of our emotions so that we can begin to heal them.

Journal writing also gives us a reference point for self-reflection. We look back on what we’ve written, note any progress we’ve made, and set new goals for the future.

3. Reach out to other people.

There will be times when it is better to share your emotions with someone else. Although it sometimes has a bad reputation, venting negative feelings can help us process and release them.

We also get the extra benefit of another person’s point of view. When we talk to other people, we can get insights into our situation and feedback on what course of action we may need to take. Plus, through communicating with others, we build connections. It’s a lot easier to work through difficult emotions when we know that we’re not alone.

Conclusion

Whether you like it or not, your feelings are a part of you, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Your emotions can tell you what areas of your life you need improvement so that you can make a change.

When you make the decision to not just recognize your feelings, but to respond to them in a healthy way, you make monumental steps toward achieving happiness and inner peace.

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