8 Signs You Are Bottling up Your Emotions

Published on 3/9/2021

Somehow it became ‘cool’ to not feel anything, to just not care about stuff. You’re weak for crying at films, or lame if you get excited about something small. We promote the concept of being above emotions, or rendering them as useless, but emotions exist for a reason.

Emotions compel us to take action, they influence the decisions we make about our lives. How we experience an emotion leads our body to understand the action that should follow. It can be something big, like running away when we’re captured by fear. Or something smaller, like mentioning when a joke caused us to feel uncomfortable.

But when we repress the emotions, we also lose out on the second part of the equation, the ability to deal with them accurately. If we don’t work through our sadness, it doesn’t go away, it stews within us. If we pretend something didn’t bother us, it breeds within until we finally explode at the smallest of things. Our emotions may be misplaced or misdirected, and there can be innocent casualties to this.

Here are eight signs that you may be bottling up your emotions. If you recognise them, it’s time to sit down and deal with what you’re really feeling.

1. You avoid confrontation

Many of us detest confrontation. I’m certainly guilty of it. I will go out of my way to avoid a fight or tense discussion, to the extent that I’ll be ranting to my partner about something whilst texting the person, “Sure, no worries!”. Confrontation is painful. It can be further exasperated by mental health issues, as it’s a sure road into social anxiety flare-ups, fear of abandonment or feeling misunderstood.

Confrontation shouldn’t be such a scary thing. Individuals should welcome feedback as a possibility of growth, and individuals should offer it in a manner that doesn’t feel attacking. If you both avoid the offensive and defensive roles that are too tempting to slip into, then confrontation can be quick, painless and beneficial.

Suppose you notice yourself consistently avoiding possible confrontations, to the extent that it damages your relationships or sense of self. In that case, this is a significant sign that you’re bottling up your emotions. You’re not seeking the release of working through your anger, disappointment, or resentment, and so they’ll only grow within. You’re also priming yourself to repeat these emotions when the situation arises again, as the individual has no idea that you’ve skipped this confrontation moment.

2. You often explode over little things

It doesn’t take much to set you off. A cup of coffee spilled, a train that runs late, an item that was forgotten. Even the waitress forgetting to bring your extra portion of ketchup could do the trick. It feels like you’re exploding over every little thing.

But you’re not, because it isn’t the ketchup or the coffee that’s grinding your gears and fuelling such a dramatic reaction. You’re angry or upset over so many things, all of which accumulate to a lot more than that portion of ketchup, but you simply haven’t released this.

So you explode over a tiny thing. Maybe it’s because that tiny thing is enough to push you over the edge. Maybe it’s because that tiny thing is just another case of things going wrong. Maybe you’re displacing your anger, as it feels easier to get mad at your partner for not emptying the dishwasher than to address the real issues present in your relationship.

If small things are really grinding your gears, there are two possible causes:

  1. You have anger issues to work through or you’re too stressed, to the extent that you take it out on the smallest of stimuli.
  2. You’ve been bottling up your emotions for too long.

You need to address your feelings as they come, as sooner or later, you’ll let it out. And if it’s the latter, then everybody should duck when you finally do.

3. You don’t feel like yourself

When you’re continually bottling up your emotions, you’re put in the position of playing a character. You’re essentially acting like someone who is fine with what happened or who doesn’t have any overwhelming issues right now. But playing this role can be taxing and can create a divide between who you are and who you pretend to be.

If you don’t feel like you’re the same person socially as you are in private, you need to consider why this is and whether you feel comfortable sharing how you feel.

When struggling with my undiagnosed personality disorder, I used to play a character in public. I was bubbly, confident and cheerful. In private, I was miserable, self-harming and self-deprecating. Whenever people would finally hear about the double life I was leading, they would tell me how surprised they were, how I never seemed depressed or anxious. But that’s simply what I let them see, and perhaps what they wanted to see as well.

In therapy, I realised that I didn’t know who I was, as I had been too preoccupied with being who I thought they wanted me to be. I realised that I was an introvert who was good at pretending to be extroverted. I realised that many things bothered me, including the good-natured teasing I often received, and that I was tired of holding this in for fear of ‘being difficult’.

If you don’t feel like yourself with your closest friends, this is something you need to change. It’s natural to adapt yourself slightly around different individuals, but this should be focusing on a specific part of your personality rather than filling in the gaps of it. If you feel distant from the person you are in public; you need to address which emotions you’ve been harbouring for too long.

4. You use a lot of distractions

This can be a tricky one to spot nowadays, given the extent to which social media and Netflix have infiltrated our daily lives. But if you’re concerned that you’re bottling up your emotions, and you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook when it occurs, this is a significant sign.

Part of bottling up your emotions is avoiding them. You don’t want to discuss something, so you put on a movie instead. You’re tempted to respond to your friend and confront them, so you open Instagram to distract yourself.

But distraction can go further than actions in the moment of emotion, and can revolve around our entire coping mechanisms. Individuals who smoke or drink heavily often carry more stress or repressed emotions, so they use the substance as a bandaid for the issue.

I see this one, particularly in depression-related issues. Individuals may oversleep to avoid confronting how they feel and to minimise the hours in the day that they have to deal with. With high-functioning depression, you’ll often keep yourself far too busy to avoid being alone with your thoughts and emotions, which is also a form of bottling it all up.

If you can’t be alone or sit quietly, there’s a high chance that you’re using distractions to repress your emotions.

5. Emotional people make you uncomfortable

There’s a limit to this as well as exceptions to the rule, as with all things in life. No one wants to be stuck looking after the drunk girl who won’t stop crying about her boyfriend in the fourth grade. Few want to be around the person that can’t watch the news without reaching for a hanky.

But primary displays of emotion, like someone crying when they’re grieving or have just received bad news, should not cause you to feel on edge. You should be capable of comforting individuals who express emotion, or at the bare minimum, be able to witness it without retreating.

When someone is so affected by emotional displays that they close off or feel uncomfortable in their own skin, it can be a telltale sign of emotional repression. If you don’t confront and cope with your emotions, it causes a collision within to watch someone do that. You may hold certain stigmas regarding the display of emotion, perhaps learned in childhood, that make it difficult to express how you feel or watch others do so.

You don’t have to express as much emotion as others. But if emotions are causing internal turmoil, there’s a reason for that, and it can be satisfying to work through it.

6. You always feel anxious

You may feel anxious when you choose not to confront something, that may even be why you do so. You may feel anxious when you force yourself not to speak up. It can be anxiety-inducing to hold your emotions in and not feel comfortable sharing them. The body also experiences anxiety in the effort of deceiving itself, and repressing certain emotions.

All these moments add up, and you reach a point where anxiety almost becomes your natural state. Except that it is exhausting and maladaptive, you can’t live in this heightened state of fear. You need to be able to relax, and this requires you to cope with emotions so that they can be removed efficiently from your mind.

If you’re walking around on eggshells or with a fist in your stomach, it’s possible that you’re not dealing with your emotions in an effective manner.

7. You have frequent headaches

Surprise! Bottling up your emotions doesn’t only affect your mood and mental health, but also your physical health. Talk about a mind-body connection.

If you’re experiencing regular headaches, and there’s no underlying physical ailment for it (or you live exclusively on coffee), this could indicate that you’re struggling to control your emotions. You’ll notice this especially if you find it hard to focus and not get distracted.

Always be sure to consider physical causes for your headache, or other ailments, but also recognise that your mental state feeds directly into this. When your body is in a heightened state of stress, it’s unable to perform optimally and you’ll notice the effects of this. Emotional repression will lead to stress, as you’re not expressing yourself and you’re doomed to repeat the situations, which can ultimately cause headaches and more.

8. You have digestive issues

Did you know that the brain and gastrointestinal tract are closely related? It’s true, to the extent that the gut is sometimes referred to as “the second brain”. Not only is your head affected by repressed emotions, but your gut shares the damage too.

Emotions are often felt in the gut, including sadness, nervousness, fear, joy and anger. Think of when you feel nervous and “sick to your stomach”, or excitement in the form of butterflies. An anxious and overwhelmed mind causes disharmony within the gut. Symptoms include an upset stomach, bloating, constipation, nausea and diarrhoea. You’re holding something in, even if it’s just emotional, and the damage will cause a great deal of unease.

Even just getting rest, working through your emotions yourself, or with counselling can already provide ease to your system. Anxiety and other mental health issues are not only affecting your mind; they wreak havoc on your whole system.

If you push away an emotion, it doesn’t just go away. The sentiment has been brewed within, and will remain somewhere until it is dealt with. Some people believe it stays in our mind, feeding into subsequent emotions. Others believe that emotions are carried within our limbs or certain parts of our body. All that matters is what you believe.

It can be scary to deal with your emotions. I lost someone very close to me almost two years ago, and I’m only just acknowledging the grief. I was scared to address it headfirst as I thought I would drown in it, and so I pushed it away and distracted myself the best that I could. But it was there, it made me cry at small things, it made me angry about the tiniest mistake, it leeched away my happiness. Dealing with it still scares me, but I’m chipping away at my grief, piece by piece, so that I can find my way back to the happiness and love at its core.

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