A couple of days ago when I told someone it is possible to totally stop having negative emotions, he replied: “But if you suppress your feelings they will pop out when you least expect them, causing psychological damage, in addition to harm to your health.”
This is not the first time I’ve had this response; anytime I tell people that it is possible to stop having negative emotions they always assume that the only way to not experience negative emotions is to suppress them.
Because so many of you might make the same assumption, I thought that I ought to make a clear distinction between suppressing your feelings and getting rid of your feelings by dissolving the meaning that causes the feelings. These are totally different mental acts that produce totally different results.
It’s uncomfortable to experience negative emotions
If you experience an emotion that feels uncomfortable—one you wish you weren’t feeling, like fear, or deep grief, or overwhelming rage—there is a tendency to want to stop the feeling. It doesn’t feel good to have such a feeling, so we want it to go away.
The only way most people know of to make such emotions go away is to suppress them, in other words, to block them from our awareness. That can prove difficult to do, but even when we succeed, the suppressed emotion is likely to have negative psychological and physiological effects. We may not be consciously aware of the emotion, but it is still affecting both our behavior and our body.
Suppressing emotions doesn’t make them go away
Most of us probably have had the experience of “pushing away” our anger and then at some later time finding ourselves experiencing anger way out of proportion to an event. What happened is that we were “anger” waiting to happen and the first event that gave rise to anger opened up the floodgates to the anger we had been bottling up. In other words, the anger (or any other emotion) doesn’t go away; we just aren’t aware of it.
Dr. Lynda H. Powell, currently Professor and Chairperson, Department of Preventive Medicine, at Rush University, has done extensive research on the relationship between mental states and heart attacks. She points out that
What we’re starting to realize now is that anger and hostility are associated with coronary disease.
… Hostility and cynical mistrust are consistently associated with coronary artery disease. The constant ongoing vigilance associated with being mistrustful appears to promote coronary heart disease by speeding up the deposition on the atherosclerotic plaques on the walls of the arteries.
How we think this happens is that the hormones which enter the bloodstream during times of stress act to keep the sticky LDL Cholesterol, which is considered the bad type of cholesterol, circulating in the bloodstream longer, and this increases the rate of blockage of the coronary arteries.
But if negative emotions are dangerous, the solution is not to suppress them, as that does not make them go away. It only removes them from awareness and they keep affecting us psychologically and physically.
There is an alternative to suppressing emotions
The alternative is to distinguish the meanings we have automatically and unconsciously attributed to events, which are the source of our emotions, and then dissolve those meanings. When the source of most of our emotions—namely, the meanings we give events—is dissolved, then the emotions disappear also.
For example, if you ask someone to do something for you and he doesn’t do it, and you give it the meaning, “He doesn’t care about me,” you’ll probably feel upset. If you realize that his failure to get what you asked doesn’t necessarily mean that, that the event has no inherent meaning and you dissolve the meaning, the upset will disappear.
You can get walked through the Lefkoe Freedom Process for dissolving meaning in my TEDx talk.
The only thing better than learning how to dissolve meaning whenever you notice a negative emotion is dissolving meaning often enough that you bypass your brain’s meaning-making mechanism, so that you rarely give meaning to events. You also can get to the point where the few meanings that do sneak though can be dissolved automatically in a split-second.
If you don’t like experiencing negative emotions, there is an alternative to suppressing them. Try it today. It really works.
Thanks for reading my blog. Please post your questions or comments on why suppressing emotions is unhealthy and unnecessary to relieve discomfort. Disagreement is as welcome as agreement. Your comments add value for thousands of readers. I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can.
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Copyright © 2014 Morty Lefkoe
Morty; I spoke with your wife first who gave me some time to describe your theories. I could not get through to her the disaster I went through with my husband; he lost his battle to live in 2008 after millions (NO EXAGGERATION) of errors in the healthcare industry. We were two codependents; he with a successful trucking company and me with our son that we adopted at 18 months. I don’t know why I am still here other than to finish raising our son alone and I am MAD AS HELL at this country because of its lack of compassion. My family, his family offered NO SUPPORT. The school system was even worse. As you know I took your course but was never successful in dissolving the meanings I had given to the life I lived and continue to relive until now. I am finally getting the help I need.
Hi Mr Lefkoe. If I get to where I bypass the brains meaning making mechanism from doing this process enough, where will I retrieve the proper info to make choices and to receive pleasurable feelings? It makes sense to dissolve meanings like you say to me , but am confused how my brains meaning mechanism will not make meanings anymore. Thanks sir
It’s easy Joshua, as the dissolution occurs only in response to negative emotions and limiting beliefs. Once their destructive effect is gone, you are free to enjoy or experience all of the positives naturally.
In addition, when in doubt, the ability to easily step back and evaluate circumstances based on sound reasoning and fact, without the lens of negativity, begins to present itself. Things begin to get very interesting at this point in a most healthy fashion.
I’m still only halfway thru Natural Confidence after about 4 months and can see the difference… time we’ll spent.
the worst experience is when someone forces you to suppress your feelings. when you are “taught” or ” conditioned” by means of rage …and its done for yrs..
your soul begins to die
great Q jeff. someone breaks your trust ( whether it’s your mom or a fren or S.O, no matter who it is ) & hurts you or harms you, how not to infer anything out of it & remain neutral ?
What happens when the meaning you come up with is correct? I mean, what if you understand that a person (or persons) is deliberately trying to harm you or sabotage you? Do you just create a different meaning and ignore it and allow yourself to continue to be harmed or sabotaged?
First, what does it mean if someone is deliberately trying to hurt you? That might be a fact, but what more do you know for sure from that fact. I contend: nothing.
Moreover, you do not have to give meaning to an event to remove yourself from harm or take action to change the circumstances. If you lose your job, you do not have to see it as a disaster in order to look for a new job.
Thanks for joining the conversation.
Hey Morty, thanks for the great post – it makes sense to me. The only bit I feel I need clarification on is how to detect if you are suppressing a negative emotion. Just because you’re not exhibiting angry behaviour when you feel angry does that mean you’re suppressing the emotion? Are you saying that feeling and expressing a negative emotion is the same as/as bad as feeling it and not expressing it? Ideally you wouldn’t feel the emotion – is that correct? Isn’t suppressing an emotion the same as making yourself not feel it? So, isn’t it quite a difficult thing to detect when you’re suppressing an emotion? These are just some queries I have about this topic. Thanks again for the post, Leila.
Suppressing an emotion is having it and then pushing it out of consciousness. Not being willing to look at it or acknowledge it.
That’s very different that having an emotion, experiencing it fully, and then dissolving the meaning that caused it. When the meaning is gone, the emotion will just disappear. ANd you can get to the point where you rarely attribute meaning to events, which means you will rarely have negative feelings.
Thanks for joining the conversation and asking a great question.