When in the throes of a crisis or traumatic experience, how do you react? Some thrive in the eye of the hurricane, with an eerie illusion of being undisturbed by the churning chaos. And then there are others – grappling to get ahold of the reality around us, and within. Oftentimes, we’re barely catching a break and in the midst of all that is brewing, we push our emotions down. Way down. This act of suppression catches up to us when we least expect it (or want it). To understand and prepare ourselves for this, we navigate the murky realms of emotional avoidance.
Predicating the pop of suppression
Have you ever held a ball underwater? The longer you hold it and the deeper the ball is pushed underwater, the more force it has when it pops back up. You may also have noticed that the deeper you push it, the more unpredictable it is when it pops up. You cannot always predict the timing, direction, or what the ball will hit when it rises suddenly. Often it hurts someone – including you. This is how it is with suppression or emotional avoidance.
Mine, not yours
Let’s be clear. The balls are our thoughts and feelings about a situation. It could be grief, fear, shame, and so many other emotional responses. So, when we take the ball down from the shelf at an agreeable time to explore with the other, the ball needs to be introduced as “mine.”
An example of how to approach suppression
Here, the speaker lays out the observations and feelings – and acknowledges their reality to better understand the other person.
“I wanted to share something I’ve been mulling over. Over the years, whenever I am under the weather, I notice that you become more remote and I get a funny feeling inside. I’m not sure what it’s about, but I’ve been wondering about it and how it makes me feel. I feel like you don’t want to be around me – almost like you’re mad that I’m sick. I know it sounds strange, but I needed to share that it has been affecting me. Can we talk about it?”
Shelving balls, emotions, and the repercussions
But what could be wrong with avoiding a conflict or not “getting into something” when it is unplanned and inconvenient?
There is nothing wrong with shelving an issue, but the key is to take note.
Here’s a ball. It is real, it has potential power, more so even if I shove it underwater. So I will consciously and carefully, shelve it on the ball wall. I will commit to myself, possibly even to the other, to come back to it at a mutually agreeable time. And then, I will deal with it.
Haunting balls cause resentment
These balls aren’t random. They are markers of patterns and relationship dynamics. When we chuck them to the side carelessly, they inevitably bounce back and hit us in the head.
When the balls come back to haunt, or more accurately hurt us, then we are building up resentment, aggression, and regret with ourselves, and the other. With all this, underground conflict then builds in the relationship. And then before we know it, these emotion balls breed more balls – a scary tale.
Recognising when the trigger is set
Suppression is deliberately trying to forget or not think about painful or unwanted thoughts, feelings, and memories. Repression, her close cousin, involves unconsciously blocking these same thoughts or impulses. With repression, the ball is even deeper and so even more unpredictable and potentially dangerous or hurtful when these thoughts/feelings/impulses pop up. Essentially, the ricochet of repression. But, because they’re unconscious, we have little control over this. On the other hand, with suppression, we can do something about it.
Have you ever been in a situation where something snags, pulls or tugs emotionally at you suddenly? You may know exactly what is going on, or have a sneaking suspicion, and shove it back into the recesses of your mind. For another day, not right now, can’t deal with that right now.
Those are the moments we are pushing the ball down and the trigger on the suppression gun is set.
Identifying cases of emotional avoidance in your life
Ask yourself, what are you suppressing and not talking about?
A simple practice includes three steps to coping with an overwhelming situation and emotional response.
- Notice and name your emotion – Not even sure what you are feeling? Meet the feelings wheel.
- Breathe and be still – Allow yourself to be mindful and present. Take a moment to engage in grounding.
- Express your emotions – Share with yourself and those around you. The timing for this step varies for all of us. It determines if we are:
- Engaging, acknowledging, and expressing
- Diverting to suppression
- Disengaging and repressing
Deal with the real, before you reel
At the end of the day, we are all simply, and complexly, human – and forever negotiating emotions or emotional avoidance. The trick is to acknowledge this balance before it imbalances you.
Kathlyn McHugh RCC, RSW Counselling Practice takes place at the Vitality Clinic in the West Shore Area, close to Victoria BC.
Visit the website at: Home – The Vitality Clinic