Are You an Emotional Stuffer?
by Teresia Smith
Emotions are a part of being human, but learning how to effectively handle strong feelings is challenging. How many times have you received the following poor advice when you are hurting? “Don’t cry over it.” “Don’t let them get to you.” “Just get over it and move on.” “You need to get a tougher skin and not let things get to you.” “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.” One of the biggest lies that culture tells us is that negative emotions are not acceptable and we need to just push these bad feelings out of our minds and move on. However, not allowing yourself time to process your emotions can lead to you becoming a chronic stuffer which can lead to becoming an emotional exploder. What if we worked to embrace our emotions – both positive and negative- and gave ourselves permission to feel what we feel without a need for apology?
What is a chronic stuffer and how do they handle strong emotions? Stuffers may not even be truly aware of how they feel because they are accustomed to pushing their feelings away. A stuffer may wallow in self-pity. Sometimes, they may withdraw from others and hoard a lot of resentment which can lead to retaliation or revenge. Hard emotions can leave a stuffer feeling overwhelmed and be so strong that it feels as though the emotions control you. At this point, the stuffer can become an exploder. What is an emotional exploder? Some exploders use hurtful words, raised voices, finger pointing, cursing and angry tones to express how they feel. Others are more understated and use sarcasm and criticism to strike out. With both, after their emotions explode they may blame others, become defensive of their actions and often feel ashamed of their behaviors.
The problem is that our emotions don’t just fizzle away by us ignoring them. Instead, they sit and fester like an untreated wound. Ever heard the old saying, “Pay now or pay later”? It’s true. Our feelings grow bigger and bigger causing you to walk around feeling tremendous pressure as though you were an active volcano. You never know when the blast will occur but you know it eventually will. But what if we can defuse the volcano? People who are able to recognize, communicate and deal with their negative emotions are more resilient and overall more positive people. Instead of drowning in self-pity, doubts and fears, we can acknowledge how we feel, talk to others about it, and use it to propel us to more positive solutions.
“Feelings are natural. What you do with them is a choice.” ~Mel Robbins. The first step in being emotionally healthy is recognizing what emotions you are feeling. Anger is probably the easiest to identify, but it is usually only a secondary emotion. Anger is generally a result of something else. Being able to recognize the true underlying emotion is crucial to addressing it. The next step is learning to communicate how we feel. This is the hard part for those who tend to stuff their emotions. By allowing someone else to know how we feel, we are opening ourselves up to their reaction. They may judge, reject, or just dismiss us. It is important to have a safe place where you can talk about your feelings without fear of negativity. Find the person you can be real with and use good boundaries to protect yourself from those who are not healthy for you.
Once we are aware of our feelings and willing to confront them, we can work to reframe the uncomfortable ones to help us move forward. Instead of feeling guilt or shame for something we did, we can work to make right our wrongs and show compassion and kindness. We can harness our anger into courage, fear into focus, boredom into creativity, and jealousy into admiration.
Sometimes, no matter what you try, you just can’t shake off a hard emotion. You may find yourself unable to move forward and need a safe place to unpack how you are feeling. If you have experienced trauma due to sexual assault or intimate partner violence, chances are you have a lot of strong emotions that affect your life every day. Having a safe place to unpack those emotions can be vital to working on gaining control of your life. Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free services in a safe, confidential setting. You may reach us at our Jackson County office 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline 256.716.1000 or you may email me at Teresia@csna.org for other options.