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Bottling Up Emotions Causes and Effects

What Is Bottling Up Emotions

Smothering or bottling up emotions is suppressing one’s feelings rather than expressing them openly and honestly. Also known as expressive suppression (ES), bottling up emotions is a common technique used to regulate difficult emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness or to hide them from others.

It is common for children and adults to conceal outward displays of emotion during social interactions.​1​

For example, instead of throwing a tantrum, a child may silently share his toys after their parents insist.

A teacher may suppress her anger after being criticized by the principal.

bottling up emotions man sitting on ground

Causes

Emotion suppression behavior in adults is most likely learned behavior from their childhood. Several factors influence whether a child uses expressive suppression as a coping mechanism in challenging situations. 

Culture

The social norm in different cultures contributes to children’s understanding of the appropriate expression of emotion. Cultures shape children’s valuation systems and affect how social situations are evaluated.

Cultures that value individualism may view hiding human emotions as stifling individuality, whereas cultures that value interdependence may view it as necessary for maintaining harmony. 

For example, American children express emotions to communicate, while Indian children express fewer negative emotions to maintain social norms.​2​

A culture’s expectation of gender may also play a role. Girls, for instance, are more likely to be taught to consider how their strong emotions affect others, which may lead to increased repression.​3​

As a person grows up, these cultural norms become their beliefs without questioning their validity.

Parenting

Children’s value development and coping strategies are affected by parenting in a number of ways.

When parents respond negatively or fail to respond supportively to children’s challenging emotions, they learn to avoid expressing “bad emotions.”​5​

Out of their fear of abandonment, they suppress their emotional reactions.​4​

If parents bottle up their own emotions, children may internalize their parents’ emotion regulation strategies and adopt them as their own.

A child’s maltreatment, such as abuse or neglect, also tends to prevent them from expressing emotions, as hiding their feelings seems safer.

Peers

Peers can influence children’s perception of whether or not emotions are acceptable. 

Children tend to expect more negative consequences from peers than parents if they express negative emotions. A fear of vulnerability may lead them to suppress their emotions to appear cool or to avoid being teased.​6​

As adults, they suppress their feelings for fear of being judged.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety tend to cause heightened negative feelings, dysregulated emotions, and rumination, leading to inflexible responses and emotional repression.​7​

Temperament

Children with temperamental or personality traits characterized by greater reactivity or negative emotionality also use more avoiding strategies.​8​

Effects

For small everyday life hassles that are part of life, bottling up emotions may not matter.

But using this strategy habitually without more adaptive coping could lead to serious consequences if the person experiences overwhelming issues in difficult situations.

This response-focused strategy involves actively inhibiting emotional responses after forming an emotion. This unhealthy coping mechanism is maladaptive and may lead to more negative effects.

Lack of Emotional Regulation

Emotional processing is how a person deals with difficult feelings during life events. Successfully processing emotional disturbances allows someone to absorb and deal with them, allowing them to carry on with their daily lives without interruption.​9​

Children’s lack of adaptive regulating skills can lead to unresolved emotions that negatively affect their development and well-being. 

These children tend to have more behavioral problems and difficulty coping with emotional stress. They may struggle with empathy, understanding social cues, or responding appropriately to others’ emotions.

A lack of emotional regulation skills may lead to anger issues in adults.

Poor Mental Health

The danger of bottling up emotions is that it can be correlated to a lifetime of mental health problems.

Bottled-up emotions have been linked to internalizing problems in adolescents. They are at risk of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, self-injury, and eating disorders.​10​

Bottling up also prevents the emotional processing of traumatic events, resulting in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms such as intrusive flashbacks, dissociation, emotional numbing, and phobic anxiety.​11​

Weakened Immunity

Inhibiting emotion is an active process that requires physiological work. It takes a lot of mental energy to avoid emotions since one must constantly monitor and control their emotional responses.

When individuals inhibit their need to express their emotions, stress is placed on the body resulting in increased vulnerability to physical stress-related diseases.

Consequently, smothering emotions is linked to weaker physical health and stress-related illnesses such as heart disease and blood pressure.​12​

Social Competence

Suppressing emotions in children is also linked to bullying, relational aggression, and maladaptive coping.​13​

Adults who suppress their emotions are more hesitant to share their positive and negative emotions with others. They tend to avoid close relationships​14​ , and forming healthy relationships is more difficult.

References

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    Gullone E, Hughes EK, King NJ, Tonge B. The normative development of emotion regulation strategy use in children and adolescents: a 2-year follow-up study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online October 20, 2009:567-574. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02183.x
  2. 2.
    Wilson SL, Raval VV, Salvina J, Raval PH, Panchal IN. Emotional Expression and Control in School-Age Children in India and the United States. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. Published online 2012:50-76. doi:10.1353/mpq.2012.0005
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    Brody LR. The socialization of gender differences in emotional expression: Display rules, infant temperament, and differentiation. Gender and Emotion. Published online March 9, 2000:24-47. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511628191.003
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    Eisenberg N, Cumberland A, Spinrad TL. Parental Socialization of Emotion. Psychological Inquiry. Published online October 1998:241-273. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli0904_1
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    Cassidy J. EMOTION REGULATION: INFLUENCES OF ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIPS. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. Published online February 1994:228-249. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5834.1994.tb01287.x
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    Gross JT, Cassidy J. Expressive suppression of negative emotions in children and adolescents: Theory, data, and a guide for future research. Developmental Psychology. Published online September 2019:1938-1950. doi:10.1037/dev0000722
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    Hu T, Zhang D, Wang J, Mistry R, Ran G, Wang X. Relation between Emotion Regulation and Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis Review. Psychol Rep. Published online April 2014:341-362. doi:10.2466/03.20.pr0.114k22w4
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    Gullone E, Taffe J. The Emotion Regulation Questionnaire for Children and Adolescents (ERQ–CA): A psychometric evaluation. Psychological Assessment. Published online June 2012:409-417. doi:10.1037/a0025777
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    Rachman S. Emotional processing, with special reference to post-traumatic stress disorder. International Review of Psychiatry. Published online January 2001:164-171. doi:10.1080/09540260120074028
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    Balan R, Dobrean A, Roman GD, Balazsi R. Indirect Effects of Parenting Practices on Internalizing Problems among Adolescents: The Role of Expressive Suppression. J Child Fam Stud. Published online September 12, 2016:40-47. doi:10.1007/s10826-016-0532-4
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    Clohessy S, Ehlers A. PTSD symptoms, response to intrusive memories and coping in ambulance service workers. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. Published online September 1999:251-265. doi:10.1348/014466599162836
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    Butler EA, Egloff B, Wlhelm FH, Smith NC, Erickson EA, Gross JJ. The social consequences of expressive suppression. Emotion. Published online 2003:48-67. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.3.1.48
  13. 13.
    Gardner SE, Betts LR, Stiller J, Coates J. The role of emotion regulation for coping with school-based peer-victimisation in late childhood. Personality and Individual Differences. Published online March 2017:108-113. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.11.035
  14. 14.
    Gross JJ, John OP. Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 2003:348-362. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.2.348

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