We all have those times in our life when we feel overwhelmed and overcome by our emotions.
But often dealing with our emotions isn’t easy. For years I didn’t even know how to express my emotions – I didn’t feel safe, validated or even clear about how I was feeling. If any of that sounds familiar to you, you may be at risk for experiencing emotional repression.
Emotional repression is an inability to express and allow our emotions to pass through us, giving them the acknowledgement and respect they deserve.
There are many reasons why emotional repression happens in the first place.
It could be because you grew up in a family or community that did not allow you to express your emotions. It could be because of conditioning that you now associate certain feelings with certain situations, or you don’t feel safe and validated when you express how you feel.
Repressing emotions can also result from living with a false belief, such as thinking that certain emotions are ‘bad’ and ‘selfish’, so you hold those feelings inside, which leads to emotional repression.
What does emotional repression have to do with acne? It can make it worse.
So What Is Emotional Repression?
Whenever I talk about emotions, I get a little bit panicky inside. I grew up in a family where only one emotion was acceptable – happiness. We weren’t allowed to be angry, sad, or anything negative. If I was upset about something I was told to ‘smile’ like a good girl. Of course, I did what I was told, but this lead me to become a people-pleasing, anxious adult that had no idea about what I needed or how I felt. I was emotionally repressed (and it’s still something I have to work at daily).
Emotional repression is a general term used for a defense mechanism in which a person “bottles up” the unwanted thoughts and emotions such as (anger, anxiety, fear, frustration, etc) into the unconscious mind to subdue them from your awareness or completely dissociate from them.
Often, emotional repression is linked to emotional childhood traumas, especially those accumulated to shield us from more painful emotional outcomes.
In mainstream culture, children are permitted to feel physical pain but not display their natural feelings such as anger and sadness. Sadness is unacceptable because it disrupts the idea that life should be fair, fabulous, and happy at all times.
Instead, they become predisposed to pushing sadness away without regard to whether it’s appropriate under the circumstances. They judge themselves harshly if they experience sadness in response to conditions that trigger troubling emotions or thoughts.
For example, if expressing negative emotions in childhood led to additional emotional pain, you will avoid these feelings, leading to emotional repression. And later in adult life, you’re likely to learn to disconnect yourself from any negative emotions subconsciously.
What Happens When Emotions Are Repressed?
As Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persists but will grow in size”. If we repress what is in our heart and mind, those hidden thoughts or feelings will come back stronger.
This means repressed emotions rarely go away. Instead, they show up as physical illnesses, inner tensions, inconsistent behaviors, or even skin disorders such as acne.
Additionally, the cost of repressing emotions leads to mental disorders such as anxiety, stress, depression, and addictions.
As I shared earlier, there was only one emotion allowed in my house — the emotion of happiness.
If I was sad, angry, fearful, or anything other than happy, I had to either become happy or be shamed. This obviously affected me deeply, but my parents were not trying to hurt me. This is the coping mechanism that my parents learned as children and passed along to my siblings and me.
And so, I learned very early in my life that any emotion other than happiness was to be hidden away if I wanted to be loved.
Eventually, because of stuffing my feelings in fear of being ashamed and embarrassed, I developed a condition known as alexithymia.
Alexithymia is a psychiatric condition characterized by difficulties in recognizing, expressing, or understanding emotions — yes, that is the result of emotional repression.
How Does Emotional Repression Affect the Skin?
Connecting repressed emotions with skin conditions such as a poorly timed breakout can be tricky.
While we may attribute some skin breakouts to physical conditions like clogged pores, plenty of pros factor acne to emotions and the mind. For example, many believe there is a strong connection between our minds, emotions, and skin.
In fact, there is a research field known as psycho-neuro-dermatology that is devoted to studying this mind-skin relationship and coming up with the treatment of both aspects.
Researchers have actually been able to link the inability to recognize or express emotions to acne breakouts.
Although some studies agree that acne patients do not necessarily have Alexithymia, a May 2015 study published in the Journal of The American Academy of Dermatology found out that there is a correlation between Alexithymia and acne.
However, this doesn’t mean if you have acne, you have Alexithymia, but if you have Alexithymia, you have a higher risk of developing acne.
So how does the mind-skin relationship contribute to acne?
Consider when you’re annoyed. Chances are your skin is more likely to redden or sweat, all because of dilated blood vessels.
Your stress hormones become heightened, setting into motion a series of different reactions. This is because our nervous system, immune system, and skin cells share similar embryological origins, so they can affect and signal each other.
The stress response that is elicited by repressed emotions can lead to heightened levels of stress hormones. When left unchecked, severe emotional repression leads to chemical reactions in the body such as skin inflammation — the primary culprit of acne breakouts.
What are Repressed Emotions Symptoms?
Let’s talk about the law of conservation of matter and energy, which states that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Like the law of conservation, emotions are a form of energy, and if we do not healthily express them, those emotions will be trapped in our body, desperately trying to find a way out. And for many people, the skin is the outlet for releasing this emotional energy.
But in some people — it is different for everyone — the repressed emotions can manifest in symptoms such as,
- Chronic back pains and joint pains
- hair loss,
- Appetite changes and digestive problems
- Sleep problems
- High blood pressure
For me, it is the skin!
6 Ways To Help You Release The Negative Emotions
Our body communicates with us — sometimes it whispers, and sometimes it screams. Eventually, we have no choice but to listen. It is difficult to listen to, but unfortunately, emotions cannot just sit stagnant in the body and be forgotten.
Understanding and managing your emotions is a real crucial solution to acne. Diet changes and topical protocols are much easier, but these therapies rarely address the root cause of the problem.
So if you’re having trouble expressing your emotions, you can get started on these six practical approaches to help you work through your traumatic childhood experiences or any other unexpressed feelings.
Group and Individual Therapy
Perhaps the most important thing you can get from therapy is the ability to relate to your negative feelings, and also receiving support and understanding that other people have similar problems. Therapy allows you to face the fears and emotions you might be too embarrassed or ashamed to address individually.
Basically, 97% of emotionally repressed individuals can benefit from profoundly exploring their childhood lives and understanding what exactly pushed them to get to the place where they feel unable to identify and express their emotions.
Although my parents were not alcoholics (they both came from families with addiction and mental health issues), I spent an entire year in ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) to help me cultivate awareness of my emotions. Families tend to pass on patterns of emotional dysfunction and understanding this pattern is a critical part of healing.
Besides joining therapy programs, I did the MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program, which taught me how to give myself space to feel because that is what I could not do.
Even though meditation can be uncomfortable for me, it forces me to sit with who I am and what I feel. The stillness that has been forced upon me has been my greatest gift and the most profound medicine I have ever encountered.
Meditation is a great place to start to understand your repressed emotions, learn how to feel and validate yourself. It brings about a deep sense of relaxation and calms the mind to help you focus on your feelings in a safe place.
Science has shown that journaling once a day gives you insight into your thoughts and emotions, and it helps you explore your inner feelings and pinpoint your triggers.
Journaling can help us make sense of our thoughts and emotions, discover our triggers, explore our motivations, and gain perspective.
Here, the role of journaling is to help you eliminate the “emotional junk” in your head to have a free outlet for expressing your feelings.
Expressive arts therapy exercises such as drama, sculpture, music, and dance are helpful tools in cultivating emotional expression. My favorite medium is ecstatic dance. It is held in a huge old ballroom in Toronto, and a few hundred people gather to dance barefoot to a different DJ every week. It is a sober space where no talking is allowed. No judgment, either.
This free-form dance is an ultimate way to move and release excess energy in the body — allowing you to escape from the prison of repressed emotions.
Hypnosis and Relaxation Training
During hypnosis sessions, you’ll learn some therapeutic techniques such as intense concentration, relaxation, and guided meditation.
Eventually, it will give you a fresh look and perception to help you uncover the traumatic experiences and feelings repressed unconsciously.
Hold on! Can a book really help you let go of the negative emotions?
Most people think it is impossible to release stuffed emotions with the help of a book. But having an exciting read is a surprising therapy to help you learn how to discover your repressed emotions.
Most importantly, it is a great way to learn an expressive language and develop your narrative of letting go.
Emotional repression is an important topic to talk about. It’s deep, it’s difficult, and it’s no surprise it can be the root cause of your health issues, including stubborn acne breakouts.
It’s natural to repress our unpleasant and unwanted emotions because they are painful, but we need to move into the pain to conquer the pain.
As harsh as it may sound, we have to lean in and face our emotions and feel them. There are no shortcuts! It’s the journey. And no matter the supplements we take or diet changes we make, getting to the deep dark root of those negative feelings is the most liberating way of stubborn acne treatment.
This doesn’t mean you can’t resolve your acne nightmares with lifestyle changes. But it means that if you experience constant skin flare-ups, you can find true acne freedom and happiness by first resolving what is within. In a nutshell, stubborn acne will often respond to the release of repressed emotions.