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Bottling things up might be okay after all

November 2012

Our discussion piece for November is on new thinking that counselling and discussing your emotions may not always be the best way to go......

Bottling things up might be okay after all

Bottling up EmotionsThe good old British stiff upper lip. In the past, people were admired who could control their emotions and keep their feelings to themselves. Certainly too much public display of deep emotions is embarrassing to our society in the west and can be very disturbing to others. Civilisation is all about control; being able to keep on top on one’s emotions is part of that.

In recent years, however, things have gone very much the other way and people have been encouraged to display and share their emotions. There has been news about the psychological damage that can be done by bottling things up and there has been a trend to unburden oneself by talking through problems or anger with others.

After disasters, victims and people involved are encouraged to visit counsellors, talk to experts and share their deep feelings and anguish about the events. This has been generally thought to make people feel better and greatly reduce stress levels.

But as expected, things are moving on again. A doctor from Buffalo University in New York State is an expert in the psychology of stress and was involved in monitoring people after the dreadful attack on the World Trade Centre.

He followed up a number of people for some years after the event, and has found that those who bottled up their feelings had come out better than those who had been encouraged to open up about their feelings and experiences and share their emotions with others. Research showed that keeping bad memories hidden rather than bringing them to the surface reduced their effect and also their importance in day to day thought processes.

While some psychologists now agree that keeping emotions under wraps can have benefit, these may only be short term and can lead to longer term problems such as flashbacks or nightmares in the future. Research continues.

“Emotional need” is another phrase that has recently become universal. It certainly wasn’t used to any extent in Victorian times but today people, especially in troubled relationships, often mention that their emotional needs are not being fulfilled.

“Rethink,” says Dr Dennis Sugrue, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School in America.

Dr Sugrue says that expecting a partner to fill emotional needs is not only unfair but also unreasonable. He says people who believe in themselves and have a sense of control over their emotions and lives are secure. He says looking for someone else to make you feel complete is not the way forward and these needs will never be met by anyone other than yourself.

And so the conflicting advice from some of the world’s most respected professionals continues but at the end of the day all the latest reports simply confirm what we all know. Everyone is different. For some people, bottling up deep emotions over a long time can lead to serious psychiatric problems; for others it can help recovery by burying emotions and simply getting on with life.


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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