Are you convinced you’re the strongest person alive and that the emotions a lot of other people experience are nothing but proof that they are weak? Do you constantly find yourself saying, “I’m fine,” but not feeling quite as fine as you let on?
Welcome to the world of the emotionally constipated — you’re far from alone. Many other adults are also struggling to understand what they’re allowed to feel and are putting their own emotions on trial every time an uncomfortable one sprouts up. Unfortunately, judging our feelings, refusing to acknowledge that we have them and turning down all requests by caring people to share them is a surefire way to get so “backed up” with emotions that you’ll make yourself sick — literally.
“How we feel and our emotional well being is incredibly important,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, founder and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services. “People who harbor resentments can put their health at risk. Bottling up negative emotion is often linked to hypertension, migraine headache, ulcers, insomnia and even cancer.”
Here are six signs you may be emotionally constipated.
1. You spend most of your time alone — It’s one thing to enjoy taking walks alone or treating yourself to lunch with a good book, and another to actively avoid any and all contact with the outside world. “Pay attention to the amount of human interaction you have in general on a daily basis,” Hafeez says. “If you notice most of your time is spent alone — if friends and family are calling and texting asking ‘are you OK, where have you been?’ you’re withdrawing.”
2. You feel angry and/or depressed — Maybe so much time has passed since you last spoke about your feelings that you can no longer locate the source of the anger and sadness you feel. If you find yourself feeling more pent-up emotions than usual, Hafeez says this is a sign that you are not communicating and are shutting down.
3. You aren’t feeling your physical best — At some point, repressed emotions are going to surface — they may not cause you to have emotional outbursts on your morning commute, but they will create physical pains and discomfort that are difficult to ignore. “It’s common to have severe headaches, loss of appetite, a general feeling of being run down, exhaustion or insomnia,” Hafeez says. “When emotions go unexpressed, they fester within, which can lead to even more serious illness such as heart disease, digestive disorders and mental health issues such as depression. Not to mention, the loss of relationships, misunderstandings and other social problems that stem from such a withdrawal.”
4. You have a difficult time feeling pure joy and happiness — Emotional constipation isn’t just about keeping your sadness and anger buried deep inside. The flip side is that by tempering your emotions, you are also depriving yourself of feeling wonderful, unbridled joy and happiness when something exciting happens in your life. It’s a lose-lose situation.
5. You have a difficult time empathizing with other people — You have become such a pro at pretending you don’t have emotions that you have zero tolerance for people who do express themselves. Maybe you label them as “too sensitive.” If your child is emotional, you may find yourself telling him to “stop crying” or “man up.” You’re actually sending the people you love a message that you don’t think their feelings are worthy enough to be considered important — and it’s only a matter of time before they begin retreating from and hiding their feelings from you.
6. You bounce around from one partner to another — If your first instinct after a bad breakup is to go out on the prowl and find someone to help you get over your ex, you may be denying yourself the courtesy of feeling your own pain and working through it before moving on. Perhaps you equate being lovesick with being weak, or you “refuse” to give your ex the satisfaction of knowing he hurt you. But the only way to truly get over a breakup and find another connection that better suits you is by feeling the sadness and loss and surviving it before you start again.