Can people really suppress their feelings?

How we deal constructively with (negative) feelings

We all know it: we feel anger, disappointment or anger and try to find an appropriate way to deal with these feelings. We often suppress or suppress negative emotions, which often even intensifies them. How can we deal more sustainably with our own emotional world in order to avoid the amplification of negative feelings? And what do our everyday feelings actually mean?

The US psychologist Susan David found that a third of her study participants * rated their feelings positively or negatively in the first step. Basically, people are motivated to increase joy and decrease suffering. If we evaluate our emotional world negatively and suppress difficult emotions such as anger and doubt, then at first glance this is an apparently resource-saving method to avoid our suffering. In psychology, however, it has long been known that suppression, repression or denial actually lead to an intensification of feelings.

Emotional Rigidity

Susan David describes the suppression of our feelings as emotional rigidity. she lays three psychological coping strategies that prevent us from even allowing our feelings such as anger. These processes are:

  • Denial or oppression: We only allow feelings that appear legitimate to us and do not admit difficult, “illegitimate” feelings to ourselves.

    Example: If we are criticized by our boss or mentor and a feeling of anger or even aggression arises in us, it is easy to say: “No! I didn't take the criticism personally in the team meeting. The timing just didn't suit me. ”That would mean denying that the content of the criticism made us feel uncomfortable.
  • Brooding: This is a recurring circle of thoughts (thinking) about difficult feelings such as sadness and fear, often combined with the feeling of being a victim of external circumstances, which reduces our options for action.

    Example: For example, we can question past decisions and blame them for our current challenges in life by thinking: "If I had studied something else then, I would be better off professionally today!" Instead of asking ourselves in the here and now what we are We actually wish ourselves professionally, we shift the problem to alleged wrong decisions in the past. Whenever we are confronted with our insecure feelings about, for example, choosing a career, the negative thoughts start to circle again and intensify the negative feelings. People who tend to brood try to make decisions for the future as flawlessly and perfectly as possible.

  • Reinterpretation in a false positive: Instead of admitting difficult feelings, we reinterpret our situation in a positive light.

    Example: We come home from work frustrated every day and to deal with that we focus on positive aspects of the job. “It was frustrating again to respond to all customer requests without preparation. At the same time, my job offers me security and stability. ”Perhaps the frustration in this example also hides the intrinsic value of thoroughly analyzing decisions.

All three processes do not lead to a confrontation with our innermost feelings and are only short-term manners. Suppressing feelings, brooding over them or directly reinterpreting them in the wrong positive leads to an intensification of these feelings and not to a sustainable solution with which we would be more satisfied in the long term. If we are constantly worried about important decisions for our life, it tends to lead to not being able to implement them in the first place. True to the motto “I don't want to try anything because I'm afraid of being disappointed”.

At the same time, most of us want to live full lives. Susan David explains that it is even necessary to open up to uncomfortable feelings such as fear, suffering, disappointment, and remorse in order to find answers to the reasons for our emotional reactions. She describes this process as emotional agility. In the radical acceptance of all our feelings - whether uncomfortable or pleasant - lies the potential for character strength, resilience and true life satisfaction.

Feelings are data ...

Feelings tell us what we really value. They are a mirror of our inner value system and show us our intrinsic and unconscious motivations. For example, if we are often annoyed about the peculiarities of our new competent colleague, it may not say that much about the other person at first. It could simply be an expression of the fact that we no longer feel seen or valued in the presence of the new colleague. In the first step, the linguistically specific naming of our feelings is essential, because we call them to our consciousness. We can ask ourselves in this example:

  • What really annoys me about my new colleague?
  • What feelings does that trigger in me?
  • What do these feelings say about myself?

The answers to these questions can be many. One is annoyed that he is allegedly losing his personal status and esteem, and the other is annoyed because he sees his professional goals in jeopardy due to the competition. Suppressing jealousy can only be a short-term solution. The knowledge and acceptance of this feeling is important, but it would be socially and morally questionable to speak badly about your new colleague out of envy or even to sabotage her.

... but no signposts

At emotional agility it is about seeing emerging feelings as a source of information and analyzing them with all our knowledge of ourselves. Did I feel the same in another situation? Do I know the feeling from another context? At the same time, feelings are only data about our inner values, but do not describe our complete identity. Over-identification with our emotional world can even aggravate suffering - for example by sinking into sadness, anger or fear or acting them out towards others. Emotions with a negative connotation should therefore initially only be seen as an indication of a possible personality development.

Yet we cannot help our emotional reactions. It is crucial to use it responsibly. So we should keep asking ourselves: Who do I want to be? How do I want to treat my fellow human beings? Which values ​​actually express my feelings? In the above example, anger about a new colleague and her rapid advancement could also mean that there are unconscious goals and ambitions in the job that we were not aware of ourselves. Now we can ask ourselves, for example, what our professional goals and ambitions actually are - and that gives us the opportunity to develop further.

The benefits of emotional agility

In contrast to emotional rigidity, emotional agility means facing one's emotional world with compassion, curiosity and courage. Not judging feelings directly, but rather allowing them and accepting them as a source of information can help us to choose ways of dealing with our inner values. This sustainable way of dealing with feelings offers the opportunity to consolidate our personality in the long term. The knowledge of our very individual needs - our inner operating system - also makes us responsible for doing justice to ourselves. When we have the courage to act according to our values ​​and needs, we gain personal integrity. Studies have now shown that people become more creative, more committed and more innovative when they are able to live according to their inner values.

A guide to emotional agility:

  1. Try to avoid rigidly dealing with your emotions (such as brooding, suppressing, or false positives). You may also want to let friends know if it happens to you again.
  2. Learn to identify and identify the causes of your emotional reactions. Try to understand the contours of your emotional world. What are your feelings trying to tell you? This is best done in writing. The visible inner dialogue simplifies understanding.
  3. Pay attention to your language and try to avoid identifying with your feelings. Instead of saying “I'm angry”, formulate: “That made me angry.” Systematic breakdowns or overviews of emotions make it easier for you to use language.
  4. Ask yourself: What actions are in harmony with my inner values? Which manners lead me away from my values?

Why dealing with your own emotions is worthwhile

It may seem like a lot of work to dig into your feelings in such depth. But the effort is worth it, because the better we can name our own emotions, the more conscious we are of them - and the more desired we can shape our lives. In addition, our thoughts control our emotions: Once we realize this, we are not simply at the mercy of the latter, but can self-effectively create a positive mood.

Not only does the quality of the relationship with ourselves improve, but also that with other people: We act less unconsciously, impulsively or out of affect when we deal with our own negative feelings in a mature way, which we do in a dialogue with the opposite can arise. Ultimately, our empathy increases in general - we become “emotion experts” who can better understand the range of feelings of others, since they are no longer strangers to us. That makes us more empathetic advisors and better leaders.


The most important basis for professional success and personal satisfaction is a lifestyle that is in harmony with your personality. Knowing them is the first step. With our free Trial test we offer you the opportunity to walk it and get a first glimpse of yourself.