Should I Just Ignore My Feelings?

I’m sure you have tried it – ignoring your thoughts and feelings. How’s that worked out for you in the past?

Maybe at the moment, it was helpful. But if it was working well for you, you wouldn’t be here trying to find an answer to this question, would you?

Alright, let me say it right away – your question isn’t really about how to “ignore” your feelings. You’ve come to this question because you don’t see another way out! Isn’t it?

So, what’s the way out?

You definitely don’t need to go deep down into every emotion every single moment of your life! That’s neither feasible nor helpful. However, ignoring them isn’t an option either because that’s also neither feasible nor helpful! If you think about it, what you really want to know is how to deal with emotions that don’t feel great. You already know ignoring them doesn’t help. What helps might seem counter-intuitive – letting those feelings in!

Let’s understand this through Socratic questioning where we explore concepts and beliefs by challenging our underlying assumptions to clarify & uncover what lies underneath.

What Happens When You Ignore Your Feelings?

Anyone who’s tried ignoring their feelings – I think every one of us has done it at some point in time in life – would know that the feelings continue to be there.

Here’s a generalized framework of what happens when you ignore your feelings:

1. To ignore your feelings you either dismiss them or minimize them or rationalize them, or divert your attention to something else.

2. Depending on the intensity of your emotions you’re either able to get away from them in the moment, or they continue making you miserable.

3. If it’s the latter, then the technique has failed you right away.

4. If it’s the former, it’s worked for the time being, and you think it’s a great strategy.

5. You use it again, and again, and yet again. Until it eventually reaches its limit.

And then you wonder, “Does ignoring feelings really work?”

Can You Make Feelings Go Away By Ignoring Them?

For a while, it can seem that they’ve gone away because you’ve ignored them. But eventually, they’ll be back, and if you’ve been ignoring them for long then they’re likely to return with a vengeance!

Feelings don’t disappear when you ignore them. Instead, they either get suppressed or are displaced, like when you’re angry at your boss but end up shouting at your spouse!

Is Hiding Your Emotions Healthy Or Unhealthy?

A Time website article does a very good job of explaining how Ignoring Your Emotions Is Bad for Your Health.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, a psychoanalyst and the author of It’s Not Always Depression, shares a great analogy in the article about how suppressing or avoiding emotions is not good for mental or physical health:

“It’s like pressing on the gas and brakes of your car at the same time, creating an internal pressure cooker…When the mind thwarts the flow of emotions because they are too overwhelming or too conflicting, it puts stress on the mind and the body, creating psychological distress and symptoms.”

She goes on to state how current neuroscience research backs the role emotions play in both – the creation of physical suffering as well as healing from that suffering.

And yet, our mainstream systems don’t seem to be paying attention to emotions and how to work with them.

We still have eminent figures reinforcing how to work around emotions instead of working with them.

What Happens When You Suppress Your Emotions For Too Long?

Can always staying positive be bad for our health? According to an HCF article, with this same question as its title, it can.

They state while searching for silver linings can be a good coping mechanism, “studies show suppressing emotions to stay positive can negatively affect our health.

Multiple research studies(1), spanning the last few decades, show that “emotion regulation is an essential (and traditionally underemphasized) feature of mental health.”

But it’s not just bad news for mental health.

A study by Chapman et al(2), on emotion suppression and mortality risk conducted over a 12-year period, found that bottling up emotions resulted in increasing the person’s chances of premature death from all causes, with the risk of death by cancer increased by 70%!

I think the above is strong evidence of how emotions suppressed for too long can play havoc with physical health.

Hopefully, by now you have no doubt that ignoring your feelings neither works nor is a good choice for your mental and physical well-being.

Your next question, ideally, should be the next subtopic!

How Can I Better Understand My Feelings?

I love how this article in Psychology Today has framed it: “Become a student of emotions.

I couldn’t have said it better myself! That’s how you understand your feelings better – by becoming a student of your feelings. Let’s break that down.

What does a “good” student do? A good student learns the core concepts of the subject, practices the concepts, asks for help when stuck, revises and reflects, and repeats! Let’s translate this for emotions.

  1. Learn the basics about emotions starting from the different vocabulary words for emotions.
  2. Once the basics are done, you might want to pick up a framework to work with emotions.
  3. Learn to sit down with yourself and check in to see what emotions you might be feeling.
  4. Learn to notice how they play out in the body – all our thoughts & emotions manifest as sensations in the body.
  5. Allow yourself to be okay with whatever is present in the moment, thereby, letting the emotions in, and not ignoring/ pushing them away.

While working with emotions isn’t difficult, it can seem complicated in the beginning. If need be ask for help!

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Signs You’re Ignoring Your Feelings

There are a number of manifestations of ignored feelings. Here are five prominent signs:

  1. You find yourself too overwhelmed over small issues that don’t even make sense to you, for instance, if you’re unable to find your phone you find yourself wanting to cry or shout with anger.
  2. You have a few different addictions, including but not limited to, workaholism, TV binging, food binging, money-spending sprees, alcoholism, the need to smoke to destress, being busy all the time, etc.
  3. You get uncomfortable being around others who express their emotions directly. You might even judge them, and yourself if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with emotions.
  4. You tend to minimize your emotions. For eg., if you feel hurt by your partner not responding to you, you tell yourself that it’s fine and that you don’t need to be upset over such a small thing.
  5. You tend to avoid confrontations at all costs as long as possible and are usually never the one to bring up something that is bothering you.

Other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What Happens When Your Feelings Are Ignored?

You tell me! I find that when someone ignores my feelings I feel invalidated – like they don’t see me or like I don’t matter to them. Is all this true? Most likely not. But you see, we’re not talking about facts here.

In order to work with emotions, we first need to acknowledge whatever we feel. And it’s very human to feel unseen when someone who matters to you doesn’t acknowledge your feelings.

What Happens When You Ignore Your Feelings For Someone?

I’m assuming this to be in reference to romantic feelings for someone. If you ignore these feelings you’re likely to have them displaced, that is, they’ll come out as something else somewhere else. For instance, it might lead you to take out your frustration on a friend or family.

Not ignoring these feelings doesn’t mean you have to go and tell them. There can be some situations where it might not be ideal to do so, for instance, if the person you have these feelings for is in a relationship with someone else.

Not ignoring simply means acknowledging them to yourself, and processing them. wikiHow here shares in detail what you can do if the other person doesn’t reciprocate your feelings for them.

Should I Keep Hiding My Feelings?

That would not be ideal, friend. Hiding your feelings will only lead to increased mental and emotional suffering which will also begin to take its toll on your physical health.

Should You Turn Off Your Emotions To Protect Yourself?

It seems like the most logical thing to do – since emotions are causing suffering, you turn off your emotions.

However, as we’ve discussed above, it isn’t possible to turn off emotions. What works might seem counter-intuitive, but is actually the solution – is to let your emotions in.

Can Real Feelings Go Away?

All feelings are “real” feelings for the person feeling them. Unless someone is putting up a show, everything you feel is true for you.

This doesn’t mean that all your feelings show you facts as they are. They just tell you what’s happening within you – the truth about how you feel.

How Long Should Feelings Last?

Your feelings will last as long as it takes you to acknowledge them and work through them.

In general, everything is changing all the time including your feelings. However, any emotion that you ignore will keep coming back with the hope of being acknowledged so it gets processed.

Can I Trust My Own Feelings?

I’ve written a whole article on this here. Enjoy!

Why Do Feelings Last So Long?

Two kinds of feelings will last long. One, as mentioned throughout this article, is the feelings that are ignored. Two, feelings related to loss and grief. Loss, grief, sadness – they have their own processing time.

As a thumb rule, any feeling that is ignored, or not processed, will get stuck, and stay for a long time.

When Does A Person Hide Their Feelings?

Many people hide their feelings because they never had the chance to learn how to work with feelings. Many of these people see feelings and expressions of feelings as a sign of weakness or feel embarrassed, or even ashamed, to share their feelings.

At times, some will hide their feelings because they judge themselves for feeling the way they do, or they may fear being judged or rejected by others.

Why Do I Struggle To Talk About My Feelings?

Many times most people who struggle with emotions were children who didn’t have their emotional needs met by their caregivers. As a result, they never learned how to be with their emotions, understand them, and express them. Do you resonate with this?

Let’s Bring It To A Close

  • Ignoring your feelings doesn’t work because the feelings continue to be there.
  • Feelings don’t disappear when you ignore them – they get suppressed or displaced.
  • It is unhealthy, both mentally and physically, to hide your emotions.
  • Long-term suppression is shown by research to have significant health hazards.
  • To better understand your emotions consider becoming a student of your own feelings!

What questions do you have about feelings and emotions, and how to work with them? How did this article land with you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

References

(1) Gross, J.J. and Muñoz, R.F. (1995), Emotion Regulation and Mental Health. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 2: 151-164. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2850.1995.tb00036.x
(2) Chapman BP, Fiscella K, Kawachi I, Duberstein P, Muennig P. Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. J Psychosom Res. 2013 Oct;75(4):381-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.07.014. Epub 2013 Aug 6. PMID: 24119947; PMCID: PMC3939772.

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2 thoughts on “Should I Just Ignore My Feelings?”

  1. It’s understandable to want to ignore or suppress our feelings, especially if they are negative or difficult to process – I’ve done that in the past. However, as you’ve mentioned, ignoring them wasn’t a feasible or helpful solution in the long run. I find acknowledging our emotions to be key in dealing with them effectively. I appreciate your thoughtful breakdown of what happens when we ignore our feelings and the importance of working with them instead of against them. How often do you think we should do the emotional work – because as you’ve also mentioned, it’s not possible to do it all the time?!

    Reply
    • Hi Anoth,
      Thank you for reading the article and stopping by with your question. I always say we need to use two strategies together – short-term & long-term.
      With respect to emotions this could look like – when in a busy moment a difficult emotion comes up, while we may not be able to sit with it to fully process it, we can always acknowledge it, and say to ourselves something like, “I acknowledge I’m feeling ___, right now this other work is my priority, and I will come back to this emotion later in the day/ week.”
      As for the long-term strategy – become a student of your emotions (the 5 steps mentioned in the section How Can I Better Understand My Feelings?) 🙂

      Reply

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