As a society, we are taught that emotions are dangerous. We are taught to not show our emotions. Emotionless behavior is wanted in the workplace. According to Thomas Scheff, emotion is a key part of modern society. But, from a young age, we are taught to hide our emotions. I was criticized in elementary school for crying when other students did not cry. I was taught that showing my emotions was a bad thing. But by shaming our emotions and hiding them, we make it more difficult to feel and understand emotions as adults. This can impact how we feel and how we express emotions.
We need to stop teaching people that being emotional is a bad thing. We need to stop telling people that being in touch with your emotions mean you are immature or childish. Hiding your emotions has a lot of physical and psychological consequences. There is a theory that there is a backlog of your emotions, so that when you get emotional over something, everything starts spilling out. It is like that episode of “Friends” where Chandler doesn’t cry, but when he finally does, he can’t stop.
There are also psychologists who theorize that people resort to violence as a way to see if they can feel the emotion of shame and resentment and anger. Stress from suppression of emotions and unresolved emotions can lead to suppressed immune systems, which leads to illness.
Up until 1999, psychologists had ignored many emotions in the workplace, even though emotion plays into decision-making, an important component of work. Work is seen as non-emotional and logical. But you experience emotions at work. You experience emotions of frustration, anger, sadness, relief, etc. which are all emotions that you should be able to express into order to work effectively in your job. Some jobs even require you to show certain emotions and not others, which makes emotional expression and control of your emotions required. Emotion is thought to be tied to motivation so one must be able to be in touch with ones emotions to create a drive to work.
So why are emotions important? Emotions teach us empathy. They teach us to value our environment and value the emotions of others. Emotions are part of our intrinsic being. They help us make quick decisions and they help us to know things that may not come across as logical. Emotions help to create personal relationships and social connections.
So why are we teaching children, especially boys, to not show emotion? If emotion is such a good thing, why should people not show it?
We are taught from a young age not to show emotion because of the ingrained gender norms in our society and culture (boys are tough and girls are frail). Some may argue that these norms keep society in check and stop people’s emotions from getting out of control. I agree that there are appropriate times to show emotion and appropriate amounts of emotion. But by suppressing a person’s need to cry or need to smile, then their mental health and stability is at risk. A study by Gross and Levenson found that for “negative emotions such as sadness, inhibiting motional expressive behavior does not provide relief from the subjective experience of that emotion.” This study also found that there is only so much one can do to inhibit their emotions as well as suppressing those emotions could hurt cognitive processing.
We need to stop teaching people that knowing your emotions and expressing them is not a bad thing. So, let’s teach children to feel their emotions, accurately express them, and not suppress important emotional signals that are part of who we are. Suppression is a socialized norm that can affect many different parts of our being, and we need to stop encouraging suppression, instead opting for a better approach to emotional control that is warm and a way for people to understand themselves.
Emilia Beuger can be reached at [email protected]