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How Your Disowned Feelings Are Hurting You

Banishing unwanted emotions always backfires.

Source: Sydney Sims/Unsplash
Source: Sydney Sims/Unsplash

Have you ever heard someone yell, “I’m not angry?" If you have, then you’ve witnessed a disowned feeling in action.

Disowned feelings are those prickly emotions that you attempt to block out of awareness. You tell yourself you’re not feeling them and give them the cold shoulder. Unfortunately, ignoring unwanted feelings comes at a high cost.

The energy it takes to push away unwanted feelings frequently leads to:

  • Psychic tension that fuels mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms, such as headaches, backaches, digestive, or stomach issues. (See "Where You Store Stress In Your Body")
  • A loss of vitality, resulting in chronic exhaustion, inattentiveness, or forgetfulness.

The Top 3 Disowned Feelings

Though all feelings are valuable, some are more popular than others. Disowned feelings are generally unpopular because they create discomfort or distress. The top three disowned feelings that I’ve noticed in my psychotherapy practice are:

1. Anger

The adage, “depression is anger turned inward,” holds. To deny anger is to deny yourself a propitious source of energy. Learning to access and focus your anger can relieve depression and anxiety while also producing revitalizing bursts of energy and clarity. Learning to process and express your anger productively is definitely a life-changer. (See "Why Group Therapy Is More Effective Than Individual Therapy")

2. Hurt

As a child, when your feelings were hurt, you had a good cry and moved on. As an adult, hurt is much more complex. Admitting that you're hurt can feel shameful and humiliating, particularly if you have a history of being bullied. So you learned to deny hurt to protect yourself from feeling vulnerable. Ironically, anytime someone proclaims, “I’m not hurt” it’s very likely that they are. Learning to identify when you’re hurt and verbalizing it frees you from a cycle of shame, strengthens emotional boundaries, and elevates self-respect.

3. Fear

While it’s fun to be afraid while watching scary movies or visiting amusement parks, unbridled fear causes escalating anxiety and panic in real life. Few people enjoy the feeling of being out of control, so when fear strikes, you may want to deny it or bulldoze over it. Unfortunately, fear denied invites poor decision-making, destructive risk-taking, and lapses in judgment.

The Damage Caused by Disowning Feelings

Denying an unwanted feeling doesn’t resolve it; it simply drives it out of your consciousness. It still there, but in hiding. Sooner or later, like an annoying relative who drops by unannounced, the feeling pops up again. You find yourself caught in repetitive relationship patterns or miscommunications.

Every time you disown a feeling, you weaken your sense of self. You water down your emotions until you don’t even know what you’re feeling. The fallout is even more discouraging: identity confusion, unhealthy relationships, poor boundaries, and chronic disappointment, to name just a few.

Unearthing and Honoring Your True Feelings

When feelings are honored and expressed, your core sense of self strengthens; you are more focused and immediate. Since you’re better attuned to yourself, you’re better attuned to others. Authenticity becomes your guiding light, making it much navigate through emotionally charged situations.

Of course, warming up to all your feelings takes time. It’s a process of evolution—not revolution. Here are a few tips to get you going:

1. Take a deep dive into your feelings.

Too often, we move through life on automatic pilot, zoning out for hours in front of a computer or numbing ourselves with substances, mindless television, or social media. To redirect your attention inward, you’ll need to set aside time for reflection. Journal writing is a great way to get started. Every time you jot down your thoughts and feelings, you bring more mindfulness to your daily life. Feelings become less mysterious or frightening; understanding your pure feelings fosters personal enlightenment. Set a timer, write for a few minutes a day, and slowly increase your journaling time.

2. Work with a professional.

There are more therapists in the world than ever before in history. Art therapy, dance therapy, mental health counseling, support groups, child and family therapy, couples counseling, sex therapy ... the list goes on and on. And now, with teletherapy and virtual therapy, you don’t even have to leave your home. If the idea of talking to a professional is too frightening, start by opening up to a good friend and sharing feelings that you often keep hidden.

3. Reward yourself

Acknowledge your efforts, celebrate your victories. Changing ingrained behaviors is one of the hardest things in the world. It's a lonely battle. That’s why you must make time to reward yourself. I worked with a young woman who suffered crippling social anxiety. As she started to assert herself, she develops many catchphrases to encourage her, such as “You got this,” “You’ll be glad later,” or “What have I got to lose?” As she became a cheerleader for her own growth, she made healthier choices and enjoyed more rewarding relationships.

Still not encouraged? Read these:

For information on groups or workshops, visit my website.