Repressed negative emotions and emotional avoidance

Feelings inform us… like a Captain navigating a big ship…


Feelings like anger, fear and sadness are often referred to as negative because they are unpleasant. However, just like pleasant positive feelings, unpleasant negative feelings can inform us that something needs attention, suggesting that in balance there has to be a positive aspect in a negative emotion.

Eventually, a build-up of negative emotions may leave us feeling unable to cope, to a greater or lesser degree, psychologically, physically and (if you are spiritually inclined) spiritually, too. Over time we may have experienced negative feelings and automatically pushed those feelings to the back of our mind because they felt uncomfortable. After all, it is a natural bodily reaction to adjust ourselves for a more comfortable position.  

When we eventually acknowledge unpleasant negative feelings and sit with those feelings and reflect, we then can make sense of what is being communicated and processed timely. For example, if someone upsets you, it may be necessary (or not) to confront that person. Confrontation can be very anxiety-provoking and even feel mentally and physically challenging and, thus, somewhat painful even.  

Or we can ignore the anger, leaving no need for confrontation, and that lack of taking action can then build up and become repressed emotions. Part of a negative cycle maybe?

Emotional avoidance development

In childhood, we may learn to ignore or avoid bad things to survive. Emotional avoidance strategies may work in childhood but, by the time we get to adulthood, these old outdated survival mechanisms that no longer serves the adult.

As adults we have more autonomy than children; we can make our own choices. We can learn new ways of dealing with conflict, new ways of communicating, new ways of being. We can develop and learn, grow, develop, and have more fulfilment and be more at peace with ourselves and who we have become… which are all part of the healing process.

So, if we agree that emotional avoidance may have developed from adapting to a past somewhat difficult environment or more to survive, then behaviours like binge eating, over-exercising or excessive use of alcohol may feel like it’s the way to deal with difficult feelings. Although unhealthy coping behaviours such as these may work short-term, which is why people often return to them, they can lead to further problems in the long run.

Woman looking down

Anger is a natural emotion

Anger is a powerful energy that can be highly productive or destructive. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to subjective (feeling) self-judgement with no objective (real) measuring tool. If you envy others’, allowing them to become role models rather than wanting to destroy them will empower you so you can get your own version of what it is you envy.

So, negative emotions are an important, useful guide, just like positive emotions are. When we do good, we feel good. Negative emotions can be an objective or subject warning sign of danger where action may be required… after all, if we didn’t feel physical pain when we got too close to the fire, we might burn ourselves badly. 

If you feel frustrated, angry, or any uncomfortable feelings, take some time to reflect and allow the process to unfold. This can take the form of writing down, keeping a diary, learning patterns, etc. You may gain insight that you are going in a risky direction, or maybe you may identify that the situation you are in is not risky and it has just “triggered” you because it reminds you of another situation in the past that did feel dangerous and/or unhealthy.  

A point to note is that negative emotions or behaviours may be related to past trauma and would need careful handling with a therapist experienced in trauma

More unhelpful behaviours

  • Talking negatively about and to ourselves informs our core belief system and perpetuates negative feelings.
  • Camouflaging ourselves within negative/toxic environment/people (unhelpful relationships). If you find yourself surrounded by negative people and negative feelings, take a deep breath and distance yourself. 
  • Living in the past/distant future. Focus on what is happening now, and not what has taken place in the past. This may require professional help to let the past go (closure), to enable you to be in the present for change to happen and a better future. Letting go and making space happens before filling that space up with better things.
  • Not being in the present. Even if the here and now feels like you are all at sea “without a Captain”, there is always a silver lining… a positive to a negative… that can be seen with a healthy unburdened clear lens.

Lacking in confidence, a lack of control, unhelpful habits, unhelpful behaviours, past traumas and unexplained negative emotions can be explored in counselling at a conscious level, and/or accessed with the help of your subconscious/unconscious mind in hypnotherapy

Once consciously you feel you have unpacked as much as you need to, you can become curious about working with your subconscious/unconscious mind and underpin counselling with hypnosis. Hypnotherapy is a very natural therapy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bromley BR1 & London SE12
Bromley BR1 & London SE12

My name is Maggie Bell. I am a qualified counsellor, hypnotherapist and NLP coach. I have 25 years NHS experience working within different capacities but mostly mental health. If you are keen to know more about the subject of anxiety and/or talk about what you are experiencing then please call me. I will be delighted to hear from you.

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