Burying Those Feelings Never Works

There is often a high price to pay when you bury your feelings.

Feelings exist.

I may not like these feelings.

I may not feel comfortable with these feelings.

I may be very uneasy by what I am feeling.

I can try to bury my feelings but they will not stay buried. At some point in time, they will surface again. Quite often when they do surface, they impact us in negative ways.

Consider:

*Your father dies of cancer. A few months after his funeral, you lose your job. Then, to top this off, your daughter files for divorce. One day you say to a close friend, “I don’t think that I have really begun to grieve the death of my father. So much has gone on in the last few months. There has been so much loss.”

*You are a minister in a church. You are so tired. It seems like there has been loss after loss. You have done one funeral per month in the last twelve months. A few of these were people you knew well and loved. You really don’t feel as if you ever grieved any of these deaths. You were too busy trying to deal with the conflict in your church. You’ve experienced conflict before in churches but this was particularly hurtful. You learned that a man you thought one of your best friends in the church was being openly critical toward your ministry and was accusing you personally of lacking integrity.

*You dated this girl while both of you were students at the university. To this day, you can’t figure out why you stayed together so long. She was manipulative and untrustworthy. Again and again, she cheated on you with other guys. Now, several years later, you find yourself in a similar relationship. You wonder what you are doing to attract these kinds of people. Some very negative feelings are starting to surface that you thought long ago were buried. You never went to counseling after this traumatic first relationship or even process these feelings with another person.

Feelings may be buried for a time but eventually they will bubble up and surface.

Recently I was reading a post by Anne Jackson in which she mentions an important lesson she learned in an English class regarding feelings and expressing them:

feelings.jpg

As I entered into my last semester of high school in the spring of 1997, I was in an abusive relationship, was still lonely from moving, and had nowhere to turn.

It was also that semester when my senior English class had a student teacher from a local university. His project for us was to keep a journal every day for that semester.

My journal entries started out more like a diary:

“Went to school. Skipped third and fourth period. Went to work. Did homework. Went to bed.”

“It’s my brother’s birthday. I forgot.”

However, we didn’t just keep the journal in class. We read literature and we studied grammar and we wrote an endless amount of book reports. And I don’t remember the context, but at some point mid-semester, the student teacher said something in class that I’ll never forget.

“When you feel something, no matter how good or bad it is, feel it as deeply as you can. And remember it. Write it down.”

Now that last line really struck me. In fact, I read it several times. This is so much healthier than doing what I have done on far too many occasions when I have attempted to bury feelings.

So what prompts us to bury our feelings?

  1. We may hear old messages from the past. “You really shouldn’t feel this way.” “If you really loved the Lord, you wouldn’t have these feelings.” On and on it goes. Such messages can encourage one to bury feelings.
  2. We may decide that being “nice” is a primary value. Consequently, being nice is placed at the front of the line. If feelings don’t seem to harmonize with being nice then they are buried. Some ministers particularly get into trouble with this one, thinking that they are called to be nice (even toward someone who is rude, ill-mannered, and behaves like a jerk). Note that Jesus does not model being nice. He models what it means to be a loving person.
  3. We may be afraid of these feelings. Some feelings like grief, shame, and loss are very painful and quite difficult.

Question:

When have you been tempted to bury your feelings? Have you experienced the futility of attempting to bury your feelings?

  

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “Burying Those Feelings Never Works

  1. When have you been tempted to bury your feelings? Have you experienced the futility of attempting to bury your feelings?

    I lost my father my senior year of college. The adults in my life told me to just deal with it and get on with life. I poured my self into my senior thesis paper hoping to escape the feelings of guilt and grief I was experiencing. For a couple of years I managed to bury my feelings & continued to do so even after my grandmother died. This was a very unhealthy choice. The depression and anxiety that set in became unbearable. When I sought out the church’s (the one I had grown up in) help, they turned their backs on me saying that there was nothing they could do. I turned to my fiance’s church and found open arms waiting for me and willing to help. Thank God for a wonderful church family & for my family who helped me through. Had I been honest with them & just expressed my feelings, alot of tears could have been avoided.

    • Thanks Brittney. I appreciate you sharing the story about your father’s death and what happened in the following years. So glad that you are on the other side of the depression and anxiety.

  2. Because feelings are organic, the very act of burying them is, in fact, more of a planting than a burial. To bury a feeling is to plant the emotional seeds of life. Soon, life may add a little water, some unknown nutrients like beliefs or memories & before long they bear fruit in the emotional fields of life. They may sprout as a new feeling or, as I suspect, morph into a thought, a choice, a behavior or even an illness, in me or in someone I love.

    In answer to your question, Jim, I have buried negative feelings at work and later paid a high price. It was my choice to live this way before and it will be my choice to refuse to live this way in the future.

    Jim, you’re right that burying feelings is futile. Sharing them appropriately yields the intended future. Yet emotional territory is often uncharted for many of us. The stronger the feelings the less rationale we can be. I’ve needed a trusted guide just to sort things out. And I’m glad I asked for help.

    • Ken, I love one particular line in your comment: “…emotional territory is often uncharted for many of us.” Is that ever true! And, as you expressed so well, “The stronger the feelings the less rationale we can be.” Sometimes this is the soil in which some major mistakes are made.

      We all would do well to get acquainted with our own emotional territory. Thanks Ken.

  3. The medical community has made certain feelings, specifically depression, diseases rather than emotions (or feelings). Depression is simply an emotion caused by the perception of a loss, either real or imagined. The overuse of ‘antidepressants’ blunts the emotion of depression but these powerful medications also blunt the more pleasant emotions as well. All emotions are caused, in my opinion, by thinking patterns over which we have control. The ‘depression as disease model’ held by the majority of doctors in the mental health field makes patients slaves to their emotions. We should be liberating our patients by teaching them to understand, appreciate, and control their emotions.

    • Russell, thank you for this. I suspect that there is no one model (disease or otherwise) which completely describes and helps us understand the emotional territory of our lives. We should probably beware when it does seem to be reduced to one model.

  4. Even right now I’m tempted to bury the feelings that are triggered by the reading and mulling over of your post. I didn’t want to comment. However, I’ve learned that only to Jesus I can freely acknowledge my feelings of sadness, rejection, loneliness, frustration and so on and so on. He let’s me know that my feelings are legitimate and I learn to examine why the feelings are there and He gives the healing. Truly ‘feeling’ them helps me to learn compassion for others who are experiencing similar pain and hurt. I give them to Him because I have found so often in life that if I share them with others, I seem to burden them and they have a great enough load as it is. I’ve tried often over the years to find someone just willing, without judgment, to listen to me, but when I want to share, the other person invariably comes up with deeper and more painful feelings that certainly trump mine or the reverse, tries to cheer me up and not feel what I’m feeling. Then once again I’m the listener and counselor. Not sure if any of this makes sense, but here it is! God is good!

    • Karin, this does make sense and I am glad you left this comment. Glad that you named these particular feelings (sadness, rejection, loneliness…) Regardless of what anyone else has experienced, these are very real for you and are a part of your ongoing story. Thank you for what you said and for reminding us all that God hears what others may not want to hear.

  5. Thanks for this, Jim. I was taught that as a “nice girl”, I needed to be happy and pleasant all the time, and wear a smile no matter what. This teaching led me to bury my emotions beneath the mask of “politeness”, but beneath the mask was the question of, “Did (or does) what I went through (or am going through now) matter at all to anyone other than me?”

    Since that question went unanswered, I learned to be cynical and defensive, keeping people at bay by telling them what they wanted to hear. I learned very quickly that that doesn’t work. Now, I’m learning to be more open and honest with my emotions, since burying them only led me into some very serious sin. I’ve found Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality very helpful in terms of understanding my emotional life, and the influence it has on my spiritual life, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone struggling with how to deal with their emotions in healthy ways, not just burying them under the mask of “niceness”.

    Lord knows I’m going to “biff” (mess) this one up more times than I care to recount, but I’m going to keep working through it. Thanks again for this, Jim.

    • Alison, in what you shared at the beginning of your comment, you illustrate so well the danger of burying these feelings. Under that cover of “niceness,” your important question had no voice and no response. Without the opportunity to raise such an important question, it would be easy to conclude that your feelings really do not matter.

  6. I have buried my feelings, unconsciously I think, after I went through a very painful, shameful, emotionally abusive relationship with a man who rejected me horribly in the end. Now I feel nothing. For 6 years I have lived a painfully emotionless existence. I don’t seem to be able to dig anything up. I don’t know what’s in there that I haven’t let out. Help.

    • Jaime, I’m glad you wrote this comment. I am sorry for the very painful chapter in you life story. This must have been very, very difficult. Sometimes I think that pain can be so intense and damaging, that we just shut down emotionally. Consequently, you come to a place where you feel nothing. Numb.

      I want to encourage you to seek out a good, competent therapist that can help you unpack these feelings and move ahead toward health and wholeness. If you don’t know of anyone in your area, friends or a local church may be able to give you recommendations. This might be a place to begin.

      I’m glad you wrote.