Burying Those Feelings Never Works

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

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.

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

 

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?

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