What exactly does it mean to “stuff your feelings”?
The image that comes immediately to mind is of me pushing hazy objects down into my chest, literally stuffing my body and keeping the hazy objects, or my feelings, hidden.
I have learned as I’ve gone through Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP) for chronic depression that I have a habit of stuffing my feelings.
But I thought of it as more of a problem of holding anger in and not expressing it appropriately. Expressing and releasing those feelings would just ease up on my anxiety, I thought.
I’m learning there’s more to it than that.
During our last session, my therapist and I talked about an interaction that had occurred at work.
It was a situation where I felt angry and annoyed that I had not been kept in the loop of what was going on in the office.
When this happens, I feel like I’m unimportant in the workplace, and feel very frustrated.
Or, more specifically, the effects of my co-worker doing this is that I feel like I’m unimportant in the workplace, and I feel very frustrated.
It may not be what he intends, but that is the effect.
During said interaction, I was able to express what I would and would not do during the situation we were discussing, but I did not express my problems with what was the larger issue to me: that this is a repeated instance of this co-worker not including me in conversations and decisions pertinent to my work.
In other words, I’ve discussed this with him previously. I’ve had several conversations with him about how I dislike him keeping me out of the loop.
He has been receptive, at least on the surface, but nothing changes very much.
And so we were right back in an interaction where, once again, I found out about something at the last minute and felt blindsighted.
According to my therapist, it was a good thing that I was able to state clearly what I did not feel comfortable doing in this particular work situation. To move the interaction up a notch, to make it even more effective, I could have brought up the larger issue and how I felt about it.
The co-worker might have been understanding. He might have made an effort to change how he did things. He might have told me something along the lines of “so what.” My therapist said. I couldn’t control that.
What I could control was my expression of how I felt.
“But why bother if it isn’t going to change anything?” That was my question.
“Even if it doesn’t change anything, you have reminded yourself that your feelings are important,” he said.
It was one of those “aha” moments for me.
He said after being told explicitly and implicitly while growing up that what I felt wasn’t important, I believed that my feelings weren’t important. That made me believe that I was helpless to change anything in my life, leaving me feeling hopeless.
I need to start reminding myself that my feelings are important. It’s not that everything needs to go my way or that my feelings are more important than anyone else’s feelings.
But they are just as important.
So even if telling someone how their behavior affects me, and how I feel about that, doesn’t change the circumstances, it can change me. It can help me feel less helpless and hopeless.
That’s a powerful tool in my work against chronic depression.
Do you have trouble expressing how you feel? If so, how has that affected you? If not, how does expressing yourself make you feel?