Are You Emotionally Repressed? How to Tell

We all suppress our emotions when, say, midway through a presentation we remember a recent breakup and feel sad.

A healthy person can then later release those emotions in the company of friends, or when alone with their journal and a box of tissues. 

The problem arises when our emotions are so repressed, not only do we hide how we feel in public? We just don’t know how we feel even when alone, or when with people we care about. 

[How do you end up the sort who is emotionally repressed? Read our connected article,  What are Repressed Emotions?]

How do I know if I am emotionally repressed?

An interesting sign that you are emotionally repressed can be that you hate being asked how you feel about something or someone. This question, innocently asked by another, will leave you feeling blank, speechless, powerless and confused, or alternately disproportionately annoyed, as if someone is violating your privacy by asking it.

If you are emotionally repressed, showing or understanding your emotions will be a problem in all areas of your life, not just some. So if you are affectionate and open with friends and family but struggle to relax around colleagues, it could be more a case of something like new job jitters or a personality clash.

[Think your problem has to do with anger? Read our connected piece on Repressed Anger .]

Symptoms and signs of repressing emotions

The following can be signs that you are emotionally repressed: 

  • you feel uncomfortable around highly emotional people
  • you secretly think anger and sadness are ‘bad’
  • you rarely if ever cry or yell
  • if you do get angry or sad, you might overreact to something (blowing up when you are asked to dry the dishes more carefully)
  • you think you feel ‘fine’ all the time and see yourself as ‘laid back’ and ‘easygoing’
  • you have phases of relying heavily on escape hobbies, like binge watching TV, video games, and oversleeping
  • you have experiences you are not sure you enjoy but you just let them happen
  • if you take the time to hear your thoughts, it’s negative thinking or criticisms of yourself and/or others
  • you might feel a need to be in control of things.

Emotional repression shows up most in the ways you relate to others, including: 

  • you rarely if ever open up to people but prefer to be private

  • you might seem really open and chat up a storm with strangers, but the real you is still hidden
  • you might even be the ‘clown’, always making everyone else laugh but hiding your own feelings
  • you have few truly close friendships, and struggle with intimacy or have a fear of intimacy
  • if someone does something that bothers you, you say nothing then plan to slowly back out of the relationship, or to secretly ‘get back at them’ in your own time.

Connected psychological issues can include:

Still not sure if you are emotionally repressed? It might be helpful to consider the feedback others often give you. Have you often been told that ‘you have a wall’, that ‘there is something fake about you’, or that you are ’emotionally cold’? Or even that you are passive aggressive? These can be signs you have a backlog of hidden emotions that need to be expressed.

Examples of being emotionally repressed

So how might these symptoms of being emotionally repressed work in real life? Let’s look at a few scenarios.

You have been dating someone for quite a while, when they ask you what you think about them. You panic. You are tongue tied… They persist with the question. You suddenly feel quite resentful and angry. Over the next few weeks, they keep bringing it up, and the more they do, the more distant you feel. Finally, they end the relationship. You feel numb inside and decide it was never love anyway.

You are a happy go lucky person. You really are. You never feel bad, not at all, and you have tons of friends! You try your best to never be alone… if you have to be by yourself you are calling or texting people or you binge watch television and overeat. It’s just that when you are alone you feel bored and uncomfortable. Suddenly, one day at work, someone criticises an assignment you have done and you feel so furious you almost throw something at them. You don’t know where the anger comes from, and it doesn’t fit with your idea that you are a good person all the time. 

You don’t see yourself as emotionally repressed. Your childhood was not great, but nothing that bad happened. You drink every night and are about fifty pounds overweight but you tell yourself it’s normal. Sometimes you feel really lonely. So you drink or eat more. One day a friend tells you that they are starting to think their parents never really loved them. You find it overemotional and too dramatic and begin to slowly distance yourself from that friend.

What should I do if this sounds like me? 

Being emotionally repressed can make life very difficult, and can be connected to serious psychological issues, all of which is covered in our connected piece, “What Are Repressed Emotions?“.

It’s a good idea to seek support if you think you are emotionally repressed. Repressed emotions are often connected to difficult experiences in the past, so trying to navigate it all alone can be overwhelming. A trained counsellor or psychotherapist can create a safe and supportive environment for you to access and process old emotions. They can also help you make new decisions that see you move forward in life.

Harley Therapy puts you in touch with some of London’s top counselling psychologists and psychotherapists at central and prestigious locations. If you aren’t in the UK, we also connect you with Online Therapists


Have a question about being emotionally repressed, or want to share a personal anecdote with our readers? Comment below. 

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