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Why hiding negative feelings is counterproductive

You should hide your emotions“. How many times I’ve heard this… I’m not sure where this belief comes from, but what I know for sure, is that this is a wrong piece of advice.

Feelings should not be refrained

Let me be clear on this: hiding, suppressing or reducing feelings is a terrible idea. First, several researches[i] have found that suppressing emotions has a high physiological cost.

Then, it ignores the signals sent by the brain and increases the negative sensation, putting the person in negative loop, making it more and more difficult to get away from.

Feelings must be acknowledged and recognized. It is not about hiding them. It is about learning how to regulate them appropriately.

As a leader, it is important to create that space for yourself and for your team members. They should be able to label the way they feel. Or this will backfire somehow and you don’t want that.

Would you say the same if the person in front of you was showing happiness? Would you tell her that she should hide her joy?

Probably not.

The only reason why we have this false belief about hiding negative feelings is because we feel very uncomfortable about them: experimenting them ourselves, or seeing them in others. And because we feel the discomfort, we mirror it, asking others to refrain them.

In the collective unconscious, and depending on the culture, showing negative feelings at work is also a sign of weakness.

In reality, feelings are very useful and we should let them flow way more. But there is an appropriate way to do this and I’ll cover it further in this post.

Why are feelings useful?

Feelings are guides. They are signals triggered by our brain, that we feel in our body, to take action. Negative feelings, in particular, are very useful when it comes to identifying uncovered needs.

For example, fear often means you feel insecure. Anger can tell you a rule of yours is not met.

A powerful way to use our feelings as a tool is to identify these hidden needs and to ask ourselves why the need is not met in this situation.

This gives us much more control over our communica­tion, because we do not have to create any excuses to avoid a situation. We can express the lack of a need and find strategies to overcome this.

So, a more appropriate advice would be to encourage your team member to label her feeling and help her identify her hidden need.

If, as a leader, you are struggling with it, an appropriate advice is to create more emotional awareness, so you can manage them yourself, and welcome the ones from other’s with compassion and step back from the drama it creates.

How to regulate your emotions

Whenever you feel overwhelmed with a negative emotion, put yourself in observer mode.

What we want is to create a space for it: no suppressing, no ignoring and no pushing it away to others either: it has the same negative impact.

  1. Stop where you are. Take a deep breath if you need to.
  2. Label the feeling, starting by ”I feel” (not ”I am”: you are not your feelings). This is a very important step. Say it out loud, calmly, as an observer.
  3. If the sensations are really strong, describe them as they appear in your body. For example: I feel upset. I feel my shoulders contracted as well as my cheeks. It’s hot in my chest. It’s heavy.
  4. As you do this, realize that this is “just” a sensation. Don’t ignore it. Consider it a useful data your brain and body are giving you.

You are human, you have both positive and negative feelings. Not only it is normal, but it is useful. Create this understanding and compassion for yourself.

Nothing has gone wrong. You have a message. It’s time to practice reading it.


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