Are You Suppressing Emotions, Or Controlling Them?

The Buddhists believe that controlling the mind is the path to enlightenment.

Enlightenment, by which they mean, spontaneous and true happiness.

The idea is simple in theory and complex in practice: by both exploring our understanding of the mind and training it to behave in a certain way, we purify ourselves to experience the essential nature of what we are, which is, as they believe, joy.

If you’ve ever sat in a meditation class, you’ll know that the first principle of mind control is the opposite of what you’d think: it’s about letting go.

To truly master the mind, the Buddhists practice non-attachment, in which they sit placidly, breathe steadily, and allow thoughts to rise up, cohere, and then pass.

Their approach is that to control the mind is actually a matter of surrendering to the mind, allowing it to behave as it pleases while regulating their reactions to it.

How do you know if you’re suppressing your emotions, or controlling them?

Emotional suppression is a regulation strategy that people use when they do not have adequate coping mechanisms for their feelings.

The pattern is often this: the person denies or ignores their true reaction to a situation or experience, believes it will simply go away if they continue to disregard it, find that their day-to-day lives are somewhat disrupted by a sense of unease, and one day, it all comes to a breaking point and they have an emotional outburst that they cannot control.

Therapy aims to help patients no longer suppress how they feel. Instead, they are encouraged to recognize those emotions but choose how they respond to them.

In the healing process, suppressing and controlling can seem like a fine line.

When someone cuts you off in traffic and you choose not to yell out your window, are you suppressing how you feel, or controlling it? If your partner says yet another idiotic thing and you choose not to respond to it, are you suppressing how you feel, or controlling it? If your coworker aggravates you consistently about a project and you choose not to say anything, are you suppressing how you feel or controlling it?

Suppressing is unconscious, controlling is conscious.

Suppressed emotions function similarly to unconscious biases. One such type of bias is confirmation bias, wherein your brain sorts through stimuli to bring your attention to facts or experiences that support what you already believe. Though you’re not aware of the bias, it’s still affecting you.

On the other hand, controlling your emotions is actually becoming more conscious of how you feel. You are aware that you are angry, sad, or aggrieved, but you are choosing what you do about it. It is not really that you are controlling your emotions, but your behavior.

When you are suppressing your emotions, you don’t know how you feel and your behavior seems out-of-control. When you’re controlling your emotions, you do know how you feel, and your behavior seems within your control.

The answer is that when you’re in traffic, or in an argument, or dealing with a difficult coworker, you should both be aware of how you feel, but still in control of how you respond. Emotions are temporary, but behaviors are permanent. You are always responsible for how you choose to act.

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