The Effects Of Bottling & Brooding Emotions, From A Psychologist
The phrase "positive vibes only" may be well-intentioned, but the pressure to be happy-go-lucky all the time can also lead people to ignore their true emotions. According to Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David, Ph.D., there are two common ways to avoid processing internal pain that can worsen mental health in the long-run.
In a mindbodygreen podcast episode, David describes the processes of both bottling and brooding internal emotions and the mental repercussions of both.
What does it mean to bottle your emotions?
Bottling occurs when people push aside their emotions to experience forced positivity or gratitude rather than accepting their genuine emotions with compassion. This creates an amplification effect, David says.
"Internal pain doesn't just go away because we choose to ignore it," she explains. "Internal pain is something that we need to actually face."
She compares bottling emotions to holding a heavy stack of books for a long distance. Over time, this becomes exhausting and makes it difficult to see what's directly in front of you—including people who may be willing to help.
"There's a huge amount of mental energy that's focused on pushing stuff away," David adds.
What does it mean to brood over your emotions?
"The opposite of bottling is brooding," David says. This occurs when someone recognizes their emotions but resents and feels stuck in them rather than working through them.
Using a similar book analogy, David describes brooding as holding the books so close to the chest that the person can't see or acknowledge someone else's needs.
What effects can each action have on mental health?
In their simplest terms, bottling is the act of pushing emotions aside, and brooding is the act of sitting in those emotions. While they may look different, David says they both have a real cost to mental health and overall well-being.
People who have a tendency to either push aside difficult emotions or get stuck in difficult emotions tend to have higher levels of depression and anxiety and lower levels of self-worth.
While bottling or brooding may seem like easier alternatives to actually seeking help or working through a difficult emotion, both require a lot of mental resources. In fact, they can end up draining so much mental energy that a person can no longer problem-solve their way out of the situation or move forward productively, David says.
Experiencing emotions is a natural human experience, and when people don't allow themselves to engage in them, it also makes it difficult to be vulnerable and engage in interpersonal relationships, romantic or otherwise.
So, what's an ideal way to deal with emotions?
The first step in appropriately dealing with emotions is to acknowledge them and put a language to them. Rather than associating certain emotions with negative or positive, she recommends describing the feelings.
Once emotions have been accurately labeled, it will be easier to find ways to turn that awareness into action and begin moving forward.