Enough with the Fakeness Already

May 22, 2011

I hate fake people and I hate uptight people. Maybe because I’m getting grouchy in my old age. Or maybe because I’ve had too many encounters with abusive histrionic personalities. Or maybe it’s just instinctual. Maybe that’s my good senses telling me to avoid people who are suppressing rage. Rage that will most likely be directed at me.

I’m always shocked by how many well-educated people think that suppressing emotions is healthy. Telling people to “turn that frown upside down” is not only obnoxious, it’s potentially hazardous. I don’t know if this is plain ignorance or just people in massive denial, but suppressing emotions can have dire consequences. I know I’ve posted about it before. But it bears repeating.

The majority of people can probably get away with this every once and a while, but those who struggle with hypersensitivity and emotional instability are at greater risk of making their situation worse. Suppressing the emotions that come with a disorder like BPD is kind of like making concentrated explosives. If you remember what happened in Columbine, Ft. Hood, and recently in Arizona, then you have seen the worst case scenario when mental health issues are ignored.

Even if the person is not outwardly destructive, they are certainly in danger of being self-destructive. But that can include behavior that harms those around you (esp. alcoholism and relationship sabotage). Or worse, suicide. Here’s a short article by  that elaborates on the topic:

Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) will report that they spend a lot of time and energy suppressing emotions. Have you ever had a really intense thought or feeling that you just didn’t want to deal with? Did it feel like it would overwhelm you if you let it stay in your head? Did you try to just push it away or not think about it? This is called emotional suppression, and lots of research shows that not only is it ineffective in eliminating thoughts and feelings, but it may even worsen the situation.

Suppressing Emotions – A Definition

What exactly does “suppressing emotions” mean? Essentially, emotional suppression is a type of emotion regulation strategy -– these are strategies that we use to try to make uncomfortable thoughts and feelings more manageable. There are many different emotion regulation strategies, and some are more helpful than others. For example, some people turn to alcohol or drugs to get rid of painful emotions. While this may work as an emotion regulation strategy in the short term, it definitely has bad long-term consequences. Suppressing emotions, or just trying to push emotional thoughts and feelings out of your mind, is an emotion regulation strategy many people use. And, when used from time to time, it doesn’t have dramatic negative consequences like drug or alcohol use. But, there is reason to believe that if you try to push emotions away all the time, emotional suppression could lead to problems.

The Consequences of Suppressing Emotions

Researchers have studied what happens when you try to push away thoughts and feelings for decades. A famous study on this topic was conducted by Daniel Wegner, Ph.D., and his colleagues. He examined what happened when one group of people was instructed to push away thoughts of a white bear (another group was allowed to think any thoughts, including thoughts about a white bear). He found that the group who had suppressed thoughts of a white bear actually ended up having more white bear thoughts than the group that had been allowed to thinking about anything.

Wegner called this the “rebound effect of thought suppression.” Essentially, if you try to push away a thought of some topic, you will end up having more thoughts about that topic. Many follow-up studies have been conducted that confirm Wegner’s original finding. And, studies have expanded on his finding, and shown that the same effect happens when you try to push away emotional thoughts, or when you try to push away the actual feelings.

The Rebound Effect of Suppressing Emotions – What This Means for You

So what does this research mean for you? Well, it means that if you frequently try to push away thoughts and feelings, you may be making more trouble for yourself. In fact, it is possible that this is setting up a vicious cycle: You have a painful emotion. You try to push it away. This leads to more painful emotions, which you try to push away, and so on.

Some researchers believe emotional suppression may, in part, be a reason that people with psychological conditions such as BPD, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) struggle with so many painful thoughts and emotions.

Reducing Emotional Suppression – Trying New Strategies for Emotion Regulation

The solution to the problem of suppressing emotion is to learn new, healthier ways to regulate your emotions. If you have lots of tricks you can use to regulate emotions, you are less likely to rely on suppressing emotions all the time.

For example, distracting yourself from an emotion by engaging in another activity may be a more effective way to regulate your emotions. If you add lots of new strategies like this, you will not need to use emotional suppression as much.

Need some ideas for new, healthier ways to regulate your emotions? This article below can give you some new strategies to try.

Good advice from the good doctor. In defense of those with BPD, there is probably a rational reason why borderlines suppress their emotions and act fake. I have personally witnessed borderlines unload their emotions and they are intense if not frightening. From an early age, they have learned that non-BPs are frightened by their emotions. Under these circumstances, suppression can seem like a better alternative to scaring people off.

In addition, most borderlines come from families with dark secrets. Secrets they were taught to keep in the closet. But the closet can only hold so much before it all comes tumbling out. This is partly why intimacy is so hard for borderlines. The closer a person gets to knowing the true borderline, the more they fear rejection. And the more they fear rejection, the more likely they will react with rage. In other words, the fakeness only prolongs the pain.

4 Responses to “Enough with the Fakeness Already”

  1. savorydish said

    The “Bear” experiment mentioned above says a lot about the power self-fulfilling prophecies. Borderlines who experience sexual abuse at a young age become obsessed with rape culture and misogyny. Such obsessive thoughts scare off good people and actually attract bad people. Making them more likely to be victimized again.

    Similarly a person who has an obsessive fear of abandonment actually does things to sabotage a relationship.

    This is a lot like a person who goes on a diet but can’t stop thinking about the food they are missing out on.

    Our thoughts determine our future, even thoughts of what we don’t want. Fear only brings us more of what we fear.

  2. savorydish said

    It’s a shame really. If untreated borderlines spent half the time they do blaming other people for their misery on addressing their issues, their lives would be so much better. But looking inward brings too much pain. And that is why everything they do is designed to draw attention away from themselves. The borderline in denial has too many distractions and too little motivation to change.

  3. Todd said

    Wow, great work and thank you for helping me see things more clearly for myself and others in my life. the good doctor you cite was also very helpful. thx so much, i needed your blog today

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