New Study Confirms Our Inner Voice: Suppressing Your Emotions is Not Good

Let it out!

Every once in awhile I have a really, really horrible day. Everything goes wrong, from the moment my kid jumps on me in the morning and accidentally punches me in the nose, the spilled bag of milk all over the floor, the late school drop-off, the epic snowstorm that I have to drive through, the grouchy exchange I have with my husband, and the expired meat that I was supposed to use with my dinner.

When I have these days, I typically try my best to move from one moment to the next, determined not to be derailed by a few bad moments. Some days though, I cannot “pull my socks up." Instead, I end up completely unravelled, totally lost and out of control.

Hopefully I’m not the only one, and others can relate to that out of body experience I like to refer to as “mom rage.” It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while the stress of life, the pressure of parenthood, and the weight of perfection weighs down on me so much that I explode into a momentary hulk-like rage, unable to control the words leaving my mouth. It’s so shocking and embarrassing, even to me, that I return to my family with a profuse apology over my toddler-like behaviour.

Over the years I’ve learned that one of the best ways to avoid these types of meltdowns is by not bottling up my emotions or trying to just “get on with it” when life gets me stressed and overwhelmed. On those bad days, I try to sit and allow myself a moment to really feel my frustration, even sharing it with my husband or my kids.

A recent study, conducted by researchers at Washington State University, reveals that adults suppressing their emotions around their their kids is actually not the healthiest way to deal with emotions. Instead, finding healthy ways to express their emotions will lead to better parent-child interactions.

The sample looked at 109 mothers and fathers in the San Francisco area, with an even split between mothers and fathers. In a controlled environment, the researchers asked each parent to participate in a stressful task (public speaking). Each participant then received negative feedback regarding their speaking. Afterwards, parents went into a room with their children to build LEGO, but half the parents were asked to suppress their emotions and the other half were asked to act naturally and freely.

First of all - this sounds like a nightmare. Building LEGO with my kids when I’m not stressed out is hard enough, so I give kudos to any of these parents who participated in this highly-stressful sounding day.

According to the results of the study, parents that were trying to suppress their stress and negative emotions had less warmth and offered less effective guidance, and also marked higher on physiological changes. Their kids were also less responsive, picking up on the stress of the parent, creating friction in their interactions.

The value in these results is hard to deny. I think we can all agree that when we’re anxious and stressed our kids are also a bit “off,” picking up on our cues. For many of us, we are the first generation of parents who are educated and mindful of their emotional health. Many of today’s parents were raised to believe that talking about feelings with their parents was inappropriate, others of us lived with unhealthy boundaries, our parents telling us everything and burdening us with adult pressures.

I hope that I can work towards a healthy balance of protective boundaries around my kids, and not needing to tell them everything about my own stress - but also being open and honest when I’ve had a bad day, or might be extra stressed during a certain season. Bottling our emotions for another day not only leads to a likely explosion of emotion, but we also aren’t fooling anyone with our suppression.

As a millennial mother, I’ve been reminded over and over again how important it is to validate my child’s emotions, to remind them that it’s okay to cry, and not try to tamp down their feelings with placating words. But perhaps we also need to be reminding parents of the same things: moms and dads, there’s value in your emotions too, and suppressing them around the kids isn’t doing anyone a favour.



Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based out of Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe & Mail. 

Brianna's budget-savvy ways has attracted media attention, and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe & Mail and The Guelph Mercury. In April 2016 Brianna will be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less, alongside co-writer Brooke Burke. You can find Brianna's website at Brianna Bell Writes.