I am no therapist, but I do go to therapy. So, while I hold no authority that any licensed doctor, psychologist, or counselor has the discernment and knowledge to provide, my experience has taught me the fundamentals of therapy. Therapy, in short, provides an individual (or couple or family) with emotional support in order to bring relief, liberation, and healing.
Introverts, especially, may find the therapy process challenging. An introvert and a chronic overthinker, I’d learned to suppress my feelings for fear of being labeled “too sensitive,” being misjudged, or not being loved, respected, or understood. Vulnerability means baring everything and discarding the carefully constructed image of yourself you strive so hard to maintain.
Prior to therapy, I would write. I’ve kept a hidden journal from the beginning of my junior year of high school up to now, post-graduation. Throughout the years, it’s been carried in my backpack, tucked away in the first drawer of my desk, stashed under my pillowcase, etc. As of January, while enduring a particularly hard season of dejection and melancholy, I began therapy.
For me, therapy was a need to feel a connection with someone. My therapist didn’t know me in the way my friends and family did. She was (is) there to help me, pushing me to become my best self, to talk everything out, and to discover the cathartic power of emotional release through conversation. Therapy may be misconstrued by some as only for those who have experienced deep trauma or who need help managing life. Yes, therapy can be for those things, but it’s also so much more.
One of the things therapy taught me is how to stop bottling up my emotions. Here are six things I learned from my therapist that may help you, too.
6 Tips to Stop Bottling Up Your Emotions
1. Unexpressed emotions will eventually weigh you down.
In her first lesson, my therapist demonstrated my emotional baggage using rocks. It seemed simple enough, but she ingrained in me the significance of learning to let go of my burdens. She opened a chest, and one by one, she placed rocks (in various sizes, but mostly the size of my palm) into my hands. The rocks became heavier, and ultimately, unmanageable to hold up toward the end. The point of this exercise was to show me that bottling up emotions may seem insignificant at first, but eventually, it will weigh you down.
Consider your emotions in this way. Are you letting your unexpressed feelings weigh you down?
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This may seem like an obvious point to make, but talking has become very relevant to my healing process. Should I talk about what I think matters? Would anyone care? Or am I too emotionally damaged to feel that I have worth in speaking? I considered these questions before starting therapy and during. Yet, my therapist often prompts me by merely asking me to speak. The best thing she taught me was that it’s okay to just ramble and go on about little things, like what’s happening in my life and how I feel. Believe me when I say that babbling on about my life does not come naturally to me as an introvert.
Introvert, remember that your thoughts and feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. In order to better comprehend what you’re thinking, it may help to talk about it. Find a therapist who you feel comfortable opening up to. Therapy, as my sister once told me, is like a relationship. Make sure your therapist doesn’t make you feel suffocated and uneasy, or doesn’t understand your introversion. You should think of your therapist as someone you can confide in — someone who is there for you.
Try writing what you’ve been feeling throughout the week: quick blurbs or jotted notes to remind you and prompt you to speak about what you’ve kept inside. I do this when I want to remember something or when I want to accurately phrase or describe it.
Writing was comforting to me before therapy, and it has continued to ease my pain and loneliness (yes, even introverts get lonely, especially when they feel misunderstood). Writing in a non-editorial way without thinking about who could potentially read it is good. It’s like a streamline of your darkest, most intimate thoughts on paper. The act of writing your thoughts out is akin to doing something about it. Write a letter to that guy who hurt you. Write to your parents about how they damaged you as a child. Write to God. Write to yourself in the future. As you do, you will find that you will work through pent-up feelings and understand them better.
4. Build upon your relationships.
I would often vent to my therapist about how I was upset that my friend hadn’t tried more in our relationship or how I feel distant from my family. She would ask me to think about what I’ve been doing about it or when was the last time I reached out to someone. Therapy is supposed to make you a better person. Rather than suppressing emotions that inevitably erupt over time, we should look at what we can do now to make ourselves the types of people who can better handle these situations.
For example, I have a coworker who often needs guidance on work tasks, and I don’t always know how to approach her. Once I began thinking about talking to her as I would like to be spoken to, it became more manageable. I know this is best for our team. Yet, it also benefits me because I am not stressed about her not finishing or handling a task inappropriately, and our shifts are smoother.
My friend is notoriously late. I am always early. Do you see the tension? If little things annoy you, learn to point them out in a non-judgemental, non-defensive way. “You know it bothers me that ___.” Or, “I understand where you’re coming from, but I would appreciate it if you ___.” Let someone know that your feelings are valid. Don’t apologize, but recognize others’ mistakes and flaws, and try to work toward a solution.
5. Release suppressed emotional energy in a healthy way.
I talk to my therapist about what makes me joyful: art, volunteering at my local Samaritan Center, spending quality time with people I thoroughly enjoy, learning, reading, and running (although that awful asthma kicks in and I actively hate it — but it’s a good angry run). If I can’t speak to the person I am troubled by or deal with whatever is weighing me down, I can put my mind and energy into something healthy.
6. Think about why you are bottling up your emotions.
Recently I read an article about your shadow self, which is the idea that what you cannot stand in other people is actually a reflection of what you hate about yourself. Are you sad because you have allowed other people to mistreat you? Why do you let the same person make you feel inadequate? What would happen if you confront people about how you really feel? Would the relationship develop further?
When I first sat down in therapy, I brought up a strained relationship. I felt like I was losing them or that they were being selfish in some way. As I look back — and most importantly, considering what my therapist said — I also played a part in this; I could have reached out more to this person. I also realized my introversion was a factor, because sometimes I expect people to come to me.
Creating the person you want to be is about learning who you are, what you like, and what you want. Introverts may be more suppressive of their feelings as they are not as vocal as extroverts. Along with this, introverts tend to be good listeners. It took me months before I felt comfortable sharing and opening myself up to my coworkers. I still struggle to be myself and find myself within my family — although I’m learning.
You have the right to let go and express your feelings. I know it can be tricky to figure out how, especially as an introvert, to voice your opinions and to fight against instinctively swallowing how you feel. Yet, in order to become our best selves, we must.