Being naturally “inward” personalities, introverts may struggle to express their feelings, opinions, and desires to others.
I am no therapist, but I do go to therapy. So, while I hold no authority of a licensed doctor or psychologist, my experience has taught me some important things about dealing with my emotions. Therapy, in short, has given me the support I need to find relief, liberation, and healing.
If you’re an introvert like me, you may find the therapy process challenging, as we “quiet ones” naturally tend to keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves. A chronic overthinker, I’d learned to suppress my feelings for fear of being misjudged, labeled “too sensitive,” or not loved, respected, or understood. With the help of my therapist, I came to see that vulnerability means baring everything and discarding the carefully constructed image of yourself you have strived so hard to maintain — not an easy process, but a fulfilling one.
For me, therapy was the need to feel a connection with someone who understood me. 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 things out when I’d rather keep them to myself, 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 their lives. 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 and actually express them. Here are six things I learned from my therapist that I hope will help you, too.
6 Tips for Introverts to Stop Bottling Up Their Emotions
1. Like heavy rocks, unexpressed emotions will eventually weigh you down.
In her first lesson, my therapist demonstrated my emotional burdens using rocks. It seemed simple enough, but she convinced me of 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, toward the end, impossible to keep holding up. The point of this exercise was to show me that bottling up emotions may seem insignificant at first, but eventually, the emotional weight will pull you down.
Consider your emotions in this way. Are you letting any unexpressed feelings weigh you down?
2. Talk. Your thoughts and feelings are just as valid as those of anyone else.
This may seem like an obvious point to make, but as an introvert, conversation has never been my go-to — yet talking has now become very relevant to my healing.
Before starting therapy, I had a lot of worries about the process. Should I talk about what I think matters? Will my therapist actually care? Or am I too emotionally damaged to have anything worth saying? Thankfully, my therapist took the lead in the conversation and prompted me by simply 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.
So, the next lesson I learned is that my thoughts and feelings are just as valid as those of anyone else. In order to better understand what you’re feeling, I encourage you 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.
Speaking of writing…
3. Writing your thoughts and feelings will help you make sense of them.
Even before therapy, writing was comforting to me, 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 or surprising thoughts on paper. (Here are some more journaling tips for introverts.)
The act of writing your thoughts out is almost akin to doing something about them. Write a letter to the person who hurt you. Write to your parents about how they damaged you as a child. Write to God, if you so choose. Write to yourself in the future. As you do, you will find that you will work through pent-up feelings and understand them better.
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4. When you express your feelings, you can strengthen your relationships.
I often vented to my therapist about how I was upset that my friend hadn’t tried more in our relationship or how I felt distant from my family. She would then ask me to think about what I’ve been doing about it or when was the last time I reached out to someone. Most of the time, I couldn’t say that I’d done much.
In this way, therapy helped make me a better person. Rather than suppressing our 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 stressful or disappointing situations.
For example, I have a coworker who often needs a high level of guidance on 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’m no longer stressed about her not finishing or handling a task inappropriately, and our shifts are smoother. I wouldn’t have been able to reach that conclusion if I hadn’t talked about my bottled up feelings in therapy.
Another friend is notoriously late when we get together. I am always early. Do you see the tension? Through therapy, I learned that if little things annoy me, I should point them out in a nonjudgmental, non-defensive way. For example, I’ve learned to say, “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. Identify activities you enjoy so you can release suppressed emotional energy in a healthy way.
Along with talking about the things that I struggle with, I also talk to my therapist about what makes me joyful: art, volunteering at my local Samaritan Center, spending quality time with people I enjoy, learning, reading, and running (although that awful asthma kicks in and I actively hate it — but it’s a good angry run). In these conversations, my therapist helped me identify some healthy ways to release suppressed emotional energy. Now I’ve learned that if I can’t speak to the person I am troubled by or deal with the situation that is weighing me down, I can put my thoughts and energy into something healthy.
6. Think about why you are bottling up your emotions.
Recently, I read an article about the “shadow self,” the idea that what you can’t stand in other people is actually a reflection of what you hate about yourself. Whether it’s true or not, it got me thinking. When I get sad, is it because I’ve allowed other people to mistreat me? Why do I let the same person continue to make me feel inadequate? What would happen if I confronted people about how I really feel — would the relationship develop further? Asking myself questions like these helps me probe deeper and get clarity when I’m bottling up my emotions.
Getting clarity has helped me deal with some difficult situations in my relationships. For example, when I first sat down in therapy, I brought up a strained friendship. I felt like I was losing them and that they were being selfish. Looking back — and most importantly, considering what my therapist said — I realized I also played a role in this situation; I could have reached out more to this person, but I didn’t. I also realized my introversion was a factor, as I was unrealistically expecting other people to come to me, without initiating things on my own. Ultimately, I was able to mend the situation with this friend.
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, and we tend to listen more than we speak. For example, it took me months before I felt comfortable sharing and opening up about my feelings to my coworkers. Even within my own family, I still struggle to be myself and find myself, although I’m learning.
If you struggle like I did, remember that 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.