Dr. Nona Owens - Psychologist
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Stuffing Feelings Causes Unhealthy Behavior

    Living LIfe in a Jack-In-The-Box
Recently, in working with people in various types of crisis, I've come to realize that the way many live their life is akin to living inside a Jack-In-The-Box. 
It is human nature to avoid pain.  Life on life's terms can bring pain into our life.  Whether it is through growing up in a home rife with abuse, abandonment, substance abuse, or toxic parents, emotional pain comes with the territory. 
This term has cropped up often recently while working with couples in marriage counseling.  Communication, as a whole is one of the major issues in a broken marriage.  When one not only fails to communicate their feelings, but stuffs them, they will eventually come out.  And, when they do, it is usually shown through anger or isolation from the partner. 
I am working with a couple who could write the book on how not to communicate.  There was a big blow-up this past week-end that almost led to a separation.  When we dealt with this in therapy later in the week, I helped them to see that what caused the blow-up actually had nothing to do with what was going on at the time they started yelling at each other.  That event was just the "final straw that broke the camel's back".  Each had gone to bed with hurt and resentment over what could have been solved by either of the two saying what was on their mind.  But, being the typical non-communicating couple, they stuffed their feelings until there was an explosion.
I'm sure anyone who reads this has had the joy of playing with a Jack-In-The-Box, whether in childhood, or playing with their own child.  Just think of that crank going round and round.  Compare that to emotions and feelings that are churning around until the top blows. 
We all do it.  Everyone stuffs feelings.  But, is it healthy?  There are instances where it may be better to not "tell someone off" or express feelings at the wrong time under the wrong circumstances, but to remain healthy, at some point we need to come to terms with those hurts, angry moments, or other toxic feelings.
Everyone needs someone to share their feelings with.  In order to do this, there must be trust and compassion.  If one doesn't have this, then the tendency to "stuff feelings" grows.  The more one is not validated for their emotions, the more they hide them inside.
Everyone has a history.  Many grow up in homes where there is no concern for the children's feelings.  Parents fight, drink, abuse, or cause other harm to their children that is taken with them on into adulthood.  Those who have learned to ignore or "stuff" do not have the skills to move forward into healthy relationships.  And, children in those homes become expert "stuffers" too.
We, as therapists, get calls often to see children, teens, and adults with anger issues.  One of the first thing that I, as a therapist, do is to look for the hurt in that person's life.  Many times, the opposite of anger is sadness.  It is just easier to express anger than sadness. It doesn't hurt as bad, but the pain may still be stuffed back in--just as the little "Jack" is stuffed back into that box for the crank to start turning again before he pops.
Stuffing feeling not only causes emotional pain, but many who hold in their feelings develop physical symptoms as a result of this.  Just last night I saw a couple in therapy where the wife has developed bleeding ulcers.  Headaches are another common complaint with one who does not deal with feelings openly. 
And, stuffing isn't harmful just to the person who does it, but to those whom they live and work with.  Irritability and irrational behavior are common symptoms of "stuffers".  There are those who hide their feelings in some part of their life only to take it out on others later.  A good example is the child who is abused or neglected at home acting out with anger and behavior problems in the school.
If you are a "stuffer", or live with someone who is, you know the emotions that go along with this when "the crank tightens and Jack pops".  There is a better way of life.  Working with a therapist to help learn to deal with hidden feelings and emotions, as well as how to deal with day to day events can bring good emotional health to individuals and their family. 
Maybe it is time to seek help to stop living in a Jack-In-The Box.
Dr. Nona Owens is a Licensed Psychologist in the Jackson, Mississippi Metro Area.  Her office is in Clinton, Mississippi, which is conveniently located to Vicksburg, Jackson, Brandon, and Madison.  She works with adults who are dealing with relationsip or marriage issues, as well as those who are depressed or injured from life events.  She also works with children and parents to help those with anxiety, depression, learning, ADHD, behavior, or family issues.

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