Imagine the most mature and wise person that you know. How does a mature person relate to emotions?
A mature person does not compulsively hide from certain emotions as “too disruptive to maintaining certain perceptions about their social persona.” However, it can be favorable to repress the display of certain emotions temporarily (like in the middle of a business meeting). Temporary repression of the experiencing of an emotion can also be attractive (like while driving on the way to catch a plane or while in the middle of performing surgery). Likewise, it can also be favorable to actively pursue the depths of each emotion, perhaps in seclusion or perhaps with a companion or chaperone.
Some groups of people will gather to encourage each other in their suppression of certain emotions, especially anger and fear and grief. Grief may be the most welcome of those three. As long as someone does not display too much anger or fear, grief may even be encouraged.
However, what if someone is grieving a specific incident that involves the suppression of their display of fear or anger? There may be intense stress placed on repressing certain experiences. In other words, some experiences (or the display of some experience) may be distressing.
How does distress arise? Is the distress a signal for an attraction to some new circumstance, such as a new social dynamic?
If someone “just needs to get away” from something or someone, is that experience something that for some reason should not ever happen? Why is it that certain developments are ever labeled as something that should never happen? Who places such labels and when exactly?
When in the midst of people who are actively repressing certain emotions of their own, then they may be terrified of even the smallest displays of that same emotion, for certain emotional displays can be contagious. Notice the contagious nature of laughing, of yawning, of crying, and even of startled screaming. Notice that in an antagonistic argument, there are at least two people who escalate from frustration quickly toward blame for their own frustration.
Why do people blame others? Blame is related to a perception of a threat.
Why would two people who perceive each other as a threat do something other than withdraw from each other? In some cases, both parties may perceive themselves to be trapped. Note that the perception may be quite accurate.
Antagonistic arguing is a type of activity that is repulsive (like two opposing pressures will repel each other). Blame may even be absent and yet still the antagonism or frustration is obvious. We can call that “passive aggression.”
Two parties may engage with each other in a dynamic of mutual derision or condescension, each one attempting to attack the other however subtly or overtly. Even if unstated, there may be a message in the tone of voice indicating “you should not be like that and I am angry that you are” (or disappointed, etc…).
Note that when two people habitually repress certain emotions and then interact with each other casually and frequently, such as in a marriage, then their repressed emotions may surface in that unusual, private context. They may even state their own surprise at the experience, like “I am not normally like this at all- this is not the real me” or “this never happened when we were dating, right!?!?”
The distress of habitual repressions can surface suddenly and in disorganized, disruptive ways. However, one of the greatest benefits of personal relationships may be their capacity to give us access to emotional functions that we have learned to repress.
Note that I used the term functions. Emotions are functions. Emotions are coping mechanisms.
Even conflicted emotions (such as the fear of displaying fear) have their value and functionality. The idea of “dysfunction” is about mismatch: when the emotion that one is “using” does not work well to produce whatever result is attractive.
Repression of emotion is the source of mismatches. When one experiences total freedom to display emotion, that is a relaxed state (in contrast to a state that is distressed, contracted, tight, frightened, paralyzed, etc…).
There are many ways to develop emotional sensitivity and emotional intelligence. Respecting all emotions as functions (or even skills) can be a sign of ripening maturity. All hysterias about “how the world must be for me to be okay” or “how life should never be” are just emotional conflicts that are constructed as habitual coping mechanisms for distress.
Emotions are sudden movements of electrical energy (like a flush of hormones). Emotions are motivation. The repression of emotion is the repression of motivation.
The two basic types of emotion are emotions of approach as distinct from withdrawal (or of attraction as distinct from repulsion). In a very general sense, all the attractive emotions are within the “family” of hope, as in openness or optimism. Note that the word hope has historical roots similar to the words optimism and openness.
On the contrary are emotions of repulsion or withdrawal. Those include fear, fright, terror, anxiety, resentment, contempt, grief, and many others.
All of these patterns or processes have value. If you are open to learning the value or purpose of all of the variations of emotion, then you are ripe for a rare level of maturity. I can help. Let me know if you are interested.