Well I am talking about bottling it… No I am not referring to John Terry’s ability to take penalties… Neither am I talking about my penchant for fine wines… I am talking about feelings.
I would say that is all the time I have worked in therapy, I have never met anyone who told me they thought it was a good idea NOT to let it all out… That may change as of today though…
Soooo many therapists of varying kinds do tend to offer a generic set of advice with the undertone of their client having to express their true feelings. Is this always the best advice to give though? Is this based on solid scientific evidence?
Well, according to this article at the BBC, bottling it up ‘can ease trauma’
Fancy that, eh?
In a nutshell, the researchers are suggesting that people who do not talk about traumatic experiences can fare better than those who “let it all out.”
Here is what the article says:
The University at Buffalo study compared the progress of 3,000 people who took different approaches over two years following the 9/11 attacks.
It found people initially unwilling to talk were less likely to be adversely affected two years later.
But a UK psychologist said that other studies had suggested that for many people talking did help.
The popular advice that it is better to talk about your feelings after a trauma has been the subject of dozens of different research projects.
This latest one involved 3,000 people who completed online surveys in the days immediately following the 2001 attacks and over the course of the next two years.
Those taking part had not lost a loved one or friend.
People who took part were allocated to different groups depending on whether they said that they felt ready to express their feelings or not.
If the assumption that it is healthier to talk about feelings is correct, then the researchers, led by Dr Mark Seery, would expect to see those who were initially uncommunicative coping worse over time with their traumatic memories.
However, the reverse was true, and those who chose not to talk appeared to be in better psychological shape.
Dr Seery, whose work was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, said: “We should be telling people there is likely nothing wrong if they do not want to express their thoughts and feelings after experiencing a collective trauma.
“In fact, they can cope quite successfully and, according to our results, are likely to be better off than someone who does want to express his or her feelings.”
Professor Stephen Joseph, who specialises in trauma following disasters, said that it was important not to generalise about the “right” approach for all patients.
He said that other studies had suggested that for many people, talking about their experiences with the support of proper counselling, was the correct road to recovery.
He said: “Those people who wanted to express their feelings immediately after 9/11 may have been those who were most deeply affected by it, so it is not entirely unsurprising that they may still have symptoms two years later.”
Interesting, eh? What may be indicated by the article, is the notion that I have heard many therapists discuss which is the idea that “talking” about the issue may also be reinforcing, by repetition, the event or cause.
So there you go — bottle it up for years. Let it eat away at you, ignore the issues raising their heads in uncontrollable outbursts… Am I being facetious enough? Or should I have bottled my sarcasm? Man, this is going to take some getting used to 😉
Another great blog post, Adam.
This is the era of the blog and the era when people express themselves and reach an audience of thousands if not millions. Bottling things up is, it seems: “so last century”.
I’ve been through some quite tough times in my life. Nothing compared to what many people have gone through and still go through on a daily basis and I claim no monopoly on sadness or tough times. But I experienced such times nonetheless and I bottled things up.
Without sounding arrogant (I hope as I’m not), getting to know the real me is a full time degree course and I have, quite often, made it difficult for others to get close to me. I bottle things up. I don’t tell people how I feel, I don’t share problems, I don’t talk about things that bother me… all very ironic for a man who spends his days working in the media.
Without sounding too dramatic, if I had continued bottling things up as much as I used to, I wouldn’t be around to be writing this.
I remember listening to Paul McKenna discussing this issue on one of his TV shows (and on the Positivity CD set which his company were kind enough to send me). Focusing on the issue is, to an extent, focusing on the problem and focusing on the problem doesn’t really move people forward towards a solution.
But a solution can only be born from a problem. If you’ve no idea what the problem is you can’t find the solution.
Say a person had a bad experience in their childhood. The person recognises that the experience is in the past but, to a small extent, the past is informing the present. The event in the past is part of the person and the person is part of the event. Focusing on the event in therapy would make the person feel bad as they would be forced to identify once again with the time the experience occurred. They’d be thrown back into a time in their life where they felt uncomfortable, hurt, upset etc
On the other hand, focusing on the event and then getting the person to realise and appreciate that the event is “just a memory from the past which is gone and can’t hurt them and is something they are in control of” could do a lot of good.
These are, as ever, just thoughts and reflections.
Interesting points made and I would agree that ‘talking about it’ is not the right approach for everyone. It makes sense to me that those wanting to talk most are those most affected. There appears to be an immediate and unquestioned assumption that 9/11 was traumatic for everyone, but that may not be the case. Different people have different views and opinions on what happened and why it happened and who actually did it. A person’s own world view determines in part how they react to events. Two people could have exactly the same experience and one could be severely traumatised, whilst the other might deal with it very effectively.
I don’t think bottling it up is a good idea, but not wanting to talk about an experience does not in itself imply that the person is bottling it up. Some people can process emotional stuff themselves very quickly and efficiently. Some people take a long time and need a great deal of support.
Was there any difference between men and women? Was just reading last night that “lack of a confiding relationship” is a risk factor for female depression. Just wonder if the results were the same once they allowed for gender….
Personaly i found bottling up my feelings for years.Pushing the feelings down with food for comfort(i dont think so!!!) does not help.I think of all those wasted years not dealing with it, holding it inside praying it will go away, Did Not Help!!!!!
Speaking, letting out my feelings finding stratagies to cope with my internal feelings has helped me a great deal.And i have to give my self a kick up the backside to remember these stratagies when i start to let those feeling take over again.
We all have learnt patterns from an early age mine was to bottle mine up.Not anymore Free Those Feelings !!!!
Really interesting topic Adam. Trying to work out where you stand on this one 🙂
I was talking to a mate of mine today and I could just tell he wasn’t happy. I didn’t beat about the bush and simply asked him what was wrong. Men don’t tend to do that and I know I took him by surprise.
Once he had told me what was wrong I realised that he had been having to invent much of the earlier conversation – or rather skate around certain things.
I believe that bottling up – not only is a lonely unhappy experience but that also the person has to live some lies to the outside world. What pressure does that add.
I suppose it does depend what you are bottling up. If it involves domestic issues then some of the revelations can be embarrassing and I can understand that there may be more problems associated with outing the situation.
Whereas if it is a 9/11 type supression of traumatic experiences then I fail to see how talking about it will not allow a therapist to help once the real problem is identified.
I must admit that the findings of the research do surprise me and I would like to know more about the methodology etc.
We have been discussing in the members area that any modern research needs some good critical thinking applied to it and this piece is no different. How do they measure levels of trauma and recovery rates etc for example? Anyway….
There are many that believe that one of the functions of the unconscious mind is to repress some memories until a point in time where it believes they can be reviewed and dealt with safely. (Thanks Steve!)
Does it balance the need to suppress something that can’t yet be dealt with against the negative effects on the body of the act of suppression?
Of course, we are all different. I think a balance needs to be met. Did you read a post of mine a few months back about a woman so badly abused by her father and grandfather that she created multiple personalities to deal with the abuse so that she would not feel the pain so much? This was her way of supressing her trauma and it proved valuable in many respects.
That said, if we then hold onto it until it is long past it’s sell-by date, it could possibly eat away at us and continue to affect us detrimentally when it should be let go of.
Therefore, I conclude that we extend the ‘bottling it’ metaphor and treat everyone like they are a well shaken coca-cola bottle…. Allow to settle for a while and then twist the lid at a pace that allows the gas to flow without flying and exploding everywhere… Maybe even tightening the lid back again if things seem to volatile… Though you would not want to leave the opening until the sell-by date had expired.
Popular consumer culture eeking its way into therapeutic study – lovely 😉