More PsychNotes: Emotions
The Costs of “Get Over It”
by Monica A. Frank, PhD
Frequently, when distressed, people receive the message from others to just “get over it.” In other words, they are being told to ignore the distress, let go, and move on. Even though this message may be valid when considered in a long-term context, it can be harmful as a strategy for dealing with problems. People who are more emotionally sensitive will especially be harmed by this message by concluding that they need to suppress their emotions.
Many times people give advice from the advantageous perspective of the final outcome of their own experience. They tend to forget the process they went through to obtain that outcome. Therefore, advice to “let go” or “get over it” often ignores the messy process of feeling the distress, grieving, and the emotional expression/release prior to the outcome of resolving the distress.
Those who hear this advice as “ignore your emotions” are likely to experience negative consequences. Repression is a style of coping in which people ignore their emotions. However, even when reporting a lack of emotions, those who are repressing emotions show an even greater physiological reaction (heart rate, perspiration, etc.) than those who experience emotions. Thus, they are only suppressing awareness and expression of the emotion, not the physical sensation of the emotion itself.
Therefore, when the emotion is not fully expressed, negative health outcomes are more likely due to the stress on the body of trying to control the emotion. Researchers Mund and Mitte (2012) analyzed 22 studies examining repression and physical health. They found that those who repress emotion are more likely to have cardiovascular disease or hypertension.
Yet, even though it may be unhealthy to hold emotions in, this research should not be taken to mean that excessive emotional expression is healthy. As in most things, balance is important. We need to be able to release emotions appropriately, but not dwell on emotions excessively.
Mund, M. and Mitte, K. (2012). The Costs of Repression: A Meta-Analysis on the Relation Between Repressive Coping and Somatic Diseases. Health Psychology, 31, 640–649. DOI: 10.1037/a0026257
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