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. Many avoid this by living their life by stuffing their feelings; however, this can be much like pushing them into what resembles a “Jack-in-the-box”.
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 troubled marriage. When feelings are held in or not expressed as they should be the relationships goes sour.
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.
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.