What do these situations have in common?
- You’re talking with an amazing guy and trying not to show how much you like him.
- You’re on a first date and terrified he’ll see how nervous you are.
- You have a fight with your partner just before you meet up with friends, and you’re scared they’ll notice something is wrong.
Easy to spot the answer, right?
In each case, you’re desperate to hide what you feel.
The Cost of Suppression
We often hide what we’re feeling from others.
We don’t want our outsides to reveal our insides.
We want to appear confident, collected, and in control.
So we suppress our emotions.
We control our facial expressions, vocal tone, and body language so that no one can tell how we’re really feeling.
Suppressing our feelings seems like a good idea. It allows us to keep some things private. It helps us manage how we’re seen by others.
So you might be surprised to know that suppressing your feelings consumes brainpower that you could be using for something else.
It interferes with focus, so that you’re more distracted.
It interferes with memory, so that you can’t remember the interaction as clearly.
Surprisingly, it can even make people like you less.
When someone is suppressing their feelings around you, you may not consciously realize anything is amiss, but your body notices. Your heart rate speeds up.
You feel less comfortable in their company, perhaps because you’re not getting the emotional cues you expect.
So you can certainly keep hiding how you feel or faking it until you make it, but why would you when there’s a better option?
It’s called reappraisal.
The Magic of Reappraisal
Suppression masks how you’re feeling.
Reappraisal actually changes how you’re feeling by adopting a new perspective.
Here’s that difference in action.
A woman goes on a first date. She notices that she feels incredibly nervous. She doesn’t want him to see how nervous she is.
If she uses the strategy of suppression, she might paste a bright smile on her face, breathe deeply, and tell herself, “You got this!”
If she uses the strategy of reappraisal, she might take a moment to think about why she feels so nervous.
She might ask herself how likely it is that her worst fears will come true. Even if it is a terrible date, it won’t be the end of the world. She’s survived awful dates before.
She might even remind herself that a bad date will be a great story to tell her friends.
With this fresh perspective, she realizes that she no longer feels quite so nervous.
2 Ways to Reappraise
There are many types of reappraisal, but here are two of the most popular:
- Positive reframing
- Examining the evidence
Positive reframing involves looking for the good in a situation.
Maybe having a fight right before seeing friends can motivate you to confess your relationship difficulties to a trusted friend. Or maybe the fight will motivate you to finally talk to your partner about your growing distance.
Find the silver lining. Learn what you can from what happened. Focus on how you can grow from it rather than how you feel hurt by it.
Examining the evidence also helps.
This is when you question your reasons for believing that a situation will turn out poorly.
For example, if you worry that it will wreck everything if this new guy finds out how much you really like him, you might remind yourself of the reciprocal liking principle.
This principle states that we tend to like people who like us back.
You might also remind yourself that many guys wait for a green light. Letting it slip that you like him might be the green light he needs to make a move.
When to Reappraise, When to Suppress
In most situations, reappraisal is the better option.
It diminishes the problematic emotion so that you can focus on the situation at hand. Your mind feels sharper. You no longer give off incongruent cues.
However, if you’re about to walk onto a stage when you get a bout of nerves, then suppressing those nerves might be your best bet.
You don’t have the time to reframe those nerves as excitement. You’ve got seconds to push past them.
Reappraisal is much more cognitive than suppression. It’s hard to do when you’re overwhelmed by strong emotion.
Suppression can be a good short-term strategy. But in the long term, reappraisal helps you manage your emotions more effectively.
How might you use reappraisal to deal with a difficult situation you’re currently facing?