The Emotional Elephant in the Room: New study looks into the high psychological cost of emotional dissonance

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A recent study by indicates that people who ignore negative feelings and pretend everything is fine are more likely to struggle with obsessive thoughts and self-doubt and, ironically, have hard time holding back the tidal wave of unspoken emotions that constantly threatens to burst through.

You can’t ignore negative feelings for too long or hide them behind a happy façade. Eventually, that outer mask of calm will crack.

Masking negative feelings with a happy face creates emotional dissonance, which can actually make you feel worse.

The only way to overcome negative emotions such as anger or sadness is to wade through them, no matter how unpleasant that may be.

Overt displays of emotion are not as much of a faux pas as they were during Victorian and Edwardian times, but that doesn’t mean everyone has forsaken the “stiff upper lip” protocol. Many people are still uncomfortable showing (let alone expressing) their feelings, and will continue to strive to keep negative emotions at bay, masked behind a cool and calm façade. This form of emotional dissonance - hiding or even ignoring one’s true feelings for the sake of propriety and displaying fake positive emotions instead - often comes at the expense of a person’s psychological well-being.

Analyzing data collected from 12,259 people who took the Emotional Intelligence Test, PsychTests’ researchers focused their analysis on two distinct groups of people: those who ignore their negative emotions (“Emotion Evaders”) and those who allow themselves to feel their way through their emotions (“Emotion Feelers”). Here’s where they differed:

> In spite of their attempts to ignore their feelings, 39% of Emotion Evaders still feel like they’re on a constant emotional roller coaster (compared to 26% of Emotion Feelers).

> 62% of Emotion Evaders won’t allow themselves to cry under any circumstances (compared to 22% of Emotion Feelers).

> 34% of Emotion Evaders become so overwhelmed with stress that they shut down completely - they won’t leave the house, are unable to get through daily tasks, and just can’t seem to function (compared to 22% of Emotion Feelers).

> 43% of Emotion Evaders are uncomfortable with people who openly display their feelings (compared to 19% of Emotion Feelers).

> 53% of Emotion Evaders state that they have an obsessive mind (compared to 36% of Emotional Waders).

> 48% of Emotion Evaders engage in compulsive habits such as overeating (compared to 32% of Emotion Feelers).

> 68% of Emotion Evaders struggle to adjust to change (compared to 37% of Emotion Feelers).

> 46% of Emotion Evaders run from challenges (compared to 38% of Emotion Feelers).

> 52% of Emotion Evaders are also conflict-avoidant (compared to 26% of Emotion Feelers).

> 50% of Emotion Evaders procrastinate when they need to do something unpleasant, such as break up with someone, apologize, etc. (compared to 40% of Emotion Feelers).

> 28% of Emotion Evaders feel like they have no control over their lives (compared to 12% of Emotion Feelers).

> 37% of Emotion Evaders frequently experience self-doubt (compared to 24% of Emotion Feelers).

> 37% of Emotion Evaders struggle to bounce back from failure, rejection, or disappointment (compared to 21% of Emotion Feelers).

> 45% of Emotion Evaders hold back from expressing their ideas for fear of being ridiculed (compared to 15% of Emotion Feelers).

“There are certain unspoken social rules that most people try to follow, such as not starting an argument in public, or not crying at work,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “This is not just for the sake of social decorum: the reality is that overt emotional displays on the job could potentially call into a question a person’s level of professionalism and mental health. So, we are often required to put on a happy face at work, or at least a neutral expression, in order to mask feelings of anger, stress, or sadness. This emotional dissonance comes at a cost, however. As our study reveals, if you tend to ignore your feelings on a regular basis AND don’t have a healthy outlet to release them, you’re more likely to struggle with a number of emotional and psychological issues. Not to mention the fact that pent up feelings can lead to physical ailments, including digestive issues, back pain, headaches, and more. What’s even more sad is that 30% of our Emotion Evaders group are uncomfortable talking about their feelings in general, including positive emotions.”

“We have been taught to label emotions as either good or bad, and in the process, have given ourselves a rationalization for suppressing certain feelings,” continues Dr. Jerabek. “But you can’t hide from them forever. In fact, the only way to overcome negative emotions such as anger or sadness is to wade through them, no matter how unpleasant that may be. This is because all emotions dissipate in intensity, but ONLY if you allow yourself to feel them to their fullest. Think of it as being in a boat on a wild river: you can either try to fight against the current of emotions, or allow yourself to go with the flow until you can land on calmer shores. Both can be unpleasant rides, but only one will lead to true inner peace.”

Want to assess your EQ? Check out the Emotional Intelligence Test at:

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About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

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Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D
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