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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you work through your emotional constipation. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.
Emotional constipation is defined as the bottling up of emotions due to an unwillingness or inability to process, express, and release what one is feeling or experiencing.
If you feel uncomfortable and backed up, emotionally speaking, keep reading for the causes, signs, and treatments associated with being emotional constipated.
What causes emotional constipation?
In order to recognize the symptoms and start treatment for emotional constipation, we first need to understand the root cause of it. Like every other ailment, something triggered this condition – it didn’t simply come out of nowhere.
As explained in our definition above, emotional constipation is either the inability or unwillingness to express what we’re feeling.
If it’s the latter, then the person knows what they’re feeling and chooses not to explore or process those emotions.
In contrast, if someone is unable to express their emotions, they might not be fully cognizant of what it is they’re feeling. This is common in people with PTSD, or those who have never learned how to be introspective in terms of what they’re feeling, and why.
13 Symptoms Of Emotional Constipation
An emotional blockage of this sort can manifest in several different ways. Below are some of the most common ones you may come across.
1. Headaches and blurred vision.
If you’ve ever had a stress-related headache or migraine, you know how debilitating they can be. While migraines are often caused by physical factors, those caused by emotional constipation are due to an internal buildup of some kind.
All those unreleased energies can force their way upwards like bubbles in carbonated soda and will cause pain and vision issues when they’re bouncing around the inside of your cranium.
2. Empathetic disassociation.
You might be so numbed-out about the world around you that you have difficulty empathizing with what others are experiencing.
For instance, someone might tell you that their parent died the day before and your only response would be “Oh,” rather than expressing condolences or asking if you can do anything to help.
It doesn’t even occur to you that they might be feeling emotional about the experience, since your so detached from your own hurt.
3. Tightness in your face, especially around your eyes.
Have you ever noticed that when people are bracing against something – be that physical like hard rain, or emotional like bad news – they tend to wince?
Now, when someone is bracing against emotions they don’t want to (or can’t) feel on a near constant basis, that kind of wincing and facial tightness can become chronic. They might develop creases between their eyebrows or feel constant pain across their foreheads and cheekbones. In severe cases, they might feel like they have sinus infections because of the ruckus being caused in their face.
4. Sleep problems.
Repressed emotions want to free themselves however they can, and what better time to do this than when you’re trying to sleep?
When you’re not consciously tamping down everything you’re thinking and feeling, those emotions can well up and manifest physically.
Insomnia, thrashing, running hot and cold, waking repeatedly through the night and having difficulty falling back asleep, and tumultuous dreams are all manifestations of emotional constipation.
5. Anxiety or panic attacks.
Repressed emotions don’t just go away: they accumulate and build up. That energy has to go somewhere, and if it isn’t released and channeled in a healthy manner, then it finds a way to escape however it can.
Think of this kind of like steam escaping from a pressure cooker. If you don’t have a valve that releases excess pressure when it builds too high, then it might seep out from the sides or crack the lid in an attempt to get free.
6. Seemingly “irrational” bouts of anger or weeping.
You find that someone’s left an unwashed plate on the kitchen counter and suddenly feel a wave of rage so powerful that you want to throw that dish through the window like a frisbee. Or you’re out taking a walk and suddenly start crying for no apparent reason.
These emotional outbursts are similar to the anxiety and panic attacks mentioned above. When emotions are repressed for long enough, they have to find a way to escape somehow, by any means necessary, so you don’t rupture anything vital.
On the opposite side of the spectrum to what’s mentioned above, we have emotional numbness. You may be so checked-out emotionally that you can’t feel anything at all. This might even extend to parts of your body as well.
You could do the emotional equivalent of driving a pitchfork into your guts and you wouldn’t feel it. Things are so deeply repressed and tamped down that they won’t be able to move without significant help.
8. Jaw issues and toothaches.
Much like the headaches mentioned above, emotional repression can manifest in jaw or tooth pain. These are most often caused by clenching one’s jaws against unwanted feelings, causing temporomandibular joint pain and pressure against the teeth.
In addition to being painful, this can cause long-term damage to the teeth themselves. They can end up chipped, cracked, or otherwise worn down.
9. Throat pain or congestion.
The throat chakra, visuddha, is associated with expression. If you’re emotionally constipated and unable to express what it is you’re feeling, guess what’s going to manifest? That’s right: all kinds of throat-related issues.
You may find that your throat closes up when you try to speak, leaving you stammering or at a loss for words. In fact, you may even lose your voice for no apparent reason, as your emotional repression is literally preventing you from being able to speak.
On a similar note, you might be prone to recurrent throat infections like tonsillitis or strep, or even get “stones” in your tonsils or eustachian tubes. Other people might find that they get mucus buildup that they need to keep clearing, or a general raw soreness that needs to be alleviated with soothing drinks and soft food.
10. Digestive issues.
These could range from nausea and gallbladder tightness to acid reflux, indigestion, lower belly cramping, and IBS. In fact, digestive issues are some of the most common signs of emotional repression and constipation.
Emotion gets processed through the belly just like food, so if you’re having trouble digesting your feelings, they’ll get backed up and start roiling in your abdomen.
The solar plexus/upper abdominal chakra is called manipurna. It governs emotions and willpower and is the bridge between the upper intellectual energy centers, and the lower emotional ones. When and if this gets clogged, it’ll create disharmony throughout.
Imagine this like a blockage in one of your home’s water system’s major connection areas. If it gets plugged up, there’s no real movement either way. You can’t bring water in, and you can’t release anything either. Everything stagnates and begins to degrade.
11. Restless leg syndrome.
Repressed emotions will find a way to release themselves. In some people, this might mean they develop restless leg syndrome.
If you’re not familiar with this syndrome, it involves the subconscious twitching and bouncing of one or both legs while at rest. This may happen while working at a desk, or while asleep. In essence, it’s simply energy being released in a subconscious manner.
12. Distraction with comfort.
It’s easy to ignore emotions we don’t want to deal with by immersing ourselves in something else – especially if it requires our full attention.
This way, we can redirect our energy towards something that entertains us or occupies us fully so we have an excuse not to look in the corners and boxes we’re avoiding.
Some people might scroll endlessly through social media feeds or binge-watch Netflix series for hours so they don’t have to think about what they’re feeling. Others may lose themselves in video games or get super into finicky crafts that require all their energy and focus.
Do you find that you’re immersing yourself in tasks or pastimes more than you usually do? And do you get really irritable or angry if you’re interrupted while doing so? For instance, you might snap at your spouse or kids for daring to tell you that dinner is ready because you didn’t want to break focus from your disassociation.
This is common for a lot of people dealing with emotional constipation, as it’s easier to redirect focus than to look at something that’s causing them pain or anxiety.
While these pastimes can offer catharsis during your off hours, they can end up doing you a lot of harm in the long run. This is because they’re not allowing you any outlet to release all the emotional energy you’ve been tamping down.
Furthermore, not only are you doing yourself a disservice by not facing and working through your emotions, you’re also potentially damaging your relationships with family members.
It sucks to have to walk on eggshells so as not to set someone off. Take a good look at your family members’ faces the next time they come to interrupt you with something important. See if you can see fear or trepidation there as they brace for an outburst from you. Then consider whether you want them to remember you like that forever.
Some people are so dead-set against feeling anything they don’t want to face that they isolate themselves away from any potential “triggers.” If they don’t spend time with friends or family members, then those people can’t say or do anything that might crack their tightly-sealed doors open.
If they have to communicate with others, it’s via brief emails or texts. Or they might go “no-contact” entirely and become complete social recluses.
Their rationale is that they can keep avoiding all these uncomfortable emotions if they simply pretend they don’t exist. Sort of like when little kids don’t quite get the concept of hide and seek, and think that if they close their eyes tight enough, not only can they not see you – you can’t see them either.
The only way they can keep that pretense going is by not giving anyone the opportunity to tell them otherwise.
The problem here is that this kind of self-isolation exacerbates all kinds of emotional instabilities. When people get reclusive, they can lose their ability to interact or empathize with others. Furthermore, they might develop more serious conditions like agoraphobia. What started out as a desire to be left alone might evolve into the inability to leave their apartment or house.
Eventually, they become trapped by the very walls they erected to protect themselves.
How To Get Your Emotions Flowing Properly Again
Before you even think about working through the emotions you’ve been repressing for so long, one of the best things you can do is release some of that pressure that’s been building up. Some effective ways to this include:
One of the best ways to get everything moving is through physical expression, in whatever manner works best for you.
Physical exercise allows us to literally release energy that’s been accumulating in our bodies. As an added bonus, it also strengthens us to be able to withstand the difficulties that processing and releasing those emotions can raise.
Some people like to go for a run to get rid of excess energy and release anxiety, while others might tie on some boxing gloves and beat the crap out of some punching bags to alleviate anger and frustration. Others prefer something slower and more methodical like tai chi or yoga.
Yoga is actually great for breaking through emotional constipation. It literally stretches out all the parts of you that might be locked up, allowing your energy to flow more freely. Just be careful about doing too much too soon (see the deep tissue massage bit later for more details).
Solo verbal or written expression.
For some people, a solid primal yelling session can work wonders. My partner likes to swim in warm weather, and she’ll dive underwater and scream as hard as she can to release excess tensions, always to good effect. If you don’t have a lake or river to shriek into, a pillow works well too.
Alternatively, if you’re not fond of the idea of shrieking into the void, you can try journaling. This can be self-directed, or you can download sheets of prompts in question and answer form that you can then fill out. Sometimes, just getting things out onto paper can help to dislodge some of the thoughts and emotions that have been sticking in your throat.
Keep this journal private so others in your household or social circle can’t pry into it unless you invite them to do so.
Therapy sessions with a good counsellor.
In addition to the suggestions mentioned above, one of the best things you can do to get things moving again is to have regular sessions with a counsellor or therapist you feel comfortable with.
Just like a massive gut blockage will require surgery to excise it, sometimes emotional blockages need professionals to help get them unstuck as well. Despite your own best efforts, despite reading self-help books and trying to dig yourself out of the hole you find yourself in, sometimes outside help is what’s really needed.
A good therapist can work with you to help unlock the doors you’ve sealed up in a manner that’s healthy for you rather than jarring. We recommend the online sessions available at BetterHelp.com where you can connect with an experienced therapist wherever you are in the world at a time to suit you. Click here to learn more or to book a session.
Some people decide to go on spiritual journeys in exotic locations in an attempt to shock themselves awake, so to speak. They might go to Peru for an ayahuasca ceremony or take a pilgrimage to India to walk over coals with gurus and babas.
The problem here is much like opening an old door that’s been stuck closed for a long period of time. If you oil the hinges and work them gently back and forth, then slowly open the door bit by bit, it should open up just fine. It might be a bit creaky and will probably need some repair work, but it’ll be relatively intact.
In contrast, if you just try to slam the door open without care or prep work, not only do you risk shattering the door itself, you might break the door jamb and end up standing there dazed with a broken handle in your hands. Many a person has tried to kick their internal doors open and suffered psychotic breaks in the process.
Just as you would trust a surgeon to help your physical body, trust in a good therapist to help heal your emotional body. Again, we would encourage you to check out BetterHelp.com to see if their online service is right for you.
Deep tissue massage.
This is recommended after you’ve started to open those doors with the aforementioned therapist. Otherwise, you risk popping doors and windows open that you may not be prepared to look through just yet.
Emotions can become trapped in different areas of the body, creating pockets of compressed muscle and fascia. As you can imagine, this can cause all kinds of physical discomfort. When and if a person who has repressed emotions like this mashed into their tissues goes for a massage, those feelings can be forcibly released through manual manipulation.
The result is that the person being massaged can get overwhelmed by what they’re feeling. They might have severe panic attacks or start either laughing or crying uncontrollably. Some might start shaking or spasming, while others might shut down, curl up into a fetal position, and go numb as a coping mechanism.
This is why it’s so important to crack those doors open with a trusted therapist before going for that shiatsu or craiosacral massage session. While your massage therapist might be a really awesome person, they might not be qualified to handle you having a nervous breakdown on their table.
It’s absolutely possible to break through emotional constipation if and when you feel ready to do so. The key is to do it gently and methodically and give yourself time to open up. Much like physical constipation, you’re looking for gentle laxatives that’ll get things moving comfortably.
Aim for small steps and renegotiate the landscape as you move forward. Different techniques will work for different people, and you might find that one method is far more effective for you than another.
Most importantly, take part in this journey when you feel that you want to do so, not because someone else is pressuring you or making you feel obligated. If that happens, you’re likely to feel anger and resentment towards that person for making you feel things that you’re not ready to handle just yet.
Just like starting a new, healthy diet or exercise regimen, these things should be undertaken because you care about and respect yourself and you want to do this for you. Not out of self-loathing or shame. Make this healing journey an act of loving kindness and you’ll be surprised at how your life changes as a result.
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