Stuff It or Dump It or …

Some of us may have been taught not to express emotions like anger and fear. 

Some children learn to suppress fear. “Stop being a ‘fraidy cat. Stop being a sissy. Man up. What are you afraid of? Get out there and fight!”  So, the child fears expressing his fear and clams up when afraid crying silently in his room over the fears that beset him. She stuffs them deep inside. The fears don’t go away. At such a time, a child needs comfort, understanding, and compassion rather than being called names.  

Maybe she has the fear of going to school. Girls can be mean and mock other girls. They. An make fun of a girl’s hair , clothes, or physical features causing the fear of going to school. Such fears like these and others need to be resolved rather than brushed off by a parent. If not, the child will grow to adulthood afraid of people which is known as social anxiety. 

A fearful adult who was forced to stuff her emotional fears growing up never wants to leave her comfort zone and experience the unknown. She is doomed to routine sameness and misses out on experiences that can challenge, thrill, and motivate her to climb new mountains, swim the river, and soar above the clouds. 

Stuffing emotions like fear stunts emotional growth and never leads to emotional maturity. 

Parents that refuse their child the right to express anger expect every unpleasant task to be accepted with a pleasant ‘yes sir’ or no ma’m’. 

“Go do your homework! Now!” The child’s face turns cloudy and sullen, and he/she pouts off to his/her room shutting the door a little to hard to suit the parent. 

“You better straighten up that attitude or you’re not going over to Gene’s house Friday to spend the night with him!” Or, “If I come in there and find you playing on your tablet, I’m taking it away from you for a month! You better straighten up that attitude young man. Right now! I mean it!”

What does this kid do with his nasty attitude? He stuffs it of course rather than face the consequences. 

The child who stuffs his anger because he can’t express it at home is the child who is irritabile and touchy at school and irrationally acts out making his behavior problematic for teachers. 

Over time, a child who is not permitted to express emotions like fear or anger learns not to feel. He learns to stuff all unacceptable feelings that his parents find offensive. 

But, emotions are powerful things and must be expressed. If they can’t be expressed at home, they will at school. 

How can a child learn to express negative feelings in a healthy way if he has to deny and stuff  his feelings? He can’t!  All the child knows how to do is stuff feelings, and one day, he grows into an adult without a clue on how to constructively manage his anger or communicate in a positive way with peers and authority figures. Big trouble is ahead physically and emotionally. 

Physical problems related to stuffed fear and anger can include bleeding ulcers, high blood pressure, and sleep deprivation. 

Emotional problems manifest themselves when we dump our fear, insecurity, and anxiety on ourselves. Emotional growth is stunted. Adults grow up to have anxiety disorders, phobias of all sorts, and a lack of self-confidence and healthy self-respect. 

A child who was forced to stuff his angry emotions as a child will in adulthood explode over a minor significant event. Take a marriage, for instance, where the husband is a hothead. His wife innocently tells him where to park. He reacts by blowing up over nothing instead of responding in a kind way. He dumps his stuffed anger on his well meaning wife. Friction, hard silence, and sometimes harsh words that are regretted later ensue. That’s what happens to anger-stuffers who were refused the right to own their emotions as children. It’s not pleasant. 

Staffed anger is like a Jack-in-the-box. The “stuffer’ gets wound up unti Jack pops out. He will go off on someone and angrily tell them off in no uncertain words when he is wound up tight because of stuffed anger. 

When we stuff our emotions, we can become our own punishing parent. Our sick shame drives us to deception and deceit blaming others instead of taking responsibility for our issues. We dump it into our personal garbage truck which is often someone in the family. 

 For example, “It’s your fault,” the husband yells at his wife, for me hitting you.”  Or, “It’s your fault I had the affair because you are no longer exciting in bed.”  The husband has made his wife his garbage truck. 

When we yell at each other, we are really yelling at ourselves and have created a facade to hide behind. We are not emotionally honest with ourselves to admit “I have an anger problem and need help.”  

Stuffed anger has to be dumped. So, we dump our judgments, vengeful thinking, criticisms, and anger on other people. Sometimes, we dump on others like our loved ones turning them into our personal garbage trucks. 

Yea, it feels good to vent and ‘let them have it’ even if they are innocent. It’s cathartic. We sometimes take out our anger on a family member who we perceive is weaker than us because we fear confronting the person who really stirred us up.

For example, a husband is stronger physically than his wife. He can verbally abuse her. How does she defend herself? Maybe by slapping him when she reaches the limit of her tolerance. Then, he punches her and throws her against the wall or slams her on the floor. But, his anger is not really at her. It’s at someone else that may have been boiling for years. Or, maybe he had a bad day at work and is on edge when he comes home having stuffed his frustration and anger inside since he couldn’t vent to his manager. He’s a ticking time bomb and dumps his anger on his wife. 

Many people spend their lives trying to get their anger out through revenge. They feel abused, challenged, or violated after being dumped on by someone at work, at home, or in their community. Unfortunately, dwelling on wrongdoing and the expression of anger through vengeance, only produces more anger and more physical issues like cardiac disease.

There’s no free ride in stuffing and dumping emotions even when we feel good by dumping them on someone else.  The good feeling is temporary. There’s always a toll for stuffing and dumping. When we stuff our emotions or dump them on someone else, there are always penalties to pay which rob us of success, happiness, health, and relationship security. 

So, what do you do about stuffing and dumping emotions?  First, understand that stuffing and dumping are behaviors learned from childhood or learned as adults after a traumatic experience. They can become automatic responses to anger and fear. They are psychological defense mechanisms to defend our fragile selfhood from attack. They have to be unlearned and new, healthy ways of acting, thinking, and behaving learned. 

For me, I have learned from my pastor-counselor, Roger Bennett and his weekly group sessions. I’ve learned from good, Christian self-help books on anger, rage, boundaries, self-esteem, and co-dependency. 

I’ve learned from emotionally mature people from the biographies and autobiographies from mature Christian people like Corrie ten Boom, C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others like them. 

I’ve learned by reading about and watching men like Coach Mark Richt. He is the winningest football coach at the University of Georgia for fifteen seasons and yet was fired after finishing a season with 9 wins, 3 losses, and an invitation for Georgia to play in a major bowl. He never expressed anger toward the University or athletic director, Greg McGariry, who fired him. Instead, he humbly thanked the University and McGarity for the opportunity to coach there. I’ve never seen or read about him angrily berating a player for a missed assignment or blaming anyone but himself for losing a game. He’s calm in a pressure packed game. I’ve never seen him angrily chew out an official for an obvious bad call. Instead, when there is a lull in the game, he calmly talks with the referee on the sideline. It’s no wonder that in a poll a few years ago that asked coaches who they would like for their son to play for, they chose Mark Richt. 

I’ve coached baseball in youth leagues and in high and middle school, and wish I knew then what I know now. 

Today, I can honestly say that I’ve unlearned destructive behaviors and learned constructive ones. There has to be a death to the old self before a resurrection of the new self emerges. 

That’s why I write blogs and publish articles.  I feel compelled to share my journey hoping and praying others will be inspired to unlearn destructive behaviors like stuffing and dumping and learn constructive behaviors. 

“You will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you” (John 8:32, MSG). 


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