Monday, June 02, 2008

Introverts vindicated! It is okay NOT to express your emotions

After many of the major horrors of the last decade (Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech), the talking heads all over television were of one mind. "It is important to express your emotions over these events," they said in one voice. "If you are not speaking to someone about how you are feeling, you are hurting yourself and those around you." Well, it may be that this conventional wisdom is incomplete. Sometimes keeping it to yourself can be the best policy.

Using a large national sample, Seery and co-researchers tested people's responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, beginning immediately after the event and continuing for the following two years. In an online survey, respondents were given the chance to express their thoughts and feelings on the day of 9/11 and a few days afterward.

The researchers then compared people who chose to express their thoughts and feelings versus those who chose not to express.

If the assumption about the necessity of expression is correct -- that failing to express one's feelings indicates some harmful repression or other pathology -- then people who chose not to express should have been more likely to experience negative mental and physical health symptoms over time, the researchers point out.

"However, we found exactly the opposite: people who chose not to express were better off than people who did choose to express," Seery says.

Moreover, when the researchers looked only at people who chose to express their thoughts and feelings, and tested the length of their responses, they found a similar pattern. People who expressed more were worse off than people who expressed less.
It should be noted that this does not mean that everyone should be closing themselves down. The study authors themselves note that this really only shows that different people deal with trauma in different ways. An introvert should not be angry at an extrovert for needing to vent, and an extrovert should not be angry at an introvert for working thru their issues internally. Turns out, people really are built differently. Who knew?

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