The Difference between Restraining and Repressing

These two modes can look like the same thing from the outside, but originate in very different motives.

For resolving conflict, one of the things that I find to be very helpful is actually avoiding conflict to begin with. What that means is that I can choose not to get irritated. However, I am still a human and therefore sometimes that is impossible. From time to time, something comes up that makes me feel defensive, makes me want to retaliate, or makes me want to keep score. In these times, I find it very helpful to withhold speech at that moment.

Generally, if I’m coming from a place of defensiveness, i.e. wanting to retaliate or engage the flight-fight-or flee response, then I’m going to escalate the situation rather than do things that will contribute to an overall good outcome or any sort of resolution.

Restraining is different from repressing. When I restrain, I withhold speech, and I breathe, and I use my words as best that I can. It is like pressing a pause button on the situation. Sometimes if I’m in a heightened emotional state, the best I can do is to be as calm and gentle as possible and say, “Now isn’t right time to speak about this. Can you give me some time? I’m very interested in speaking about this with you, but right now I don’t feel like I’m fit emotionally.”

This is language that I can use. That doesn’t mean I always do. But there’s a big difference between that restraint and sulking or being scornful of somebody and withdrawing.

Sometimes it needs to be shorthand like; “I’m on fire, not right now, please.”

I can restrain, but I can do it in a loving way. It’s great to set up these tools before the conflict arises and have some signal, like a gesture or a safety word that says, in a nutshell, “Please, just give me some time, and I’ll get back to you on this.” So you can have a particular wave. You can have a word that’s completely out of context, like elephant, to simply say, “I need a break. This is getting too emotional. I need to withdraw for a moment or pull myself out of this situation, do some breathing. I might need to get back to you tonight. I might need to get back to you tomorrow.” This is conveying emotion rather than acting on it. Use your safety word, don’t abuse it. Don’t belittle or demean it otherwise, it will become ineffective and no longer safe. If that happens, create a new one with a verbal agreement that this one will be protected.

This agreement is not limited to romantic relationships. It can be tailored for work, family, and friend situations.

Conversely, repressing is saying that everything’s fine, both to my partner, and myself when things are not fine. Acting in that way does not serve anybody. It is a great way to harbor disease in the body. It’s a great way to harbor resentment, which is a disease of our relationships. And it is a great way to simply have a very miserable life and not live to my utmost.

Repressing, again, is denying the feelings that I’m having, even though they are present, and they’re affecting me; restraining is acknowledging that I’m having them, but not acting on them.

Your Assignment:

Can you press pause next time you feel the mercury rise? Can you return to the conflict in a loving way and solve it rather than punish or repress your emotions? Are you willing to take the risk of being real but from a place that is WIN/WIN?

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