Suppressing, Exaggerating Emotions May Be Harmful to Parents

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When a parent holds negative emotions in and is overly effusive with their positive feelings, that can be damaging to his or her well-being, according to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

University of Toronto psychology graduate student Bonnie Le and University of Toronto Mississauga assistant professor of psychology Emily Impett say their research shows that although raising children can be rewarding and fulfilling, it can also be stressful, frustrating, or mind-numbing. Because of this, parents are likely to be reticent to express their authentic emotions.

Parents might keep negative emotions inside when in public with their children so their kids will not be embarrassed or develop low self-esteem. Or perhaps they will exaggerate their approval or pride to let their children feel supported, and so the family can share happy times together, says Pacific Standard Magazine’s Nathan Collins.

The two authors set out to discover whether suppressing negative emotions and overemphasizing the positive might affect a parent’s sense of well-being. Their answer became apparent when their experiments were completed — suppressing familial emotions is not good for mothers and fathers.

Le and Impett gathered 162 parents of young children and asked them online to describe three events with their children in the past four weeks. The control case asked participants to tell about an example of caregiving for their kids along with the emotions they felt while they were doing so, and how they acted toward their children at that time.

For the next experience, they were asked to describe a time when they held back negative emotions and an event when they enhanced their positive feelings. Finally, they were invited to rate how authentic they had been to themselves in each experience, to describe the level of their emotional well-being after the event, and various other factors. The rating was on a scale from one to seven.

When reflecting on the times they suppressed negative feelings, parents reported emotions that were roughly 20% less true and scored their sense of emotional well-being at about half what it was in the control case. Approximately the same was measured when they overemphasized their positive sentiments. In the control case, subjects felt roughly one-third less sincere and put their well-being at around 30% lower.

Another result of suppressing their feelings was that parents’ relationships with their children suffered, as well as their attention to their kids’ needs.

The project was mirrored by a second study in which 118 parents wrote about events they had shared with their youngsters for ten successive days.

“The findings shed light on one condition under which parenting may be associated with more pain than pleasure: when parents express more positive emotions than they genuinely feel and mask the negative emotions that they do feel when caring for their children,” Le and Impett write. “Future research should identify more adaptive ways for parents to regulate their emotions that allow them to feel true to themselves and contribute to the most joyful and optimal experiences of parenting.”

Laurel Geggel writes for LiveScience that the parents in the research felt an emotional letdown, less authentic, and less true to themselves when they were insincere with their young ones. Now the scientists who did this research would like to see what effect “happy face” caregiving has on children.

The amplification of positive emotions was relatively more harmful in several ways, which pointed out that controlling feelings, even for what may seem to be beneficial reasons, when it comes to relating to children, can come with emotional costs, reports AFP/Relaxnews.