Relationship Minute: Bottling or brooding

In this interview with Susan David, Ph.D., David describes two characteristic ways of dealing with difficult emotions or experiences: bottling and brooding.

“Bottling is essentially pushing the emotion down. For example, you’re upset with a person. You’re feeling angry because you feel exploited, and what you do is you tell yourself, ‘I’m just not going to go there, and I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got all this other stuff to do.’

And what you are doing is pushing the emotions down. Often you do this with very good intentions. You feel at some level that emotions are locked up in a bottle, and you have all of this other stuff that you can’t do, so you continue to push the emotions into a bottle, per se.

Brooding is when you are so consumed with the emotions you’re feeling that it becomes difficult to do anything else. When you’re brooding, you’re dwelling on the emotions, you’re analyzing hurt. You’re thinking, Why am I feeling what I’m feeling? It’s like you can’t let go and you obsess over the hurt, a perceived failure, or a shortcoming.

Brooding has some very good intentions—one of which is to try to deal with emotions effectively. So both bottling and brooding are done with good intentions [… but] we know from research that it tends not to work.” 

Avoidance (bottling) and hyperfocus (brooding) can both be damaging to your physical and emotional health. Do you tend to push challenging emotions away, or clutch them too tightly? What would a more balanced approach to your emotions look and feel like?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.