Are You a Stuffer or an Exploder? Strategies to Handle Raw Emotions

Reviewed Oct 6, 2017

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Summary

  • Investigate possible causes for your emotions.
  • Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions.
  • Be assertive.

Hard, strong, and raw emotions such as anger, fear, worry, jealousy, hurt, and discouragement may leave you feeling overwhelmed. These feelings can be so strong that you may feel like a victim to them—like they have control over you and your response.

Emotions are a part of being human, but learning how to effectively handle strong feelings is challenging. What comes naturally with raw emotions is either stuffing by repressing feelings or exploding by negatively expressing them. In Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, author Lysa TerKeurst explains that our reactions depend on the situation and who is involved. A person is capable of suppressing in some situations and venting in others.

What do stuffers do?

Stuffers may not even be aware of their emotions, or if they are they lock their feelings inside. They may withdraw and build a wall of resentment or they store harmful emotions with the goal to retaliate or get revenge. A stuffer may wallow in self-pity. Emotions inside a stuffer are either denied or repressed.

What about exploders?

Stern or hurtful words, harsh looks, raised voices, cursing, sharp tones, and demonstrative gestures such as finger pointing and door slamming can all be part of how an exploder handles raw emotions. Quiet exploders are more subtle and use sarcasm or criticism. After the explosion of emotion, the person may blame others, get defensive, or feel ashamed.

Harmful effects for both stuffers and exploders

Strong emotions handled by either stuffing or exploding can negatively change a person’s mood, actions, and physical health. Buddha illustrates the result of repressing anger: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.”

Mismanaging emotions becomes a breeding ground for irritability, impatience, procrastination, criticism, blaming, victimization, and compulsive behavior. Relationships can be hurt or destroyed when emotions are either passively avoided or boldly voiced. Immune systems can become compromised and the person can get sick more easily. A person can become sad or try to get away from harmful feelings with food, drugs, booze, or medicine. These two ends of the continuum—stuffing and exploding—come naturally to human beings, but with conscious effort people can learn better ways to handle emotions.

How to handle raw emotions

  1. "Tune in” to your emotional channel. Stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you are feeling. Put a short and descriptive label on the emotion. “I’m livid” is much more descriptive than “I’m upset.” Metaphors can help identify emotions; for example: “This feels like trying to herd cats.” Rating the feeling on a 1-10 scale and writing in a journal are other techniques that can facilitate emotional awareness. Pay attention to where in your body you feel the emotion: Is your chest tight? Does your stomach hurt? Do you have a headache?
  2. Look into causes for your emotions. Are your expectations unrealistic? Do you want to be in control or right? Are you jealous or hurt? What thoughts are going through your mind?
  3. Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. Feelings cannot be controlled, but thoughts can be changed, which in turn can sway emotions. Reframing—changing the interpretation of a set of circumstances—can be helpful. An example might be if you get poor customer service. Instead of taking it personally, know that the lack of responsiveness may have other causes.
  4. Empathize with others. One of the ground rules for effectively resolving conflict is to try to see the other person’s point of view. You do not have to agree to express empathy. You can say you are sorry for hurting someone’s feelings even if it wasn’t intended.
  5. Be assertive. Speak up when something means a lot to you, but don't do it in a blaming way or by using absolutes such as, “you always…” or “you never…” Use an “I-message” where you take responsibility for your feelings, describe the other person’s behavior objectively, and state a request for the future.
  6. Practice good self-care. Eating healthily, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, making time for fun, seeking connection with others, and growing spiritually can help with how a person handles emotions. When stress is high and coping skills are challenged, it is harder to handle raw emotions well.
  7. Seek help if you feel stuck. Professional, private help is available from a mental health professional, such as a licensed counselor, psychologist, or employee assistance program professional. 
By Kris Hooks, M.Ed., LPC, LMFT, CEAP
Source: Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst. Zondervan, 2012.

Summary

  • Investigate possible causes for your emotions.
  • Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions.
  • Be assertive.

Hard, strong, and raw emotions such as anger, fear, worry, jealousy, hurt, and discouragement may leave you feeling overwhelmed. These feelings can be so strong that you may feel like a victim to them—like they have control over you and your response.

Emotions are a part of being human, but learning how to effectively handle strong feelings is challenging. What comes naturally with raw emotions is either stuffing by repressing feelings or exploding by negatively expressing them. In Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, author Lysa TerKeurst explains that our reactions depend on the situation and who is involved. A person is capable of suppressing in some situations and venting in others.

What do stuffers do?

Stuffers may not even be aware of their emotions, or if they are they lock their feelings inside. They may withdraw and build a wall of resentment or they store harmful emotions with the goal to retaliate or get revenge. A stuffer may wallow in self-pity. Emotions inside a stuffer are either denied or repressed.

What about exploders?

Stern or hurtful words, harsh looks, raised voices, cursing, sharp tones, and demonstrative gestures such as finger pointing and door slamming can all be part of how an exploder handles raw emotions. Quiet exploders are more subtle and use sarcasm or criticism. After the explosion of emotion, the person may blame others, get defensive, or feel ashamed.

Harmful effects for both stuffers and exploders

Strong emotions handled by either stuffing or exploding can negatively change a person’s mood, actions, and physical health. Buddha illustrates the result of repressing anger: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.”

Mismanaging emotions becomes a breeding ground for irritability, impatience, procrastination, criticism, blaming, victimization, and compulsive behavior. Relationships can be hurt or destroyed when emotions are either passively avoided or boldly voiced. Immune systems can become compromised and the person can get sick more easily. A person can become sad or try to get away from harmful feelings with food, drugs, booze, or medicine. These two ends of the continuum—stuffing and exploding—come naturally to human beings, but with conscious effort people can learn better ways to handle emotions.

How to handle raw emotions

  1. "Tune in” to your emotional channel. Stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you are feeling. Put a short and descriptive label on the emotion. “I’m livid” is much more descriptive than “I’m upset.” Metaphors can help identify emotions; for example: “This feels like trying to herd cats.” Rating the feeling on a 1-10 scale and writing in a journal are other techniques that can facilitate emotional awareness. Pay attention to where in your body you feel the emotion: Is your chest tight? Does your stomach hurt? Do you have a headache?
  2. Look into causes for your emotions. Are your expectations unrealistic? Do you want to be in control or right? Are you jealous or hurt? What thoughts are going through your mind?
  3. Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. Feelings cannot be controlled, but thoughts can be changed, which in turn can sway emotions. Reframing—changing the interpretation of a set of circumstances—can be helpful. An example might be if you get poor customer service. Instead of taking it personally, know that the lack of responsiveness may have other causes.
  4. Empathize with others. One of the ground rules for effectively resolving conflict is to try to see the other person’s point of view. You do not have to agree to express empathy. You can say you are sorry for hurting someone’s feelings even if it wasn’t intended.
  5. Be assertive. Speak up when something means a lot to you, but don't do it in a blaming way or by using absolutes such as, “you always…” or “you never…” Use an “I-message” where you take responsibility for your feelings, describe the other person’s behavior objectively, and state a request for the future.
  6. Practice good self-care. Eating healthily, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, making time for fun, seeking connection with others, and growing spiritually can help with how a person handles emotions. When stress is high and coping skills are challenged, it is harder to handle raw emotions well.
  7. Seek help if you feel stuck. Professional, private help is available from a mental health professional, such as a licensed counselor, psychologist, or employee assistance program professional. 
By Kris Hooks, M.Ed., LPC, LMFT, CEAP
Source: Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst. Zondervan, 2012.

Summary

  • Investigate possible causes for your emotions.
  • Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions.
  • Be assertive.

Hard, strong, and raw emotions such as anger, fear, worry, jealousy, hurt, and discouragement may leave you feeling overwhelmed. These feelings can be so strong that you may feel like a victim to them—like they have control over you and your response.

Emotions are a part of being human, but learning how to effectively handle strong feelings is challenging. What comes naturally with raw emotions is either stuffing by repressing feelings or exploding by negatively expressing them. In Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, author Lysa TerKeurst explains that our reactions depend on the situation and who is involved. A person is capable of suppressing in some situations and venting in others.

What do stuffers do?

Stuffers may not even be aware of their emotions, or if they are they lock their feelings inside. They may withdraw and build a wall of resentment or they store harmful emotions with the goal to retaliate or get revenge. A stuffer may wallow in self-pity. Emotions inside a stuffer are either denied or repressed.

What about exploders?

Stern or hurtful words, harsh looks, raised voices, cursing, sharp tones, and demonstrative gestures such as finger pointing and door slamming can all be part of how an exploder handles raw emotions. Quiet exploders are more subtle and use sarcasm or criticism. After the explosion of emotion, the person may blame others, get defensive, or feel ashamed.

Harmful effects for both stuffers and exploders

Strong emotions handled by either stuffing or exploding can negatively change a person’s mood, actions, and physical health. Buddha illustrates the result of repressing anger: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.”

Mismanaging emotions becomes a breeding ground for irritability, impatience, procrastination, criticism, blaming, victimization, and compulsive behavior. Relationships can be hurt or destroyed when emotions are either passively avoided or boldly voiced. Immune systems can become compromised and the person can get sick more easily. A person can become sad or try to get away from harmful feelings with food, drugs, booze, or medicine. These two ends of the continuum—stuffing and exploding—come naturally to human beings, but with conscious effort people can learn better ways to handle emotions.

How to handle raw emotions

  1. "Tune in” to your emotional channel. Stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you are feeling. Put a short and descriptive label on the emotion. “I’m livid” is much more descriptive than “I’m upset.” Metaphors can help identify emotions; for example: “This feels like trying to herd cats.” Rating the feeling on a 1-10 scale and writing in a journal are other techniques that can facilitate emotional awareness. Pay attention to where in your body you feel the emotion: Is your chest tight? Does your stomach hurt? Do you have a headache?
  2. Look into causes for your emotions. Are your expectations unrealistic? Do you want to be in control or right? Are you jealous or hurt? What thoughts are going through your mind?
  3. Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. Feelings cannot be controlled, but thoughts can be changed, which in turn can sway emotions. Reframing—changing the interpretation of a set of circumstances—can be helpful. An example might be if you get poor customer service. Instead of taking it personally, know that the lack of responsiveness may have other causes.
  4. Empathize with others. One of the ground rules for effectively resolving conflict is to try to see the other person’s point of view. You do not have to agree to express empathy. You can say you are sorry for hurting someone’s feelings even if it wasn’t intended.
  5. Be assertive. Speak up when something means a lot to you, but don't do it in a blaming way or by using absolutes such as, “you always…” or “you never…” Use an “I-message” where you take responsibility for your feelings, describe the other person’s behavior objectively, and state a request for the future.
  6. Practice good self-care. Eating healthily, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, making time for fun, seeking connection with others, and growing spiritually can help with how a person handles emotions. When stress is high and coping skills are challenged, it is harder to handle raw emotions well.
  7. Seek help if you feel stuck. Professional, private help is available from a mental health professional, such as a licensed counselor, psychologist, or employee assistance program professional. 
By Kris Hooks, M.Ed., LPC, LMFT, CEAP
Source: Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst. Zondervan, 2012.

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