Silencing Yourself is a Health Risk

It’s official! Or at least one study, the Framingham Offspring Study ‘Marital status, marital strain, and risk of coronary heart disease or total mortality’, shows that women who bottled up their feelings during arguments with their spouse were four times as likely to die during the 10 year study period as those who told their husbands exactly how they felt.

It’s official! Or at least one study, the Framingham Offspring Study ‘Marital status, marital strain, and risk of coronary heart disease or total mortality‘, shows that women who bottled up their feelings during arguments with their spouse were four times as likely to die during the 10 year study period as those who told their husbands exactly how they felt. Out of the almost 4,000 men and women studied, 32% of men and 23% of women said that they typically bottled up their feelings. Funnily enough, the men concerned suffered no measurable ill effects whatsoever from keeping their finer feelings to themselves. Women however, did, even when in reportedly ‘happy marriages’.

It seems that women, when they don’t communicate their feelings, suffer physiologically, eventually putting themselves at cardiovascular risk. It may also be the case that not feeling safe produces the undesirable physiological effects, rather than the bottling up of emotions itself. It would seem that irrespective of how happy the marriage is overall and how frequent and serious arguments are, the single most important thing for the health of a woman’s heart, as far as her relationship is concerned, is keeping a free flow.

To go back to Carl Rogers, as I often do, he called it congruence. It’s knowing what you are feeling and thinking, what and how you are experiencing at a given moment, and being free to express it if you so choose. Congruence is both a quality necessary in a therapist, and one which is arguably one of the main ‘goals’ of therapy for a client, who typically arrives either not able to feel what they feel and know what they know, or unable to express these things, usually because of the reception they have had in the past from others.

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Necessary for happiness and growth, it seems that congruence is also vital for us even to stay alive, for our hearts to keep beating! I don’t think that men need to be in this state any less than women do; their health problems arose in other areas (they struggled when their female partners had problems at work), and the difference in ‘hot spots’ for each of the sexes is doubtless due to social or cultural factors accumulating over time. Maybe the men in the study felt freer to choose whether to express their emotions, and felt safer keeping quiet, whereas they felt more threatened by their partners’ being absorbed by other matters.

For women, at this moment in time and at least in American culture, keeping silent about their own feelings is a risky business. It seems to be a matter of urgency for those of us who are married to find or consciously create a safe space or a safe way of dealing with conflict, so women feel able to make a free and conscious choice to take space, formulate their own needs and speak up!

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