Benedict Carey's Times piece on emotions and their social effects is worth a full read, but the most interesting/depressing part has to do with emotional suppression. Holding things in, says Carey, "has social costs that are all too familiar to those who know its cold touch." He elaborates:
In one 2003 Stanford study, researchers found that people instructed to wear a poker face while discussing a documentary about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made especially stressful conversation partners.
In another, published last year, psychologists followed 278 men and women as they entered college, giving questionnaires and conducting interviews. Those who scored highest on measures of emotion suppression had the hardest time making friends.
"An individual who responds to the college transition by becoming emotionally guarded in the first few days," the authors wrote, will most likely miss opportunities for friendships.
We already know the social perils of the emotional overshare — the messy, probably boozy rant or confession that causes people to edge away from you at parties. But apparently the undershare is just as deadly. It makes a certain amount of sense — we tend to like people we see as open and giving more than those who seem to be holding out on us. But for that kid who becomes "emotionally guarded" at orientation, it's kind of sad. When you feel like the weird kid or the odd one out, a natural response is to clam up — but apparently clamming up only makes things worse! So how do you break the vicious cycle of suppression and ostracism?
Try getting old. According to Carey, old people are way better than young people at regulating their emotions, probably because they no longer subscribe to the popular twentysomething belief that negative feelings are interesting or important. If you no longer listen to Iron & Wine with the lights off on Sunday nights because you like weeping, damnit, then congratulations: you're probably already old. And while Dr. Derek Isaacowitz of Brandeis says, "it makes some sense, that younger adults would explore the negative side of things, that they need to and maybe want to experience them - to experience life - as they develop their own strategies to regulate," to really win friends and influence people you need to old up and learn the "components of regulation." Carey explains:
The most socially skilled among us - those who project the emotions they intend, when they intend to - are not wedded to any one strategy, [Boston University psychologist] Dr. Hofmann argues. In a paper published last month with Todd Kashdan of George Mason University, he proposed that emotion researchers adopt a questionnaire to measure three components of regulation: concealing (i.e., suppression), adjusting (quickly calming anger, for instance) and tolerating (openly expressing emotion).
Yes, once you learn to balance concealing, adjusting, and tolerating, you will be a master at projecting the exact right emotion at the right time, and everyone will want to be your friend. Just in time for death!