The In’s & Out’s of Internalisation

Nydile Mohan

Your personality contains all that you are. It is constantly growing, shifting, developing. All those little, contrasting, infinitely complex idiosyncrasies are woven together to make you who you are. As Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” 

 

With such a delicate, nuanced construction of you, of all those opposing facets of your being, it’s natural that some won’t be expressed to the outside. At the end of the day, who else do we exist for, if not ourselves. We choose to keep many of our thoughts and feelings within, in order to process them alone. They’re kept inside, private - that’s where internalisation comes in.

What is internalisation?

Internalisation, in the context of self-expression, is ‘the action of not allowing your emotions or feelings to show although you think about them’[1]. Essentially, keeping things to yourself, or ‘bottling up’. Many are warned of the consequences of internalisation, for fear of a more serious impact on our wellbeing. For students especially, what are the implications of it? What is it about internalisation that is so dangerous?

In other words...

Think of a balloon, starts out small, empty, but it’s stretchy; it can expand far beyond what was initially presumed. Air goes in, the balloon gets bigger and bigger — the air has nowhere else to go, and can’t do anything but build up pressure inside. When its limit is reached, the balloon pops. Bang. Scraps of rubber everywhere, and the balloon can’t be blown up again.

 

As a rough parallel, that’s what internalisation does. Your mental and emotional wellbeing takes the form of a balloon, only capable of withstanding so much pressure. If our thoughts and feelings remain unexpressed, they just rebound back. Doing far more damage to yourself than they could ever, being told to someone else.

 

Internalisation vs. Introspection

There is, however, a difference between internalisation, often harmful to your mental health, and introspection, a passive process of self-reflection. Taking aside some time to think on yourself and those around you isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we prefer, or even need, some private space to ourselves. However, it should, as all else, be taken in moderation. If you find yourself fixating or obsessing over certain thoughts or ideas, it’s time to reach out.

 

What causes internalisation?

Internalisation, as a phenomenon, has a variety of causes, each unique to the person experiencing it. In my own experience, a fear of backlash can prompt internalisation, i.e. suppressing ideas with the belief that they will not be well-received by others. This is commonly referred to as normative social influence, where we act according to what we believe is acceptable by others[2]. How many times have you kept something to yourself, for fear that your ‘audience’ won’t agree? A solution is to express these thoughts not to a person, but to release them via an inanimate format. While receiving human empathy and interaction contributes to a large part of the coping process, an outlet that doesn’t require contact can be easier to use. A journal, blog, or even sticky notes can take a weight off your shoulders. (It doesn’t have to be scheduled, or a chore — make use of it whenever your mind feels a little too burdensome.)

 

Effects of internalisation over time

Prolonged internalisation takes a toll, and it shows. Open discussion can seem less and less appealing over time, relationships will be strained. A downward spiral of negative behaviour that may make you feel like you don’t have a choice in the matter, but that’s never the case. 

 

A key component to healthy expression is trust. It can be hard to find someone you can confide in, but remember — there’s always someone. The ideal would be an adult you trust: parents, teachers, counsellors. If speaking to an adult isn’t possible or comfortable, then a friend.

 

Taking account of how much pressure you place on yourself is a necessary step to take in self-care and maintaining your wellbeing. Keep in mind that it’s completely normal to want to maintain ideas and feelings to yourself, but there are outlets for you to use. The belief that you need to suppress your expressions out of necessity is a tribulation you don’t need to place on yourself.  The idea that you need to hide certain parts of yourself to connect with others? It’s a fallacy. Let it out, and keep an eye on your balloon.

References/Bibliography:

 

[1] "INTERNALIZATION | Meaning In The Cambridge English Dictionary". Dictionary.Cambridge.Org, 2020, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/internalization.

 

[2] Stangor, Charles. Principles Of Social Psychology. 1st ed.
 

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