How to stop intellectualising emotions

Flo Theoboldon 24 May 2023
Eggs with different emotions drawn on them

Intellectualising your problems is a common defence mechanism that has its uses, but shouldn’t be relied on.

You might see the word intellectual and think that applying it to your emotions is a good thing. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Here we take you through what intellectualisation is and some tips on how to break the habit.

What is intellectualisation?

Intellectualising your emotions is a defence mechanism where you reason through difficult emotions instead of approaching them head on. For example, when talking about something upsetting, do you talk about how it made you feel? Or do you just restate what happened?

It can also look like turning to the practical instead of thinking about your feelings. A stiff upper lip while you plan how to deal with the consequences of whatever happened.

Getting a logical grip on yourself and dissolving internal issues as quickly as possible can sometimes come in handy. But resorting to this all the time, no matter the situation, isn’t recommended. When you intellectualise your feelings, it can cause a build up of unprocessed emotions and they may eventually burst through at inappropriate times. Or in unhealthy ways.

How do you combat intellectualisation?

Work on yourself

Easier said than done, but if you don’t feel ready to open up and share your struggles, then you may want to consider making a change for yourself, by yourself. Listen to your emotions, take time with them and let them flow through your body. 

Negative feelings are natural, regardless of how rational they are. The important thing is that you didn’t run away from it, you now have dealt with it and are familiar with the feeling. If the same situation was to happen again, you’re prepared. 

Grounding methods like counting things around you can help you calm down. This can be anything around you, dots on a wall, leaves on a tree or just things you can see, hear or feel. Once you’re feeling steady, face the problem, dig through, work out what brought it on and what could help it go away. 

As soon as you’ve addressed everything and fully understand what you are feeling, go back to counting. This gives a full circle effect, allowing you to face your emotions, whilst keeping them compact and understood. The same goes for journaling or listing emotions. You get them out onto paper where they’re acknowledged, but once you close that journal you don’t have to carry them with you.

Understand your emotions

A slow process, but it’s crucial to take the time to learn what triggers your emotions, and how your body reacts to them. How do you relate and connect to these emotions? And most importantly how do you learn to live with them?

This will be a slow and constant process and can be done using some of the previously mentioned tips, such as journaling. The aim is to focus on understanding your mind and processing the feelings as they come.

Most importantly you should keep in mind that we’re all just human. Worry, anxiety, all emotions exist as part of the package and we don’t always have a say in which ones appear at which time.

It’s these emotions that make us human though, we need them to help us navigate and survive life. You may not have been taught how to handle such emotions, but the most important thing is that you take the responsibility of looking after yourself. It's better to learn ways to cope instead of covering them with practicality and reason.

Reach out to someone

This could be a therapist, a counsellor or loved ones. Talking out loud about your emotions and hearing them through words can really help you digest what you are feeling and why you’re feeling it. If you’re really struggling to acknowledge your feelings, this is definitely the best option.

Especially with someone qualified, like a therapist, they’ll be able to help you process what your feelings mean and what they’re caused by. This in turn may encourage you to stop intellectualising them. 

This also works with anybody willing to listen. You won’t realise quite how much talking through your feelings can clear your mind until you try it. Someone you know may be dealing with the exact same problems, you can work through it together or they can share tips that helped them. 

What tips do you follow for keeping on top of your mental health? Join the Student Hut Community today and let us know in our paid opinion panel.


Flo Theoboldon 24 May 2023