Emotional Costs of Withholding Complaints

Sayings such as ‘get it off your chest’ have long been used as advice to discourage ‘holding something in’ that is thought to be annoying or playing on someones mind.

Similarly while culturally specific, people often withhold complaints rather than disclosing them, this withholding may be due to potential embarrassment or not wanting to cause a fuss.

But does this withholding come at a cost? New research aimed to examine if it does:

Withholding relational complaints not only impacts relationships but can also have implications for individual behaviors and emotions.

This study examined cognitive activities and behavioral aggression involved in withholding relational complaints and the emotional impact of withholding.

The researchers from Northwestern University, Evanston recruited 411 participants who completed a questionnaire that asked about recent experiences of withholding a complaint from a partner.

The questionnaire was interested in themes such as rumination, cognitive reappraisal, silent treatment, stonewalling and emotional exhaustion.

This study confirmed the positive relationship between rumination and emotional exhaustion as mediated by the silent treatment and stonewalling.

That is to say that withholding does come at an emotional cost.

Extant research shows that the silent treatment and stonewalling are harmful to the relationship and to the partners who experience them

So it appears the old adage of getting something off your chest may well have something in it.