Stop Sucking It Up! Emotional intelligence, happiness and career success.

I have had three coaching sessions in the last two weeks where clients told me that when they feel a negative emotion they “suck it up.”  Everyone even used the same phrase!  It got me thinking...why did so many people learn that sucking it up is the way to go?  And, most importantly, what is wrong with this advice?

So we are all on the same page, sucking it up basically means that when the going gets tough, or someone feels bad, they just “suck it up” and get on with it.  It is a great strategy if you are facing a huge deadline and you just have to plough through something TEMPORARILY, or if you are in the middle of a crises and you just need to get through it TEMPORARILY, but if you go through your whole life sucking it up, you are just going to get cancer, have insomnia, get out of touch with who you are and what is important to you, have anxiety, and you are going to be crappy at relationships.  Who wants to be dating, or married to, or working for, someone who is like a stone cold fish and unable to recognize emotions in themselves and others?

So, what’s the deal here?  Where does this belief about sucking it up come from?  After exploring this issue with enough people, my little theory is that sucking it up was a fashionable idea in past generations (i.e. the baby boomers and their parents).  Basically, the people who went to war or were exposed to war had to suck it up to get through life.  Life did suck. Unfortunately these people did not have much emotional support to get through these times.  In that period of history things like coaching, therapy and journaling weren’t fashionable.  During this time, people were also told that “being rational” was best. Of, course, some free loving boomers questioned this later in life and raised their kids with different ideals, but many didn’t.  Despite all the new evidence that processing and dealing with emotions is the healthy way to go, many people held onto the belief that “sucking it up” is best.  This works until there is some kind of triggering event like anxiety that won’t go away, getting sick, or just feeling unhappy about things. Eventually sucking it up becomes unbearable and people come to coaching or some other helping profession and they start to question the effectiveness of this sage advice.

So, what about you?  Do you suck it up?  If so, what is the cost?  My hunch is that if you are a master “sucker,” you are holding yourself back.  The research on emotional intelligence says that people with the ability to identify emotions in themselves and others are happier and more successful.  This is true!   The research evidence is huge and more importantly, the “real world” evidence is pretty convincing.  When my clients do things like name and identify their emotions, self-manage negative emotions, and when they use emotions as an important data point in decision making they are happier and they relate better to the people around them.  They are more empathetic and respectful and “connected” to others.  So, if you find you suck it up more often that you would like, consider these coaching questions.

  • Where did you learn that sucking it up is the way to handle emotions?
  • How did sucking it up help you cope as a kid?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being all the time, how often do you suck up your emotions now?
  • In this moment right now, how do you feel about  sucking it up?  Is it working for you?  Why, or why not?