Pouring your heart out and bottling it up (Showing and not showing emotions, Part 2)

a smiling young man holding a red balloon shaped like a heart

by Kate Woodford

This is the second of two posts on the theme of showing and not showing emotions. The words and phrases in Part 1 focused on adjectives and verbs. Today’s post looks at idioms and phrasal verbs in this area.

Starting with idioms that convey something about showing feelings, if you make no secret of your feelings on a particular subject, you do not try to hide them: He makes no secret of his contempt for the former Prime Minister.

If you pour your heart out, you talk to someone emotionally, for a long time, telling them all about how you feel: She poured her heart out about how difficult life was at home.

To let off steam is to express strong feelings that you have been controlling for a while: I’d had the most frustrating time in the meeting and needed to let off steam.

Someone who wears their heart on their sleeve habitually makes their feelings obvious, making no attempt to hide them: You know what Tom is like – he wears his heart on his sleeve.

And what about idioms for not showing emotions? When someone is determined not to appear upset or disappointed, even though they feel it, we say they put on a brave face, or put a brave face on it: She seemed fairly cheerful but I suspect she was putting on a brave face. / I had to put a brave face on it for the kids.

If you get a grip (on yourself), you try hard to control your emotions and behave calmly, especially when you are very angry or sad: Come on, get a grip! / I was furious, but I had a meeting to attend so I had to get a grip on myself.

Moving on to phrasal verbs in this area, there are a few that convey the idea of trying not to show feelings of sadness or anger, for example hold in: She’d been unhappy for a long time, but holding it in for the kids’ sake.

If someone fights back or holds back tears, they try hard not to cry: He fought back tears as he walked behind his father’s coffin. 

Someone who bottles up feelings such as anger and sadness, stops themselves from showing them to other people for a long time: He never dealt with the grief – just bottled it up for years.

Meanwhile, if someone’s face or manner gives them away, it shows how they really feel, even though they are trying to hide it: She pretends she’s not interested in him, but her interest when his name is mentioned gives her away. / His eyes gave nothing away.

When was the last time you ‘let off steam’? Perhaps you’d like to say in the comments below.

13 thoughts on “Pouring your heart out and bottling it up (Showing and not showing emotions, Part 2)

  1. Sanath

    I let off steam in the quiet activity of writing about the inept handling of the economy by Sri Lanka’s so-called popular leaders.

  2. Tatiana Balandina

    Thank you, Kate! Your post is awersome! I think it can be a very good example of comparative linguistics. Almost all the phrases are in the Russian language and they have absolutely the same meaning.

  3. Muhammad Jamal Khan

    Encompassing actual needs of all subjects and the people at large definitely require endeavours by all and sundry especially the intellectual segments of society, striving for creativity, novelty and generation of new ideas while bringing a word under its use

  4. Truc

    Thank you, Kate Woodford! I am very happy if I can revieve your english lessons everyday, how can I do it? I want to improve my english

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Truc! I’m pleased you find these posts useful. Just click on my name or my colleague Liz Walter’s name on the right of the screen and you’ll see a huge number of posts on a range of useful subjects. Best wishes from Cambridge.

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