Etiquette and Consent in Emotional Exchanges
When we’re emotional, we want to connect with people. And it’s usually taken for granted that the other person is physically available to talk, then they are emotionally available as well, because as a culture we tend to assume that emotional labor has no cost.
However, human nature is to care. And that means investing in others’ emotions. When my friend tells me he’s sad, I feel a fraction of that sadness with him. I want to help him feel less sad a) because he’s my friend, but also b) because I don’t want to take on more sadness in my life if I can help it.
For normal sadness, this is fine; it’s occasional, it’s usually not on a huge scale, and usually the friend is more than willing to accept responsibility for their feelings and physical well-being. In other words, when people are mentally healthy, they tend to reflexively do a lot of the emotional work. Some examples of the emotional work being done here:
- identifying the problem
- validating emotions
- identifying solutions
- challenging distorted thoughts/perceptions
- empowering / encouraging the person to take the steps they need to take
- ensuring immediate and long-term mental stability
- ensuring immediate and long-term physical stability
- taking turns holding space
For those with chronic emotional issues, there needs to be a different approach; it is unfair to expect someone in crisis to do the same amount of emotional work as someone who’s not. However, it’s ALSO unfair to expect others to take on a bunch of labor just because you’re not up to doing it yourself. What’s more, this difficulty gets used as a justification for isolating and letting an emotional issue fester.
But there is hope!