Emotional Labor

“Why yes, I am feeling uncomfortable.”-Cat

Thank you Charles Darwin for your angry cat illustration from The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Ages ago (20 months if we’re going to be exact), my Insert Family Connection Here found a blog that talked about Emotional Labor: What it is and how to do it.  I recommend you read the post here, it’s very interesting to go through.  Through my IFCH, I got to do some self reflective practices on who I am, what is important to me, and my role in relationships of all kinds.  I was not particularly happy with what I saw.  There are a few things that I see other people doing, poorly… and it made me acknowledge several things that I consistently push off on other people, and how very unfair that is.

Since I obviously have no control over what other people do, and I’m very uncomfortable telling them what they should do, I’ll be focussing on my own behavior.  In the 20 or so months since I was introduced to Emotional labor, I’ve reread the blog and a couple of articles, and tried to change some of my own, ahem, insufficient behavioral patterns.  Here’s the result.

The biggest emotional labors I push off on others are:

  • Taking a turn at coordinating other peoples’ schedules for a swimming trip, board game night, or coffee brunch (etc.).
  • Sending cards and thank you notes to people I care about, or who have done something kind for me.
  • Arriving late, consistently.
  • Expecting others to understand when I want space even though I haven’t said so, or feeling upset because I need to tell them in the first place

These are a struggle for me, and although I do plenty more, they are the repeat offenders.

What have I done differently in the past year?

Let’s be better friends!

I joined a social committee, made a conscious effort message friends first at least once a week with an invitation, and made the first step with several acquaintances.  I’ve had mixed results.

The committee was mostly a bust.  It’s an interesting strategy to try and go from zero to hero, and while I stuck it out until the end, I sure did fail.  Since I really don’t like personal failure, I think my next step will be to grab a couple of friends and try again.  I couldn’t do it last time because I needed support doing something new, and really floundered.  I’ll also make and follow through on smaller goals, thing I need to do each week so it’s less stressful.  I got some good experience though, right guys?  Guys?

Messaging once a week has gone pretty well.  It makes me much more aware of exactly how seldom I get us together unless there’s something specific I want to do.  Whether it’s planning a birthday party, making Saturday morning coffee shop time, or inviting people over for dinner, I’m trying to make sure I get everyone once a week.  It’s certainly not perfect, as I’m used to having a lot more time to myself, and it’s not always quality time we spend together… but it’s definitely a positive change.

Making the first step to reach out to a couple of new friends has been great.  I found people who I don’t hear from much but it turns out we have a lot in common.  Just like I don’t always know how to make the first move, I can’t expect it from other people either.  I will say I’ve gotten into a couple of sticky situations, like trying to extricate myself from someone who it turns out I wanted to see much less of, but this has absolutely made a positive change in how I approach others, and gotten me a couple of great new friends.

What do I need to work on?

  1. Thank you notes.  I’m terrible, and there’s no excuse.  Sending out cards is so easy, and I really do want to express how much it means to me when someone takes the time and expense to send me a card or package to Iceland.  No more cards sent out 3 months later, and I’ll be writing down every gift I get so I can send a card out promptly.
  2. Arriving late.  Sometimes I see a cat and I just have to pet it, but I need to be leave earlier if I want the luxury of stopping to say hi.  It’s not fair to the people sitting there waiting for me, and it doesn’t reflect how I value them.  There are a few other things in play, including the fact that I don’t always feel like I can be honest about why I was late, or why I couldn’t be there, but I won’t be coming straight about it now so I’ll put that on the list for personal development.

What’s still a problem?

Warning: Fixer Upper

So very many things, but the top behavior I haven’t been able to address is space issues.  I’m introverted enough that I want a fair amount of quiet time, alone. As I get stressed I need more of it.  It still makes me a little upset when people don’t understand; if I don’t message back or don’t want to meet up for a day, or three, that it’s because I’m busy or I just need the space to be alone.  And yes, talking on the phone, video chatting, and texting all  cut into that alone time.

It’s hard to reconcile something that’s so innately part of me with the fact that people don’t know what I’m thinking, and it’s entirely unfair to expect them to follow radio silence when I need ‘alone time’.  I can tell people when I’m upset, although I usually still need a little space first, but wanting quiet time is harder.

Part of it is fear.  It feels like a rejection when you tell people “It really isn’t you, but I need some space, and I don’t want to talk right now (or tomorrow)”.  No one likes to hear that and I don’t like saying it either.  Another part is the fact that it’s very natural to ask what’s wrong, or why space is needed, and that’s never a question I want to answer.  If I need alone time it’s already too late and I don’t want to talk about it.  I just want the space.  I don’t have it in me to reassure people that it isn’t them, it’s me.  I might be ready to share after some quality solitary time, but if the issue lies somewhere in my long list labeled Personal Development, and I’m not going to talk about it at all.

This is a repetitive problem because I don’t know how to tell people the depth of my appreciation when they let me be myself.

It means a lot to me when people don’t push, and listen to the things I’m not saying.

Glorious Space!

I suppose that leads me to my next goal.  When I get my glorious space I want to show others how glad I am to be their friend, how very pleased I am to see them, and everything I missed about them when I come out the other side.

I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think we all have things (many things) we can identify about our own emotional labor.  Do you listen to the concerns of your partner, and acknowledge the way they feel?  Do you initiate the good times, or just go along for the ride?  Are you a friend who feels like it’s always your job to reassure someone, and you never get to be the center of concern?  What are you willing to do to change it?




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