Sociology defines emotional labour as “the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfil the emotional requirements of a job”. This means manipulating emotions so that they don’t get in the way of your job. Regardless of your true emotions, work often requires you to put on a positive front. However, what isn’t spoken about is the fact that women are expected to do twice as much emotional labour as men – because the managing of emotions doesn’t end when we clock out of our jobs, it continues into our personal lives. Women are expected to be more nurturing, willing to support others and give advice, without regard for how this affects their own emotional health. Often times, due to these expectations we get caught up in situations where we become entire support systems for others, which requires us to put our own feelings aside. In doing so, we drain ourselves of our own energy. Therefore, there are things we need to consider when partaking in emotional labour.
Firstly, when entering a situation which requires emotional labour, we need to make sure that we are not being manipulated into giving it. Often times, people will say things such as “you’re all I have” or “no one understands me, I feel so alone” to guilt you into doing emotional labour for them. This is wrong and you should be able to recognize it and not fall into the guilt-trap that is being laid out for you. Walk away from the situation if you feel it will not be healthy for you. But of course, if you are consenting to doing emotional labour for someone, then that is completely your choice.
Secondly, we need to recognize if our emotional labour will be valued and acknowledged. It is not healthy to be an emotional dump-spot for someone that doesn’t even value your support, or, more importantly, doesn’t even acknowledge it. You shouldn’t be supporting a friend for credit or recognition, but doing emotional labour for someone who doesn’t value the work you are doing for them will only lead, again, to you feeling drained and unhappy.
Thirdly, we need to start acknowledging if the emotional labour we are doing for others is reciprocated. If you listen to someone’s problems, offer them support, are there for them in times of crisis, but they consistently fail to do the same for you, then it’s time you stop doing emotional labour for them. Often times, as women, we are expected to give and give until we have nothing else to offer, but that type of behaviour is extremely unhealthy. If this makes people see you negatively, then that is their problem, not yours. Emotional labour is something we all give and something we all take. In a relationship, regardless of its nature, but particularly in friendships or romantic relationships, it is of high importance that the emotional labour is balanced and you are able to be there for that person as much as that person will be there for you.
So, ask yourself these three questions: Am I consenting to participate in emotional labour? Is my emotional labour being valued? And is my emotional labour being reciprocated? If you find yourself saying no to any of these, then remove yourself from whatever situation you’re in. Women need to stop doing emotional labour for free and we need to stop expecting them to. This expectation doesn’t fall upon men, so it shouldn’t fall upon us either. Let’s live our lives with our social batteries on 100% and decide who we will share that with. Not having the choice made for us.
Written by Inês Mendonça