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October 24, 2019

What's Emotional Labour?

Shift Team

Emotional Work

There’s this interesting thing that seems to have occurred in society. It’s like we’ve all forgotten how significant and taxing emotional labour is. 

What do I mean by emotional labour? Well, emotional labour is the rarely-acknowledged work of interpersonal and emotional support that people do on a day-to-day basis.

Think of it this way: You’re having a conversation with a friend who is having a hard time. You support them by listening closely and giving your full attention. Afterward, do you acknowledge to yourself the work you’ve just done, or do you downplay it because it’s something you’re “supposed to do” as a friend? If you ever find after an experience like this that you’re feeling depleted or you have a sense that you need some time to re-energize, you’re experiencing the effects of emotional labour.

This tendency to dismiss emotional labour is part of a larger pattern of dismissing emotion in general. As a society, we tend to prioritize rationality over emotionality. While rationality is an important capacity and has certainly been beneficial to human survival, the devaluing of emotions has had the effect of disconnection and loneliness in society. Depression and anxiety run rampant because we are worried about how others will see us and judge us, or we’re worried we’re not enough, or that we’re unlovable or undeserving. When we disregard or suppress emotions we limit ourselves—we limit the expression of who we are.

So, how can we move away from this? One way is to recognize the importance of both the emotional work that we do for others and ourselves, and that others do for us. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Be sure to thank others when they support you but remember to thank yourself, too!
  • Recognize how you feel and acknowledge it (Remember: it’s OK to feel!)
  • Open up to the people you know are supportive and trustworthy
  • Recharge by taking care of yourself. Be mindful of your boundaries and mindful of what you need.
  • Lend an ear if you’re feeling up to it. This doesn’t mean you always have to be the one listening!

If you want to dive deep into learning more about emotional labour, we love Gemma Hartley’s book Fed Up.

Emotional labour is tough. We need to recognize the significance of it. By dismissing it not only do we invalidate our own reality, but we’re also likely to invalidate others’. Let’s make an effort to create an environment that allows for true connection.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission should you buy something through one of the links, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

This article was written by Vivian Zhang during their time at Shift Collab.

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