Do you ever feel like you do more than your share when it comes to keeping the ship running… whether it’s in your romantic relationship, your home life, at work or in your friendships?
Emotional labor is the time and energy it takes to do something. It’s also the psychological and emotional bandwidth required to, for example, keep a household running, a friendship solid or a relationship thriving.
If you feel like you’re doing all the work in any aspect of your life, first know that you are SO not alone. So many of the women I work with identify themselves as over-functioners and that very often leads to an uneven distribution of emotional labor, which in turn can lead to frustration, overwhelm, burnout and resentment.
That’s why in this week’s episode and VIDEO I’m tackling emotional labor, how to know if you’re taking on the lion’s share and what to do to bring more balance into your life and into all of your relationships so you can stop doing it all!
The term “emotional labor” was originally used by sociologist Dr. Arlie Russell Hochschild to describe the energy and effort it takes to manage one’s personal feelings and emotions in a professional space or workplace. The concept has since expanded to include any “invisible and often undervalued work involved in keeping other people comfortable and happy”¹.
Sound familiar, anyone? An unequal balance of emotional labor can happen to anyone in any relationship regardless of gender, but in my experience, women are so often the ones working behind the scenes doing a million little things that go unrecognized and unacknowledged. I get so many emails and comments from women who feel overburdened and exhausted by the amount of work they are doing and are dealing with feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration.
I’m giving you many different examples of what emotional labor looks like inside the episode, but it can be anything from the energy it takes to keep everyone in your family’s schedule straight to remembering everyone’s birthday in the office, to always being the one that organizes your get-togethers with your friends.
Emotional labor isn’t just about the other person (or people) not doing as much as you do. It’s also about the energy you expend by taking on someone else’s problems or issues. If you always find yourself being the soundboard for everyone from your barista to your hairdresser, I want to encourage you to be mindful of what you’re taking on that someone isn’t necessarily asking you to take on.
You could be unknowingly doubling your own emotional labor by being codependent or a perpetual “fixer”. Particularly for high-functioning codependents, who often feel a compulsion to do it all, it’s essential to take a look within yourself and ask:
Where is it in your life that you are volunteering to or just doing more emotional labor than you should or need to be?
In order to maintain any healthy relationship, equitable distribution of emotional labor is required and the KEY to this is effective communication.
Emotional labor isn’t just about organizing the housework or pulling off the holidays. It’s also about how willing and open you are to share your wants, needs, and preferences and how committed you each are to having the conversation, even when it’s hard, and to working together toward solutions.
Have you ever had the difficult experience where you’re processing your own feelings but then you’re also carrying the burden of the other person NOT expressing themselves? Or maybe you try to have a talk, but the other person kind of blocks you from it..saying “I’m tired” or “I don’t want to talk about it right now” or any variation of this? These are both examples of how ineffective communication can really impact the balance of emotional labor.
Are you willing to have the hard conversations? How equipped do you feel to bring up something that’s bothering you or to ask someone to do something that you usually always do? By communicating our needs and wants effectively and regularly to those in our lives, we invite them to create a shared experience of emotional labor.
If this is resonating with you and you truly feel as if you are doing more than your share, I encourage you to make a list of all of the things you do at home, in your partnership, in your relationships and at work. Then, share your list, if appropriate, in a direct, solution-oriented way. In the episode, I share an article I read recently with some simple strategies a woman used that really made a difference in making her “invisible” emotional labor visible to her husband. I’ve included them in this week’s tip sheet that you can download by clicking right here.
The last thing I want to encourage you to do if you are shouldering more emotional labor than you would like to be is to take a look at the underlying reasons why you might be doing it. What did you see growing up when it came to the division of responsibilities?
The more we understand how we became the way we are, the more we understand there’s a reason why we’re doing the things we’re doing, the easier it is to change our behavior.
I hope that the ideas that I’ve given you today will help you to create more equitable relationships in your life. So if you liked this episode, please share it with all the people in your life and on your social media platforms.
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I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about emotional labor so drop me questions, thoughts, and comments and let’s keep this conversation going! I hope you have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.
Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.