Lately, I have seen a general exhaustion in the different communities; either Fat, Queer, Disabled, Mental Health; in regards to the amount of emotional labour required from writers and activists.
As a social worker, I am trained and have the tools to deal with other people emotional labour on a daily basis, and may be more inclined to do so with my fellow tweeps, let’s call it occupational hazard. However, even to me it can become too much and I have to put the limits I have learned to establish over the years.
This guide is for the well-meaning people who get a lot of request or are dumped emotional labour on them and are unsure how to manage it.
1. You are responsible for the means, not the results.
This is something I tell myself every day, whether I am working with a client or doing emotional labour with a friend or fellow tweep. While we genuinely want to help others with their problems, they are not your problems. You can made recommendations, give advices, refer them to organisations, but whether or not this people use them or not is outside your control. You can’t be held accountable for the results. Which leads be to my second point.
2. People are responsible for their own action; of their own life
You can’t carry the burden for them. Sure, they may be going through a rough patch, difficulties in their professional or personal lives, but the actions they take, or don’t take, is not your responsability. Once this person unloaded on you and you gave them an active listening, advices and supported them, the outcome of the situation is not on your shoulder.
3. Establish clear limits and boundaries
It is very important to establish boundaries and limits upfront when a person unload their labour on you. Tell them what you can and can’t do. Reflect that you are not a professional and might not be equiped to help them adequately. It is okay to refuse to do emotional labour with someone. It requires a lot of energy and knowing your own limits is an healthy behavior. Saying no does not make you a bad person. Don’t let people manipulate you into thinking you failed to help them or you were responsable for something you were not unless previously agreed. By putting clear boundaries, failed expectations and misunderstanding can be avoided. It also decreases the stress on the helper.
4. You cannot save them
And this is a very important point. Professionals of the helping relation field have to remind themselves constantly. We wish we could uplift pain, solve all the problems, stop wars. We are only human with our own set of problems. We are limited by our own knowledge and understanding of the world. While you can empathize with them, the best thing you can do is provide them the tools to find a solution to their problems. IF YOU CAN. It’s okay not to know what to do. The healthiest thing to do would be to be honest with that person and encourage them to seek proper care. People are much more resilient than we think. Sometimes, they just need to be reminded of the obvious.
Now you’re going to ask me; but what if the person is suicidal? What if they kill themselves because I “turned them down”?
5. You do not hold that much power over someone’s life
If you truly believe someone is at an immediate risk of danger to themselves or others, please call the emergency services if you have access to these informations or try to reach someone in their close network. While most people say they are lonely, which is a valid emotion, they still might have some sort of network around them. If you feel someone is using suicidal ideations as a way to get your attention, it may be better to refer them to mental health services and, once again reflect your limitations. You are not responsable if someone decide to take their own life. Unless you encourage them too, but this is another story.
6. Do not carry the burden of others on your shoulders
You have enough as it is. You cannot hold the weight of the world on your shoulder. That person might feel relieve for a moment after dumping their emotional labour on you, but at the end of the day, it is their mind chaos and it belongs to them. Try to distance yourself. Don’t absorb the other person feelings. You may as easily fell down the rabbit hole with them.
7. You can’t pour from an empty cup
While it may be rewarding to do emotional labour with others, it can be extremely psychologically depleting if you are not careful and taking proper care of yourself. It can lead to caregiver’s burnout; with similar symptoms as stress and depression. If after talking with the person you feel depressed, sad, stressed, unwell, guilty. If you notice changes in your eating and sleeping patterns after talking with the person; it may be time to end the relationship and seek proper care for yourself. You have to prioritize your mental health first. You can’t help others if your cup is empty.
Sometimes people are unsatisfied with the solution I propose and may respond: “So there is nothing I can do?”
My answer is always “not quite”. There is always something that can be done, but it may not be something you wanted or expected. Sometimes it’s taking baby steps and some things takes time. We rarely can do grandiose thing to help people, but the smallest change is already an improvement and should be reinforced positively.
Now I know some of these advices may sound cold and harsh. I want to remind everyone that while I believe everyone is genuinely doing their best, being untrained and unequiped to deal with intense emotional labour can lead to change in one own’s mental health and physical state. There are trained professional in your communities eager to help. I will say it again, you cannot save other people. They are responsable for their own actions and decisions and while it may be tempting to want to take over their pain, this will only double the suffering. Empowering people by giving them tools and resources to overcome their problems is the best thing you can do for them and for yourself.
I remain available if people want more detailed tools and approaches to deal with difficult situations. Sensitives people or HSP may be more susceptible to get into those delicate circles. However, I think it can be equally damaging for the other person to receive emotional labour from someone who is not equiped to do so. I am not pointing fingers, I believe most people act from the best of their knowledge, but sometimes, it is not enough.
Encourage them to build a network in their community, it could be community based organisation, health services, local volunteer groups, whatever is best for them. The bigger the safety net the better. Think of yourself as a link in the long chain of this person’s life and problems.
Remember, you are not alone. I am always available.
Take care my lovelies