Have you ever felt angry then apologize afterwards for your outburst? Have you ever felt the pressure to take care of everyone around you emotionally? You are carrying the burden of emotional labor and that’s why you’re so tired all the time.
Let’s define Emotional Labor.
According to this article, the concept of “Emotional Labor” came from sex workers’ tweets: they talked about the unpaid part of their job that is emotional management (listening, validating, pretending to feel something for the sake of the other).
It was first studied in the field of sociology:
The concept of emotional work and emotional labor – as repeated, taxing and under-acknowledged acts of gendered performance – has been a field of serious inquiry in the social sciences for decades. (Rose Hackman)
And it is now being talked about in feminist discourse:
The concept has been around for over 30 years; it was first introduced by Arlie Hochschild, an academic who formally coined the concept in her 1983 book The Managed Heart. But only recently has it slowly started to re-emerge in online debates and pop culture. (Rose Hackman)
Why is emotional labor a female burden?
Christine Hutchison claims that women are raised to take on more emotional labor than men:
It seems like women, on average, have a PhD in emotional labor and men are trying to pass third grade. We as a society continue to devalue emotional labor economically, and ignore the ways it is gendered.
Gretchen Kelly writes about how tired women are, taking care of other people while downplaying our own emotional needs:
Emotional labor is unseen. It’s the energy women spend managing other’s feelings and emotions, making people comfortable, or living up to society’s expectations — the barrage of expectations we feel from the time we’re told to be nice and polite while boys are told not to cry. It’s a very real thing.
Emotional Labor is real.
On a personal note, I didn’t know emotional labor is real until I read other women talk about it. What I once assumed was an innate desire to take care of everyone around me apparently stems from early socialization. I am a girl, therefore I carry emotional labor for others.
And now that I am more aware of it, I can now work on unloading some of these emotional deadweights slowing me down:
- Prioritize on my own emotional needs before taking charge of others’.
- Decide for whom I would take on emotional labor. My emotional support must be reciprocated, otherwise they are not worth it. Cut off all ties from those who leech off of my empathy without giving me anything in return.
- Create boundaries. I can now decide how much of my time and effort I will spend helping other people manage their emotional needs. I know my limits and I will unapologetically take time for myself.
So next time, when your mental health is suffering, take a step back and see how much emotional labor you are taking on for the people around you. Consider unloading those that don’t make you feel good about yourself and weigh you down. And stay here with me.
Author: Pia Besmonte
Pia Besmonte is a poet, literature teacher, and author based in the Philippines. She wrote “Manic Pixie Depressive Gremlin”, a collection of poems on mental health awareness and empowerment for millennial Filipinas. She loves to paint, sing, watch films, and take care of her family, Team BLG.