Emotional Labour: the silent confidence killer
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Have you felt it?
The moment a load of washing left festering in the machine tipped you over the edge..
The exasperation of asking your partner to do the same task over and over (and over) again..
The way you ‘do’ Christmas/birthdays/holidays (delete as appropriate) whilst everyone around you kicks backs and enjoys the ‘magic’.
If these circumstances ring an unwelcome bell, the chances are that the emotional labour in your household sits heavily on your shoulders. I mentioned this recently in my Facebook community and I was staggered at how many of the amazing women there felt totally burdened by the weight of the it.
What is emotional labour?
There are many definitions, but in a nutshell, it’s the mental energy and emotion you expend to keep things going. It can refer to relationships, situations, your work – anything that requires brain energy and has the potential to create negative, internal feelings.
Most recently, the term has come to signify the domestic struggle that many of us face when one partner is burdened with the job of mentally keeping a household running.
Whether it’s remembering the shopping, birthdays, kids’ schedules, payments, emptying the dishwasher etc., if the balance of this responsibility tips repeatedly in your direction, it’s highly likely to brew resentment, apathy and eventually contempt.
Why? Because emotional labour is invisible. It saps you of energy but the recognition and rewards tend to be negligible.
When you consider that your brain typically sucks up around 20% of your energy each day, there’s no wonder that high levels of emotional labour can leave you feeling exhausted.
Although I’ve very rarely found myself agreeing with Margaret Thatcher, her quote, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman” sadly resonates.
A 2016 study from the ONS* found that women in the UK typically shoulder over 60% more work when it comes to cooking, housework and childcare than men. We all strive for gender-equality, but sadly, it rarely seems to start in our homes.
Decades of conditioning means women are still often seen as the nurturing sex – the ones who regularly put the needs of others first.
The confidence conundrum.
But what does that have to do with confidence?
Well, emotional labour is hardly conducive to building positive self-perceptions and increased resilience – two of the main building blocks of confidence.
Feeling undervalued, overworked and/or mentally drained is inevitably going to affect the way you talk to yourself and the way you portray yourself to those around you.
It gives license for your inner critic to run amok: “Why do I do this to myself?”. “Why does no-one do these things unless I ask?”. “I’m such a nag!”. “Why doesn’t anyone care enough to notice that I’m struggling?” It can lead to feelings that you’re not good enough; that you should be able to cope.
So, what do you do? You tend to put on a brave face for weeks/month/years until the pressure builds to intolerable levels, or the inner-feelings continually spew outwards in a way that’s unresourceful for you and often baffling to those around you.
What the hell can you do about it?
1) Recognise that you can only control yourself - and nobody can read minds!
Whilst it would be bloody brilliant if your partner ‘just knew’ why you’re frustrated, the chances are they are not great at reading your mind and nor are you theirs. The first step to divvying up the emotional labour is therefore always to talk about it. Calmly and neutrally. (There really is no escaping this bit!)
2) Be prepared to compromise.
Let’s face it, most of us would rather foster a relationship over a dictatorship.
Unless you live an ideological commune, the chances are your partnership priorities aren’t going to be perfectly aligned.
Put simply, they have their view of the world and you have yours. Fact.
A late birthday card may mean nothing to them but send you into a tailspin. Likewise, they may break into a sweat at the sight of an unloaded dishwasher which you barely notice. We’re all different. To cohabit with someone, we simply have to be prepared to compromise.
The burning question? Where can you comfortably compromise? (Or where can you learn to compromise comfortably given enough time?)
3) Regular reviewing
Nobody likes an angry eruption, so checking in regularly to establish what isn't (or is) working is going to save you a whole lot of pain further down the line. Even better, it will keep those channels of communication open (which feeds directly back into my first point.)
4) Divvy it up
To prevent misinterpretation, get clear and write down the emotional labour expectations - and ensure you both agree. It’s an extra incentive to each keep to your side of the bargain, and it creates accountability.
Do you need another dynamite reason?
It visibly lays out, in black-and-white, all of those mental tasks that which was previously invisible. It demonstrates the behind-the-scenes thinking that keeps things running smoothly. And it can be truly eye-opening to your other half.
5) Remember that you have a choice..
Finally, appreciate that most of the time we chose to enter into, and maintain, our relationship. It offers us something that is greater than the sum of the parts because our partners have qualities that we love and admire. (It’s the reason you stay together even when you drive each other round the bend!)
Does that mean we should submit to the emotional labour? Far from it.
What it does mean, is that the intention behind our relationship is usually positive.
Our partner should want us to be happy and be willing to play a part in that happiness - and vice versa. It may not be easy to break old habits and of course, it takes time, but that positive intention is the very foundation of future change.
So, if emotional labour is silently killing your confidence, stop and take stock.
Step in now and limit the damage to craft a strong, positive confident core where your wellbeing is equal to those around you.
P.S. Are you looking to build a positive, confident core? If so, book in for a free chat here and let me help.
Our chat won't be scary or salesy and you'll pick-up tailored tips and techniques to help move you forwards. If you think we might be a good fit to work together, you can just let me know at the end. I look forward connecting with you!
*See the ONS study here