Friendship is a beautiful bond that enriches our lives, providing us with love, support, and shared experiences. Friendships are the bedrock of our social lives, providing us with joy, camaraderie, and support during life's highs and lows. True friends stand by us through thick and thin, sharing in our triumphs and helping us navigate through challenges.
However, there is an underlying aspect of friendship that often goes unnoticed and unaddressed - emotional labour.
While emotional support and care are essential aspects of any healthy friendship, it is equally vital to set boundaries and recognise the impact of trauma dumping on our emotional well-being. Establishing healthy spaces in friendships fosters genuine connections and protects our mental health.
What is Emotional Labour?
Emotional labour, as defined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, refers to the exertion of energy and effort to manage one's emotions and the emotions of others.
While emotional labour is often associated with professional settings, it is equally prevalent in friendships.
Friends often lean on each other during tough times, but it's essential to strike a balance between supporting a friend and being overwhelmed by the emotional demands they may place on us.
Emotional labour in friendships has been a topic of discussion in recent years. Some argue that it is a necessary component of genuine friendship, as forging deep connections often involves providing emotional support.
A well-cited Forge article posits that friendship inherently entails emotional labour, with friends being "therapists and confidants." While true to some extent, this view neglects the importance of boundaries and the potential harm that can arise when emotional labour becomes one-sided and overwhelming.
Trauma dumping, a practice where one friend excessively unloads their emotional burdens on the other without consideration for their well-being, is a common challenge in many friendships.
Trauma dumping can be detrimental to both parties involved. The person receiving the emotional load may begin to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and even resentful.
Asking for consent for emotional labor, even from people with whom you have a long-standing relationship that is welcoming to crisis-averting, should be common practice.— Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello) November 18, 2019
Meanwhile, the person doing the dumping may become reliant on their friend's emotional support without addressing the root causes of their distress.
Friendships should be a mutual exchange of support, empathy, and understanding. When one friend constantly relies on the other for emotional support without offering the same in return, it can create an imbalanced dynamic.
This imbalance can lead to emotional burnout for the friend providing the support, negatively impacting their mental well-being.
The foundation of Healthy Boundaries
We often hesitate to set boundaries in our friendships, fearing that it might make us seem insensitive or uncaring.
However, boundaries are not walls to keep people out; they are bridges that maintain a healthy balance in our relationships.
Establishing emotional boundaries allows us to nurture ourselves while providing genuine support to our friends. Recognising the signs of emotional labour beyond what is considered normal is crucial for maintaining healthy friendships.
While helping friends during tough times is natural, constantly taking on the role of an emotional caretaker can lead to exhaustion and feelings of neglect. Setting boundaries is essential in all relationships, including friendships.
Clear communication, healthy boundaries and pure intentions only.— typing... (@imlauv_45) July 27, 2023
Learning to say no when we feel overwhelmed or need space to recharge is not selfish; it's an act of self-care. Real friends will respect these boundaries and understand that we all have limitations in our capacity to handle emotional stress.
One of the signs of emotional labour beyond the norm is feeling emotionally drained after interacting with a particular friend. If you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed after spending time with them, it may be an indication that the friendship is becoming emotionally taxing.
It is vital to communicate openly about personal needs and limitations, allowing both friends to navigate their emotional boundaries respectfully.
By establishing these boundaries, friends can create safe spaces that foster open communication and mutual support.
Unhealthy Dynamics birthed through Gender Expectations
Moreover, emotional labour in friendships can sometimes be exacerbated by societal expectations. Toxic masculinity, for instance, can hinder men from expressing their emotions with other male friends.
Toxic masculinity can also play a role in male friendships, where emotional labour might be undervalued or avoided.
A Harper's Bazaar article explores the impact of toxic masculinity on male friendships, where men may feel uncomfortable expressing emotions with other men and, instead, turn to female friends for emotional labour.
Maybe, I didn't see Walsh say that. We do have to accept that our society does gender roles and we need to work hard as a society to undo that (especially around emotional labour, women bear the brunt of that extremely unfairly).— bestie (@best_lindon) July 27, 2023
While it's essential to support one another, the burden should not fall disproportionately on one gender. It's crucial not to perpetuate the idea that women are solely responsible for providing emotional labour in friendships.
It's crucial for individuals, regardless of gender, to recognise that friendships should be built on mutual care and respect.
Embracing emotional vulnerability and creating healthy spaces to share emotions with all friends, regardless of gender, can foster stronger bonds and reduce the risk of emotional labour becoming overwhelming.
Because men expect women to do emotional labour for them, they want defined roles so they can make it a transactional situation where they act one way, while a woman acts another. Emotional labour is extremely taxing.— Moistened Tart (@MoistenedTart) July 30, 2023
It is crucial to address these challenges and foster a culture of empathy, emotional intelligence, and mutual support in all friendships. Friends should feel comfortable discussing their emotions, needs, and limitations without fear of judgement.
By normalising open and honest communication, emotional labour can be shared more equitably, creating a space for genuine and long-lasting connections.
Friendships, thus, should not be seen as a constant exchange of emotional labour but as a balanced and nurturing relationship. While offering emotional support is a natural part of friendship, setting boundaries and recognising the impact of trauma dumping is equally essential.
Establishing boundaries, recognising signs of emotional overload, and fostering open communication are essential for nurturing healthy connections.
By cultivating healthy spaces in our friendships and striking a balance between supporting our friends and taking care of our emotional well-being, we can build connections that enrich our lives and protect our mental well-being.
Suggested Reading: Exploring Friendships Through Fandoms: Power Of Shared Passions