Have you ever been incredibly upset but put on a smile anyway? Or maybe you’ve cried angry tears during an argument because you couldn’t contain your frustration? Or pretended to empathise with someone even though you thought their problem was actually really shallow? All these actions are concerned with emotional labour – some of us may even carry out emotional labour without being aware of it.
Emotional labour is defined as “the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job.” This job could be a commercial one, but can also extend to our roles in society, as mothers or caretakers, for example. Some jobs and roles are more demanding in terms of emotional labour; Authors of ‘Working in the Service Society,‘ Cameron Lynne Macdonald and Carmen Sirianni, term those with emotional labour-heavy jobs as the ‘emotional proletariat.’ These individuals are employed in service jobs where they are expected to “exercise emotional labour wherein they are required to display friendliness and deference to customers.” However, emotional labour can extend to our daily lives, in the form of being expected to tolerate prejudice and bigotry without “acting out” lest we are deemed irrational or emotional, for example. (As you can guess, this is a facet of life that mainly minorities must deal with).
Because emotional labour can be an emotionally, mentally, and sometimes even physically tiring enterprise – hence why the word ‘labour’ is utilised – it’s important to find methods of managing and compartmentalising it in order to avoid burnout. These are some approaches that may work for you.
1. Pick Your Battles
This might sound like a defeatist approach, but it can be a strategic way to maintain your sanity while still voicing your opinions. Don’t pick a fight with the random internet troll on a Facebook thread, it’s unlikely that your response will change their opinion. Instead, focus on discussions with people who are willing to learn and listen to what you have to say. Not only will this help you make a tangible change, it will reserve your energy for conversations that are worth your while.
2. Practice Self-Preservation
You’re not required to solve all of the world’s problems today, especially not by yourself. Will it help you gain a sense of peace if you ignore someone’s calls, block them on social media, or cut them out of your circle of friends? Then do it. Remind yourself that refusing to debate with someone is not an act of cowardice, but one of preserving your own mental health.
3. Throw Society’s Expectations to the Wind
So you’re expected to stay quiet when a coworker makes a casteist comment. You’re expected to serve dinner to the men in your family first before grabbing a serving for yourself. You’re expected to stay quiet when a teacher makes a classist judgement about one of your classmates. You might be expected to do all these things – and of course, there may be consequences for not following them – but that doesn’t mean you have to. Surveying the pros and cons before you make any detrimental decisions is vital, but speaking out can be a freeing experience. This is an especially important method of managing emotional labour if you have the privilege to remain unaffected by the consequences of speaking up.
Does your approach to managing emotional labour look a little different? Tell us in the comments below or DM us on Instagram.