What is Emotional Labor?

Emotional Labor is a new buzz word that means energy spent for the good of another. Is Emotional Labor the same as Codependency? Traditionally, women are more “trained” to expend energy on behalf of others. That’s why there are more women in service jobs such as nursing, food wait-staff, elementary school teaching or home maintenance. In its extreme, emotional labor is considered a by-product of a patriarchal society in which men are trained to expect to be served and women are trained to serve.

Are Women More Suited to Emotional Labor?

Maybe, or maybe women have been more trained to subordinate their own needs to meet the needs of others. Many women seem to instinctively monitor the emotional temperature of their family members. These women are quick to pick up on the emotional needs of a child who is being bullied, or the husband who had a bad day at work. Many men are also trained from childhood to be empathic to the needs of others. Those men are also capable and willing to sacrifice what they want in the moment for the immediate needs of their business, coworkers and family.

When is Emotional Labor Codependency?

Codependency is an imbalance of responsibility that results in resentment by one or both persons. Emotional labor, caring for the needs of another, becomes codependency when that caring causes resentment. But even that defining line can be blurry. When my aging mom and dad needed a lot of extra care, I remember feeling resentful about the energy I was spending. It was tiring to drive back and forth, help with meals, showers, etc. Yet meeting their needs during the final months of their lives was something I did to satisfy my own self-respect. I chose to not neglect them even though it was costing me a great deal of extra time and energy. I knew that this condition was temporary.

If my mom or dad were still capable of taking care of these tasks on their own, but demanded that I serve them, I would feel resentment. Resentment is the natural result of codependency…an imbalance of responsibility. To stop the resentment, seting and maintaining healthy boundaries is necessary.

Separating Emotional Labor From Codependency

Chronic, unrelieved resentment is the deciding factor. My friend Kay expends a great deal of daily energy providing a peaceful, clean home and nutritious meals for her hard-working husband. She frequently provides delicious lunches for her adult children who work nearby. She, also, is working hard at Emotional Labor. For her, these services are acts motivated by love, not resentment. Her service to her family is in alignment with her priorities.

Doing more than one's share leads to resentment

My friend John is a supervisor in an office. He frequently works late completing jobs that others have left undone. He is tired and resentful. His desire to be responsible is creating an imbalance of responsibility in that office…and the result is resentment. To end resentment, he needs to set up standards and consequences that support his staff in carrying their share of the responsibilities. He is currently practicing Emotional Labor that is unnecessary and unhealthful.

Making Clear Choices

Individually we must choose when it is necessary or fulfilling to spend energy in support of another’s wellbeing. When it’s a clear choice, and rewarding, then Emotional Labor is a healthy endeavor. When resentment becomes a chronic symptom, it is shouting to us, “Make a change. Do less or do it differently. Or, get help!” We all get to choose how our energy is spent and for whom or in what cause. The challenge is to spend our energy in ways that are fulfilling, in alignment with our values. Stop the activities that drain us with the negative energy of resentment. My book, Pungent Boundaries may help rid you of energy drains that create resentment!

You have my love and support,

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