The fancy pants term introverts must keep in mind to keep from coming unglued this holiday week

The fancy pants term introverts must keep in mind to keep from coming unglued this holiday week

I just finished listening to an old podcast where Dan Pink interviews Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

I’ve read (and loved) Quiet before, but every time I encounter this book I’m struck by something new. Maybe it’s because this is Christmas week that Cain’s explanation of “emotional labor” stopped me cold.

Cain was responding to a listener’s question, explaining that introverts can be extremely, genuinely social–even for long periods of time–and enjoy being so. But for true introverts, putting on this extroverted front over a period of days or weeks is exhausting.

Cain says this phenomenon has a name: it’s “emotional labor,” and it describes what you experience any time that you’re faking an emotion or an attitude that you don’t truly feel.

After the podcast, I went back and found that Cain discussed emotional labor in her book (p 223): calling it “the effort we make to control and change our own emotions,” and that it’s “associated with stress, burnout, and even physical symptoms like an increase in cardiovascular disease.”


Cain’s description rang true: I frequently experience the exhaustion she’s talking about. And while I hate the idea that I fake emotions I don’t really feel, I do this all the time–especially as an introvert.

There are many, many times every day when I make myself get interested in my child’s art project instead of heading out for a walk by myself, or tell my kids they can dance to the Laurie Berkner Christmas album for the third time in a row when I would prefer quiet.

I think the concept of emotional labor struck me this time because it’s Christmas week: it’s taken me years to realize that as much as I enjoy the holiday festivities–especially the ones that will take place this week–they are emotionally taxing.

Seeing old friends, visiting family, packing and traveling, and the kids’ contagious excitement are all things I love, but they take their toll. I still need need to remind myself to plan accordingly: to take that walk by myself, go to bed early, or curl up for an hour with a movie or a good book.

If you haven’t read Quiet, I highly recommend it (and by some miracle it’s still $2.99 for Kindle).

Do you relate to the experience of emotional labor? How do you manage it during the holidays?

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P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

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  1. sheila says:

    I am an introvert, and I am going to have to think about the concept of “emotional labor”.

    The way I have always understood the concepts of introverts/extroverts is that introverts get their energy from being alone and extroverts get their energy from being with other people. I think the term “faking” is loaded and inaccurate (for me anyway). I’m not faking it (can’t help but think of Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally” LOL) when I am having a good time in a group or really engaged in a conversation with someone else. However, I know I am going to need some downtime on the back end to replenish my energy.

    I am getting better about “pacing myself” on vacations with family, the holidays, etc. I know if my day/calendar is too packed, I start to twitch. So, I get up early and make sure I have my alone time. Yes, all of this is a journey of years . . . one of the benefits of growing older I suppose.

    Happy Holidays to you. Know that I wish you some pockets of quiet amidst the bustle.

  2. Thank you for writing about this issue, and I hope some other introverts comment with their holiday coping strategies! I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the intro-vert/extrovert scale, but my husband is a major introvert and he gets so stressed out, frazzled, and downright unpleasant to be around during the holidays because there is so much family togetherness. The emotional labor of all that time being “on” with family, combined with feeling like people will judge him if he takes time away to recharge (this is more in his own mind than reality, but it’s hard to convince him of that), leaves him a total disaster. Help!

  3. Jen says:

    Yes, I completely understand what you’re talking about. One thing I’ve already told my daughters we’re doing over break is a mandatory quiet time once a day. I’m thinking about an hour where we all spend time alone relaxing and enjoying something by ourselves. My hubby will be out of town for most of the next week, so it will just be me and the girls. The constant 24/7 of activity and contact time that they need drains me, so I’m hoping a daily quiet time will refresh and renew all of us!

  4. Sarah Jane says:

    Ah, you don’t know how bad I needed this today. Goodness. Thank you. Knowing others feel the same one helps, too. Best of luck and merry Christmas!

  5. Alyssa says:

    Yes, my brother just arrived, my adopted son’s half-siblings and grandparents showed up unexpectedly, my teenagers hosted 2 parties in the last 3 days… It’s not even Christmas yet and I just want to put on my jammies, drink tea, hold my baby nephews (quietly in a rocking chair) and watch a movie or read a book!!!

  6. Joy says:

    I’m hosting my husbands family this year. That means altogether we have 12 people, for 5 days, in our little home. When I have done this in the past, I have hibernated all of January. This time, I’m focusing on going to a quiet place for at least an hour everyday. It helps that they are all wonderful, but I can’t afford to hibernate this year.

  7. Faigie says:

    Emotional labor is an interesting word but, its a necessary ingredient I think in growing as a human being. Every time we need to change bad habits its emotional labor but, its gotta be done

  8. Many things have stuck with me from this book, but the most powerful for me to see was the section on babies and how fussy infants tend to be the introverts. This explained to much to me about my own children (and explained the stories I’d heard about myself).

    Love this idea of “emotional “labor”. This will be the first time in years we’ll be alone for Christmas. I love having family visit, but there is a level of needing to feel “on” even with those dear to me. Looking forward to a low-key, relaxing holiday.

    Merry Christmas to you!

  9. Amy says:

    Yes, emotional labor. What a great description of what this time of year requires of me. I’ve read and adored Quiet, and I think most times of the year I’m able to honor my nature. I’m not an extreme introvert, but I do fall on that side of the spectrum. I enjoyed the holidays as a girl and young person despite all the extras. As an adult, however, the holidays and their requirements grew. With marriage came a whole other family to consider and include—a family who loves celebrating a lot. Also, years ago motherhood greeted me with the premature birth of my first daughter four days after Christmas. I became somebody I don’t like during this time of year—stressed, anxious, snippy, wishing for ordinary days and missing all the blessed, ordinary moments in the midst of celebrating. So, what do I do? For the first time this year I wrote everything we have/need to do in green on a large calendar. Then, on that same calendar, I considered what do I sincerely need and want to do. I wrote those few things in red. I’ve put my energy into protecting those red items. I’m not even a fan of red, but this holiday it’s become my favorite color. By putting the red in, I’ve taken some stress out. So far:) Next year I may even use that red to cross off a few of the green that don’t really need to be there.

  10. Grace says:

    Absolutely! Last year for Christmas in particular we were traveling to my sister’s family’s house in another province for the holidays and our other sister and her family were coming from another province to her house as well. That made 11 people staying in one house plus my husband and I for 5 days. We, as politely as we could, opted to stay in a very close by hotel, and it really saved me. I could go there for an hour in the middle of the day if I needed to take a break, I could go back early in the evenings if I would burnt out, or relax a little longer in the mornings before joining everyone else. I think it was hard for my family to understand because to them I was spending time away from them when I hadn’t gotten to see them in a year. If I hadn’t though, I would’ve been a wreck.

  11. Karlyne says:

    I think, too, that we can be emotionally labored with some people and not with others. I don’t have near the problem spending time with (giving of myself to) kids, because I have such a clear vision of how they’re growing so fast and of the fact that this day is necessary to them and to me and will never come again. But, adults now! That’s a different story! I get exhausted worrying about actions and re-actions, situations and proximities. It’s way too easy to let the Eeyores in my own life drain that very life out of me. I know that I can only change how I deal with them and not those people themselves, but boy howdy! sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m not in charge of the world’s moods. And when I’m looking for a rock to crawl under, I remember the article that my best friend sent me years ago about “emotional vampires”. It helps to picture those types with fangs. Laughter is how I cope, and it’s the only thing that works (because I know God is laughing, too)(yes, at me)

  12. Beverly says:

    I don’t know if I call it emotional labor. I enjoy looking forward to doing those extracurricular activities with my family, especially with family being in town. But, and it’s not just during the holidays, when there are all these things planned for a weekend, the closer it gets to that weekend, or special day, I start dreading them and trying to figure out if there’s an excuse I can use to get out of them without sounding like I don’t want to spend time with anyone. I’m just starting to realize that not having one day on the weekend where I can’t just have alone time means that it takes me a few days to recover from the exhaustion. Even though this is the holiday week, I am totally dreading it and just the thought of upcoming events has already exhausted me. I’m just glad I’m not the only one.

    • Terry says:

      Oh, I’m glad I’m not the only one to do this. I can LOVE the things I am planning to do, but I still find myself thinking, “Could I say I was sick and not go?” Even for things I really do want to do!

      My problem comes to a head when I look at my calendar and see every day with something written in. I literally count the days until there is a day with NOTHING on it – and countdown toward it in my head.

      I love my friends. I love their parties. I love my church activities and book club and supper group. But when they all bunch up together, I feel panicked.

  13. Ashley Wells says:

    I am learning more and more about my husband, an introvert, and have been able to show much more grace instead of frustration and accept who he is. Thanks for the reminder as we are preparing to see many people this week!

  14. Anne says:

    That really describes the experience well, Anne. I am also emotionally aware of helping my kids navigate such an exciting day. Multiple celebrations, sugar, and present excitement means some family members don’t give as much grace to kids as they deserve. Don’t get me wrong….it’s important to help kids respect other people’s homes, gently speak to them about behavior, prep them beforehand, get lots of sleep., etc. I just have to watch certain people. Not the most relaxing thing, I write with a wry smile.

  15. I agree with most of this post but I think the “faking it” term is a bit wrong. I don’t fake enjoyment with people. But crowds do tire me out. Interestingly enough, but my husband pointed that out to me just this past weekend when I was thinking of double booking every first Sunday for the foreseeable future. He told me that it wouldn’t work for me. And I realized as soon as he said it, that he was right. I would do the one activity and then have nothing left to give for the second one. Which means I would cancel.
    Anyway, second thought is that my Christian paradigm also fits into this personality thing. I know how I am, which is helpful. But also, I know that Christ promises grace and strength in situations where I am weak. There is a time to isolate and regroup. There is also a time to rest on the promise that “when I am weak, then I am strong. His grace is made perfect in weakness.”

    • Karlyne says:

      I don’t think it’s faking to act with love and kindness even when you’re not feeling it, either! Love really is more of an action than a feeling. I’m not sure what a better word for “faking” is, maybe “acting”? I remember a passage from C.S. Lewis about doing what is right without the feeling and, if you’re lucky, the feeling will follow. And he’s right; it usually does!

  16. mwing says:

    I agree with your commentors who say that emotional labor, or whatever we call it, does not need to include faking anything. I find it draining to be socially “on”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, or that I’m faking. I think of it more as a sort of hard exercise by a not-very-fit person. So, going to a party is like running 4 miles, doable (and for runners, running IS enjoyable). But going to party where I know only the host may be like running 8 miles, which is beyond doable for me.

    I also find that I can manage in cases of group travel or visiting relatives, to be ok with being with other people literally every waking moment for as much as ten days at a time. But I’ll then go home and not talk to anyone outside work for, generally, at least an equivalent time, and be fine with that. In another comparison, I sometimes think of it as accumulating a “solitude deficit” in the same way people can accumulate a sleep deficit. It’s totally possible to operate on too-little sleep for weeks at a time, but eventually one has to sort of catch up.

  17. MJ says:

    For me and my family most of the festivities haven’t even started yet, but I already feel stressed for things to come. It’s not that I don’t enjoy our time together – I genuinely do – but it is SO exhausting that it’s difficult to recover from, especially with two little boys home from school who desire near-constant interaction from me. I really needed to read this today to remind myself that it is ok to feel that way and that it is ok to take a few minutes (or hours) to recharge when I need to.

  18. Jessica says:

    I’m reading the book right now and really enjoying it. I don’t have much time to write anything too thoughtful or coherent – but wanted to say I really appreciate all the talking you do about personality type/MB/enneagram. It’s given me a lot of insight into myself and I’m doing a lot more research which hopefully pays off in improving my relationships with others (and myself!) 🙂

  19. Tim says:

    Anne, the fancy pants term that works for me in a busy holiday season is this one: “For the love of Pete, just leave me alone!”

    Seems to work well enough.

  20. Ana says:

    I’m working my way through Quiet (I keep stopping and needing to reflect because I can relate so completely to so much of what she says) but haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I’m glad I came across your post now. We are on day 10 of a 12 day trip to visit my in-laws and it was great until sometime yesterday when I realized I have absolutely had enough. I am emotionally exhausted with the constant compromise necessary to avoid conflict, the constantly being “on” and happy in front of everyone, which includes managing my words, tone, body language and facial expressions, the needing to soothe the kids (who are bored and antsy being out of their routine for so long…). And the NOISE. The constant movie/cartoons/Laurie Berkner for the kids (a MAJOR compromise on our part because we don’t do screen time at home), and TV on constantly at every relative’s house for “background”….AAAGH.
    I am literally counting down the hours til we can leave (49 until our flight takes off Monday afternoon) and we get home, get the kids to bed, and I can hole up with a book and then hole up in my office Tuesday morning with the door shut, catching up on work!
    What I’ve learned…it may be worth the extra money to travel on peak days and shorten the trip (or book way way earlier…we left it too late, which is why we had to leave home 2 days early and come back one day later than we had planned).

    • Anne says:

      Oh, Ana. I’m hoping and praying you’re in a quiet place right now….

      I’ve had revelations like this in the past, and while it’s beneficial information to have in the long term, it’s so very painful in the present moment.

  21. Michele says:

    Wow. I am just joining in commenting here a bit late. I have just read several of your articles, Anne. They all have resonated well w/ me (Esp last yr’s mentoring series!!!). But right now, esp being after the holidays, I am still so much in quiet time deficit that I still feel a bit depressed. (Though, I love family togetherness and gift-giving and sending gifts and making goodies for others.) I thrive on alone time, and my time with God. My life and my family is effected if I don’t get enough quiet time.

    I haven’t read through the bk, ‘Quiet…’ but almost bought it after reading a zillion reviews on Amazon. I agree with the several others here, that the exhaustion from extending/investing time in others, in being social, is just a part of being an introvert and has nothing to do with being fake. It is just that us introverts internalize everything, and that can be tiring! Perhaps I analyze things to death (can you say OCD?) and often push this concept to my breaking point and my health suffers.

    I am a writer, also, Anne! I love learning from and encouraging other bloggers also! And your last yr mentoring series: Wonderful. (I could comment about some of my interesting stories.) As you will see if you visit my blog, my posting gets sporadic when I get too busy/ social. I have the material, but do not always have the time or inspiration to polish it and get it online! I thank the Lord that my main goal is to encourage others w/ my written poetry through many avenues, not just my blog. Forgive the super long comment. Thanx again for pouring out your heart to be an online mentor to others!

  22. Sara Hildreth says:

    This makes so much sense. Definitely going to read. I’ve worked in customer service for 13+ years and I’m just utterly exhausted all the time. I do “fake” being nice/interested in peoples lives. Some I am genuinely happy to see at my work but 90% of them I’m just doing my job and smiling. My husband thinks I’m nuts when I get home I will just sit on the couch in silence, no tv, no radio, nothing just silence, and it’s the best part of my day.

  23. I love the get-togethers and fun of the holidays- but I think my problem is that I don’t plan recovery time. I look at the calendar and it doesn’t look too crowded- but so far I’ve not found a way to QUALIFY events- somehow make a difference between the ones that recharge, are neutral, or suck the life out of me. As a result, by Christmas Eve, with several more (fun and good) commitments, I’m exhausted and just want to crawl into bed.

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