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.
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.