Share the Emotional Load

by | Oct 29, 2019 | Feelings

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When you were younger, were you ever sent to your rooms with instructions to “pull yourself together” and to come back out “when you’re in a better mood” – or some version of that event?

I was.

Did you somehow pick up the message that “negative” feelings should be felt and processed alone, and that only your “positive” feelings were welcome to be felt and shared in community with others?

I did.

I learned that when I was upset or struggling with something, I’d needed to keep things to myself and withdraw instead of reaching out.

It was lonely.

However, through my own personal development journey, I have since cultivated a rich and supportive community of emotionally nourishing friends and professionals who (in varied ways) nurture my growth and hold with me with tenderness and humor when life gets tough.

These people help me by sharing the emotional load of my life.

But, what does it actually mean to “share the emotional load” and why does it help?

Louis Sander illustrates this concept by drawing on images of buildings and ecosystems, he points out that their strength is

“… not because of the strength of individual members [within the system] but because of the way the entire structure contains and manages to distribute and balance stresses. Tension is continually transmitted across all structural members.

One pillar cannot hold up an entire bridge.
One wall cannot hold up a roof.
Our strength and resilience is amplified by the quality of our relationships.

We need one another.

When you are feeling upset, triggered, angry or sad, reach out to others who have travelled their own healing and growth journey, who have embarked on their own emotional strength training.

Whatever you are trying to “lift” emotionally: it helps to get help.

And, what kind of help, helps?

Here are some examples …

  • It helps when someone mirrors our experiences, because we can see ourselves more clearly.

  • It helps when someone reflects back what we are saying, because we can hear ourselves more clearly.

  • It helps when someone listens to our stories, because we can know ourselves more fully.

  • It helps when someone asks us curious and open questions, because we learn to reflect upon ourselves more deeply.

  • It helps when someone guesses at and receives our feelings, because we can connect with them and experience them more fully.

  • It helps when someone guess and names our needs and desires, because we can find our threads of life-force wisdom more confidently.

  • It helps when someone validates who we are, because we can develop more self-acceptance and self-compassion.

(By the way, you know what doesn’t help? Criticism, judgment, unsolicited intrusive advice, patronizing people and jumping in before they’ve invited you to, trying to fix and change people, overriding people, interrupting people, controlling and coercive people … urgency, fear, anxiety, numbing out … need I go on?)

Choose people in your life wisely: they will help you become what you seek.
Don’t try to heal, grow or reconnect by yourself.
Cultivate relationships focused on mutual growth, learning and self-reflection.
Ask for help.
Share the emotional load.

I’d love to hear from you – What helps you bear the emotional load when things go South in your own life?


  1. Catherine Wilson

    One of the things that helps me is the mirror of music. When I choose music consciously it can reflect my present feelings back to me, and also help me find layers that I am repressing. As an extrovert, finding others who, as you said, have travelled their own healing and growth journey is powerfully helpful. But I need to choose my companions on that journey very consciously, as I choose the music. Thank you for your insights, Yvette!

  2. Aleks

    That’s a very welcomed post. Since I started asking for help (when I’m struggling physically at least) I feel less lonely and less depressed.
    I also got an empathy buddy now and we’re reflecting back our stories and guess feelings and needs. It’s so freeing!

    I’m very interested in life examples for how to mirror peoples experience?
    I’ve always wanted to be a great empathic friend and it’s still hard sometimes to not cut in or give advice. But life gives never ending opportunities to try to be better.

  3. Suzanne Long

    Because you have taught the lesson of this list of responses so very well and I am finally learning some skill in practicing it, last night i was able to listen, provide some empathy, and consciously resist giving advice, educating, interpreting etc for a person who was justifiably enraged, in a very hard place. So I am left feeling encouraged for myself and this person that as we stay connected through this crisis we will get to a strategy that will be workable for her, and I don’t have to fix anything. i am so grateful to NVC and to your style and adherence to MR’s teachings, especially LIVING NVC, that have made my life more wonderful; for making me aware that my life and those of my family could be more wonderful.


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