Aspen Christian Counseling

Emotionally Transmitted Disease

October 27, 2017
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Michael Behmer

The work of soul care can be incredibly rewarding. It can be so rewarding that it often comes with an effect called “helper high.” It feels good to try and make people feel good, especially when the results are positive.

People work is not always rewarding. If you have done soul care for any length of time you know that it is slow work that necessitates wading into people’s deepest, darkest emotional and relational swamps. Whether we know it or not (or like it or not)  emotions rub off on us and affect us. Over time, those in helper-type professions can become inundated with “emotional contagion” and become negatively affected.

A Yale University study defines emotional contagion as "a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.”

Emotional infection can be a 1 to 1 situation where the mood of a person you are interacting with caused you to begin to feel that feeling. Humans in their complexity can also experience emotional contagion at even second and third hand interactions. Hearing a story of how someone reacted or feeling pressure by a person or group to feel a certain way that they deem as appropriate can cause you to experience certain emotions.

Like the flu or a cold, being infected by emotional contagion comes with certain signs and symptoms. And like a cold, emotional contagion also comes with certain remedies.

SIGNS YOU MAY BE AFFECTED BY EMOTIONAL CONTAGION:

  • Do you feel more anxious after working with an anxious person, more depressed after working with a depressed person? This subconscious mimicking is a strong sign of emotional contagion.
  • Do you overall have less energy and drive to do the work of soul care than you normally do or you have in the past?
  • Do you avoid intimacy in your personal life because you are too tired or overwhelmed?

REMEDIES FOR THE EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL CONTAGION:

  • Rituals of resetting - immediately after doing intense soul care with an individual or group develop and practice a sort of “mental hand-washing” that can help you realize and contain the work rather than carrying it with you. This could include prayer, self-talk, brain quieting, getting up and walking the halls, closing your eyes and breathing, etc…
  • Know your emotional vocab - the ability to have the correct words to attach to the things you may be feeling seems like a small thing but it can be a massive help. Collections like this one may be helpful in getting more specific with what you are feeling.
  • Launch a counter-attack - feelings of calm and serenity are potent emotions that can counter many feelings associated with negative emotional contagion. The practice of mindful meditation and processing with the purpose of letting go of another’s pain can help greatly in strengthening emotional antibodies.
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