There are days when I fantasize about that magical moment in which, by chance, all my clients meet at the same party, in the same room, and finally let go of themselves and have a real conversation with each other.
The majority of the clients I help with my work often become stuck in this sentence: “I don’t want to burden others with my emotions.” So, many of them feel very lonely, and they save the real conversations about how they are feeling and what their day truly looks like for someone who, after all, does not exist—someone who would listen in a way in which they may not even know.
Hence, in my party fantasy, all my clients meet, try to open up to each other, and discover the beauty of being listened to; of trusting someone else’s ear and being able to confide in each other’s humanity.
Whenever I hear the sentence, “I don’t want to burden others with my emotions,” I feel very sorry for them because of the sense of loneliness that such a position involves. Sharing emotions is what makes us human. When we do not share emotions, and we keep what we truly feel for ourselves inside, we become somehow an enigma for the other person, because they cannot read us or feel our humanity.
Putting ourselves in a position of emotional self-containment closes the door to what it means to be human—to yourself and others. In fact, in doing so, we prevent ourselves from bonding with others, feeling empathy, touching our own enthusiasm, and experiencing a number of feelings that help keep us alive.
Then, the most outspoken and straightforward of my clients objected and stated, "Well, I don’t like when people just overload me with all their emotions and feelings. I would not do to others what I do not like done to me."
This is a very fair point, but I think it lacks logical coherence. In fact, disclosing your emotional burden does not mean literally dumping your burden on the other person.
Opening up does not equate to becoming insensitive or inconsiderate of the person sitting in front of you. If anything, that act makes you more considerate, because by being more in touch with yourself, you can better understand how the other human being in front of you is feeling. Opening up means putting in some work to connect with your emotions and then showing your vulnerability to others.
The Superficial Encounters
Since my clients are not alone in thinking that sharing emotions is a burden for the other, it became apparent how, in our society, we foster superficial encounters and, accordingly, tremendous loneliness. Social interpersonal awkwardness grows, and many tend to feel uneasy in their own skin because this skin is tailored to a chain of mirroring expectations and not to a human body. For example: “I have to look fun,” “I have to seem popular,” “I have to be cool,” and so on.
The people who seem to be at ease with themselves and are easy to talk to are often those who allow themselves to be human and share their humanity with others.
Sharing Can Be Just a Moment
Emotional sharing does not need to last forever, but can just be that moment of true connection with the other that brings meaning and depth to the encounter happening in that particular moment and place. The person who shares does not want to monopolize the evening of the guests at the party and drain all their attention to listen to her sorrows—that would be unpleasant and disrespectful, even if they do not talk about emotions but just share how happy and wealthy they might be.
How to Share Emotions
The problem, as I understand it, is that we almost forgot—or never learned—what emotional sharing is. Sharing emotions means to deeply touch yourself, to accept whatever you find there, and be able to relate to it. The very first sharing is, in fact, between you and yourself, between the person that lives every day without questions and the person who is behind that life, the alterity that comes out of all the unquestioned experiences encountered in life.
Often, this person is sitting there waiting for someone to pay attention to them. If trauma has happened to this person in their life (as well as something extremely good), the feelings will linger there forever, because they do not obey the linearity of time. They remain there, whether we want them to or not. Being able to touch them and come in contact with their meanings would help to release important tensions in ourselves. Sharing emotions with ourselves—and others—would help us to feel lighter and transform them into something meaningful.
Aristotle would say that emotional sharing allows a catharsis (from Greek, purification) through which we can feel lighter and, so to speak, cleaner.
The Horror of Emotional Sharing
A scientific study conducted by Rime and colleagues (1991), seems to validate my clients’ concerns. In this study, they concluded that 15 minutes of exposure to emotional sharing is an emotional event itself that can generate anxiety—or happiness—according to the content. And it might lead to secondary and tertiary sharing so that one small, shared event becomes a web of connections and feelings.
Some of my clients would look at this with horror as if bodily fluids or disgusting odors were shared. What I personally think—and this maybe comes from my Italian origins—is that life without sharing emotions and feelings is inhuman and flat. Horrendous, in Latin, is what makes your hair stand on end. So be it, I would say.
Whatever gets you out of yourself and your little world is life. Whether your friend is sharing good or bad feelings with you, whether your hair would stand straight up or remain politely on your body, that sharing could help you get your mind off yourself for a bit. Even if sharing is an emotional event in itself, better that happens rather than living a flat, lonely life.
Let Life Flow In
When I started convincing my clients that emotional sharing is not so horrifying, the geography of their friendships often changed. They realized that some of their friends were just not available for them or were not open to a meaningful encounter. Although at first painful, this realization, though, left space for more authentic friendships to come—in which they found fun and felt understood at the same time.
I think that giving up on emotional sharing means to give up on empathy, bonding, entertainment, feeling validated, legitimized, protected, cared for, understood, and so much else. Do we really want to give up on all of this?
Rimé, B., Mesquita, B., Boca, S., & Philippot, P. (1991). Beyond the emotional event: Six studies on the social sharing of emotion, Cognition & Emotion, 5:5–6, 435–465.
Aristotle, Poetics, link.