Looking to Share Emotional Burdens with a Friend? Before Sharing, Let’s Seek Consent

Consent matters.

That two-word phrase is used often these days when sexual consent is discussed. Those two words are right: consent matters, when it comes to sexual consent.

However, when you are hoping to possibly vent about a bad day at work or share something emotional or burdensome with something else, it’s also important to seek consent for doing that with the person you’re hoping to discuss with/vent to. In other words, another form of consent, that I call emotional consent, is important.

Emotional consent is when you seek someone else’s permission to tell them something(s) involving deep emotions or burdens. Through exercising this form of consent, you can share emotional, burdensome things only when the listener is physically, mentally, and emotionally able to handle it.

At this point, some of you might be thinking this: “Okay, emotional consent sounds great, but how can I exercise this?” I have three answers to that question:

  1. Ask yourself whether your friend will need to invest something significant in order to help you (whether it be time, emotional labor, or something else). If the answer is “yes,” I recommend seeking consent before sharing your burdens. If the answer is no, then chat away with your friend!
  2. Ask your friends questions along the lines of: “Can I share something heavy?” or “Can I vent about something?” if it turns out your friend does need to invest in you in some way. By asking these types of questions before moving a conversation further along, you give your friend the opportunity to say “yes” or “no,” depending on how your friend is doing. If your friend is happy to let you share, then you can share. HOWEVER, if there is an absence of an enthusiastic “yes,” ranging from “ummm…okay,” to “I guess,” to no response at all, to the straight-up “no,” then please do not think that you have emotional consent to share your burdens with your friend.
  3. If you’re going to talk about a specific type of issue or event that may bring emotions with someone (examples include sexual assault, divorce, and mental illness), make sure you give the content warning that your sharing will involve something with that specific topic. It’s important to do that because, without a content warning, you might jump right into an issue or story that reminds your friend of a traumatic event or set of events in their lives (and friends, of course, don’t want to put other friends in that type of situation).
  4. Make it clear that it’s okay if your friend does not want you to share the burden. A friend might worry that it would negatively affect the friendship if the friend is unable or unwilling to give emotional consent. However, if you reassure your friend that there is no such thing as a bad answer, even if your friend says “no,” then your friend doesn’t feel the need to listen to burdens without being emotionally ready for them.

Hopefully, what I said above gives a pretty good overview of what emotional consent is and why it’s important. However, I think it’s also extremely important to discuss what happens without that emotional consent. In my experiences of being on both the giving and receiving end of a lack of emotional consent, one or more of the following things often happens without it, none of them good:

  1. You dump burdens on the friend, and the friend doesn’t respond back because the friend just can’t emotionally deal with or consider the message, let alone respond to it.
  2. Your friend does respond, but does not give a wholehearted response because your friend just can’t handle your burdens fully at that time.
  3. Your friend just says that “I can’t handle this right now.” Or worse—your friend tells you that what you said has brought back bad memories.
  4. Your friend ends up being hurt emotionally by what you shared (whether that’s said or not), even if you didn’t intend it.

Instead of experiencing one or more of these potential events, my advice is to just seek emotional consent for heavy topics. Seek emotional consent from someone if you need to talk about your bad day at work, or something much deeper than that. If your friend consents to your talking about something(s) burdening you, then great! If not, then you will want to find someone else to talk to, as finding someone else to talk to would be in the best interests of you and your friend.

Indeed, consent matters.

Note: As emotional consent is something I consider “blindly just,” this is a “blindly just” post.

23 Replies to “Looking to Share Emotional Burdens with a Friend? Before Sharing, Let’s Seek Consent”

  1. This is amazing insight that I too often dont think about. Although I do not open up to many that are close to me beside my mom and bff, this is good to keep in mind as future reference should I choose to reach out to others. Their feelings and emotional burdens are just as important as mine!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so correct that others’ feelings and burdens are as important as yours. We often lose sight of that when panicking over our own burdens–we are so worried about addressing our own burdens that we forget that others have feelings that may keep them from fully listening to our burdens.

      I’m glad that you found my post insightful!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice! Where was the post? I would love to read it and add to my own perspective on emotional consent.

      But yes, I agree. Sometimes we are focused on our own problems, our own burdens, without thinking about others. In reality, yes our problems are important, but we should think of others too.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  2. This is wonderful — and the over-sharing happened to me last night (my husband says I have “clergy” tattooed on my forehead) Last minute leaving the person’s house — pulled into the kitchen … need to tell you and would you visit / write a note (here’s a stamped addressed envelope) / reach out … and then a second story even more personal — and I end up angry because I am having enough trouble getting through this month with a burden of grief and then so, so, so guilty for feeling that way. REally wise advice laid out well, because, although I was on the receiving end last night I have been on the giving end … guilty as charged.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eek. I can definitely see why you got angry.

      I think that your story is a microcosm of a MUCH larger problem our society has with sharing burdens. We share burdens we have without much consideration for others. I know, because I have been on the giving and receiving end. And ditto with many friends I know.

      The good news is that you are aware of your need to get consent with certain burdens, so that’s a great start! A lot of people aren’t aware of that. My hope is that this will change, though. While I don’t care one way or the other about fame, I definitely hope that the idea of emotional consent does “go viral” one day.

      Like

  3. This is one of the best posts I’ve read on WP this year. I gathered based on your previous post that you must be too emotionally exhausted to be burdening yourself with others problems. I think I need to remember some parts of this too, with certain people we just take things for granted and we just need to remember to ask their consent because they’re not our therapist at the end of the day, they too are human with emotional batteries. There’s been a recent influx on twitter allegedly of men who suffer from mental illness guilt tripping female mental health advocates into giving them attention and affection… So, it’s great to see that people are speaking up about it!

    And keep on fighting the good fight. You’re doing amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am actually doing alright right now, but at various points this year I didn’t have much room to take on certain burdens. That’s what losing two relatives within months of each other can do to you, I guess.

      That being said, I also realize that I have emotionally exhausted others before. Therefore, I try not to be too judgmental when writing a post like this.

      The key, as you said, is just seeking consent. Since I started seeking consent for big things/burdens, my friend is often happy to listen to me. But on one or two occasions, they weren’t in that sort of position. And that’s okay.

      I’m glad my post struck a chord! Hopefully the idea of emotional consent will spread, because it is so underrated and seldomly used.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Emotional dumping is a phrase I’ve used when someone tells you all their problems, they feel better and you feel overwhelmed. Sadly I feel I’m guilty of it too, and it’s led to me avoiding talking to anyone about stuff, I get where you’re coming from in terms of consent, but it feels very artificial and I’m not sure how comfortable I would be with it. I prefer it when people talk about their issues in a calmer way which makes them easier to hear

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry for taking awhile to respond!

      Yes, I’ve heard that phrase as well: emotional dumping. It’s definitely a thing. And I’ve been guilty of it as well in the past.

      In terms of it feeling artificial, I actually feel that consent makes everything less artificial. I guess my feeling is that when I just dump and dump without consent, I am expressing all of my emotions without recognizing how my emotions may affect someone else. On the other hand, if I seek consent, I recognize that the person I look to dump to also has emotions and is also humann (therefore making things less artificial, in a way). I don’t know if I’m making sense, though.

      Happy Holidays, and thanks for commenting!

      Like

    1. Thanks!

      You actually did a really good job (better than you give yourself credit for)! The important thing is to make sure that you look after not just your own wellbeing but the wellbeing of your friends (which, clearly, you’ve learned to do, so kudos to you). And, of course, try to build a good support system so that you don’t have all the burdens on one friend (a mistake I ABSOLUTELY made in the past).

      Liked by 1 person

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