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

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 should 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’re 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 guesses 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, and unsolicited advice
  • Jumping in before you’ve been invited
  • Trying to fix and change others
  • Overriding, interrupting, patronizing, controlling, and coercing
  • 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 based on mutual growth, learning, and self-reflection.
Ask for help and 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?