Out of all the essential lessons that feminism has taught me, the most crucial and unspoken one must be the concept of emotional consent.
While emotional consent has lot more to do with mental health than the conventional idea of feminism, it’s important to note that the latter is primarily about respecting other people’s autonomy and sovereignty. To put it simply, respecting one’s right to control their body in all ways. Hence, seeking consent becomes vital.
While there is a lot of conversation around sexual consent, emotional consent, I believe, is still finding its way into our everyday discourse and is rather far from it as of today.
The idea of being ‘at capacity’ to support a loved surely goes against the conventional idea of unconditional love. But, it also emphasises that by seeking consent, you create and respect the trust between two people.
Hence, it’s important to check in before we unload on someone. A simple, “Do you mind if I vent?” can go a long way in actively seeking consent. While I understand that your friends are there for you, it’s good to realise that they can’t be always available. They could be going through a serious crisis in their own life, or well, are just not in the right frame of mind.
We might be in a dire need for support, love and care during a crisis, but venting on someone without checking on them can be stressful for them in the long run.
While this practice might come across as formal or absurd to many, it’s important to note that it is yet to be normalised. This is why there is a need to have a conversation around this and practice whenever possible. And it’s quite simple.
You just need to respect each other’s ability to self-direct or self-govern emotionally or mentally. When someone trusts you with their issue, you hold space for them. But at the same time, it’s important to hold space without giving your opinion unless they ask for it. This way of showing up helps in building conscious, thoughtful, and stronger relationships without intimidating or violating the other person. In other words, it helps in understanding how someone wants to engage with you and vice-versa.
In case, someone wants to vent to you, it’s important to set some healthy boundaries.
A lot of times, we come across people who consistently complain about the same problem and no amount of solution or suggestion seems to help. In such a case, it’s okay to kindly suggest them to introspect their actions via journaling or just by observing the pattern of their problems. Sometimes, pacing the conversation or merely setting time limits can prove to be helpful too. It’s healthy to let your loved one know your own state of mind if you feel that their problem is something you won’t be able to handle.
This kind of engagement builds solid respect for someone’s autonomy, giving them the space to be who they are without any inhibitions. It also helps us build models for how we want to be engaged with when the time comes. There is no better way to do so than being a living example of what you believe in.
Also read: What Depression Does to a Friendship
The process of this kind of engagement is popularly broken into three stages that include awareness, centering yourself, and lastly, to be genuinely interested.
This reiterates that when someone comes to you with their problem, it’s about them. It’s not about you. So while sharing examples of similar instances from your own life might seem empathetic to you, it’s mostly not the best way to validate someone’s feelings. They have trusted you, respect that.
So, the first step involves reminding yourself that the person has come to you in an emotional space and most of what he or she is saying is a reaction to these emotions. This mere awareness can help you understand their emotional responses while understanding your own responses too.
The next step is to focus on the love and respect you have for this person. It’s only then you can come to the final step of genuinely engaging with curiosity and respect.
The idea behind this is also to understand that acknowledging patterns (both yours and theirs) is the first step towards any meaningful or thoughtful change towards a better life or a better space. You get to rewire your brain without being someone’s fixer (unless that’s what you both want).
Moreover, it’s essential to understand the relation that the ‘need to fix’ might have with your past. In case you didn’t receive the love or care that you would seek as a child, it’s natural to ‘fix’ your past by showing up for someone else the way you wanted for yourself. If you feel so, perhaps try to show up with compassion while seeking emotional consent. This, I believe, is a beautiful act of re-parenting.
In other case, you may not be well-equipped to help someone, no matter how good your intentions are. In such a scenario, it’s crucial to direct them towards seeking professional help.
If you feel like sharing something emotionally overburdening with someone, it’s important to do so with defined boundaries and preferably, trigger warnings. Avoid telling people that they are the only one you feel comfortable sharing your problems with. While your intention might be to make them feel special, it’s important to remember that it puts a huge responsibility on that person, which he or she might not be prepared for. Also, just because you are sharing your problems with someone, it’s unfair to expect them to do the same.
Just like sexual consent, emotional consent should not be coerced, assumed, given out of fear or given because someone is in a relationship with you.
Treat others with the compassion that you expect to be treated with.
Exercise and normalise emotional consent. Learn better, do better.
Bhuveneswari is a marketing professional by the day who also runs her own initiative that aims at facilitating a conversation around mental health. She hopes to make people smile a little more with each passing day with her words.
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