Why Being Authentic is Not Enough
Understanding emotional contagion can change the way we express ourselves towards others.
I think it’s a good aspiration. It’s good to share, to open up, to be who we are. I never believed in wearing masks or hiding away my true inner states.
However, over the years, I have realized something important.
Too much honesty and transparency can achieve the opposite results of what we aim for.
Being authentic and real is good and important. But blurting out everything that is on our mind and heart, is not.
Not without the awareness of how that influences our environment.
Emotional contagion happens when one person’s emotions or behaviors are mimicked by another person’s. Most of the time this happens subconsciously. It happens on the level of facial and body muscle fibers being activated unbeknownst to us, which trigger these actual feelings in the brain.
The more expressive you are, the more chances that people will catch your emotion. According to “Are You Catching Other People’s Emotions?” in U.S. World and News Report, we can pass unto others both positive emotions, such as enthusiasm and joy, as well as negative ones such as sadness, fear, and anger.
This is why authenticity is not enough if you want to have good relationships. It must be coupled with a sensitivity and responsibility for people around you.
The idea that dumping your feelings on someone, or letting out your frustration with them will “heal” the relationship, is detached from the understanding of how our emotional networks work. If anything, it could send negative vibes all around you, as well as leave you feeling depleted.
Instead, the realization that we are all constantly influencing each other in a field of emotion and thought- can help us see the most productive thing we can do for our relationships. We need to be that first domino piece to spread the positivity. Knowing that it will come right back.
Making Emotional Contagion Work For You
So here are a few steps you can take to make the most of being emotionally interconnected with others:
1. Realize that making people around you happy, is in your benefit!
Researchers Christakis and Fowler have shown that your happiness is related to the happiness of your friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends! They found that happy people are located within clusters of other happy people. So each happy person around you increases your probability of being happy.
When you make even a small effort to smile at people, you are contributing to your own emotional well being.
2. Ask yourself: what types of emotion do I give off and how does it affect my family, friends, and colleagues?
Try to notice your tone of voice, your gestures, and expression. In every interpersonal encounter, we can either uplift others or bring them down. This awareness can help you tune yourself to being more supportive and to begin infusing your social network with positive emotion.
(You will soon realize this amazing phenomenon: Trying to uplift others when you yourself are down, is a great remedy for your bad mood. Strengthening others strengthens you! )
3. Take practical steps.
Make a rule in your relationship or family, that whenever one of you comes home, you put on a smile.
No matter how your day was, who cut you off as you were driving, or how frustrated you were by that flat tire…take all your problems and dispose of them like dirty laundry right at the door.
Enter with a smile and as much positivity as you can muster.
Once you are calmer and harmoniously reunited with your loved ones, you can tell them about what happened to you during your day that may have been upsetting. But hold yourself back and tell them about it in good humor, positive that everything will work out.
It may feel like acting at first, but when you smile and radiate warmth and security to everyone around you, you are both taking care of your environment, and effectively helping yourself in the process.
Of course, we all occasionally need to confide our feelings to someone we trust. We need to be supported and comforted. The point is to become more mindful of how we influence our social network on the whole.
4. Practice overcoming negativity.
Negative emotional states come and go. It could be a behavior or situation that annoyed you or any other trigger that causes anger or other negative feelings to arise. Practicing overcoming these emotions is work that takes time. but with the right perspective, it is possible to greatly improve how well you can control your emotions. Learning to rise above negativity will help you take better care of yourself, and everyone around you.
So by all means, be authentic, be loyal to your goals and values and don’t compromise your boundaries! But also remember to express in ways that uplift others. Generating good vibes towards your environment will sustain it, and enliven you in return.