Emotions Are Contagious

My husband has said for years that I set the tone for the house.  When I first heard this, I was incredulous, and felt burdened.  It was like the weight of my family’s mental state was squarely on my shoulders.  Over the years, I have come to view this quite differently.  He wasn’t saying what I thought I heard, which was, ‘It’s all my fault.’  He was just noticing a phenomenon that is totally true.  Emotions are contagious.  Before we dig into that concept, I want to address emotions in general.

Emotions are neither good nor bad.  They just are.  I hear a lot of folks identify emotions such as joy, happiness, and peace as good emotions, and anger, frustration, and sadness as bad emotions. Emotions are just information.  Some are more charged than others, but joy can be just as terrifying for some folks as anger is to others.  The more charged an emotion becomes, the more information available to you.  Emotion is telling you something.

In addition to telling you something, emotions are highly contagious.  Have you ever noticed someone walk in to a room and completely suck out all the air?  Have you ever walked away from a conversation where you started out feeling one way, but left feeling another?  Emotions are like the Norovirus – highly, highly contagious.

It is worth our time to begin to notice what is going on here, and take steps to choose our responses.  To begin with, it is important to know your emotional state at any given time, and recognize that it could impact those around you.  Walking in to a meeting charged with anger from a situation earlier in the day can greatly affect the outcome of that meeting.  Alternatively, addressing others from a place of joy may bring about unexpected outcomes that are more positive.  Many of us walk around unaware of our current emotional state, or may know, but don’t really know what to do about it.  This puts us in to a victim mentality, tumbling along at the whim of whomever happens to be around us.  It is disempowering, and can leave us confused and agitated.  It may mean we pick up others’ emotions, and don’t even realize it.

The good news is, each of us has the ability to make a choice.  We are not at the whim of those around us.  We get to choose.  It takes practice, like anything new, but it keeps us making empowered choices.

  1. Identify your current emotional state.  What is going on in me right now?
    • Notice if you are picking up on another’s emotional state.  If you are, is this an emotion you want to catch?  If no, you have a choice.  Recognize what you are feeling is not your own emotion.  Leave that emotion where it belongs – with the other person.
  2. Name your emotion.  For thought starters, check out The Plutchick Wheel
  3. Knowing your current emotional state, keeps you in the driver’s seat.  Ask yourself, “How is my emotional state impacting not only me, but those around me?”  If I am in a total funk, perhaps I am spreading that around to others.  If I am in complete joy, that may be something worth spreading.
  4. Make the choice that aligns with your needs.  Remember, you are in control of you.  You get to choose your next move.
  5. Take action.

The bottom line here is that we own where we are, and we have a choice on how we want to proceed.  I may not want to catch someone else’s emotion, and I don’t have to spread my own.

31 thoughts on “Emotions Are Contagious”

  1. Great information. I enjoyed reading this.

    I tend to ‘soak up’ emotions of others. It is exhausting. It took me YEARS to learn to separate myself from them.

    On the flipside though… there is an ‘aversion to emotion’ I have noticed. And I don’t like that either. I think if we keep up this rate, we will all just implode.

    Any form of emotional reaction, however miniscule, and people tend to speak to that person like they are somehow broken. And they ‘blame’ them for their reaction. Because, yes, if it hurts, yes, I might tear up, and I will say “Hey! That hurt!”. lol. I just don’t flip out and throw things. (anymore. lol.)

    Me talking to someone in a real conversation a REALLY long time ago: “um, yes dear, he IS a little upset. He just found out you cheated on him. I think a little outburst of emotion is allowed (within reason).”

  2. I had a good giggle at “if we keep up this rate, we will all just implode.” I agree. There are days it all seems like a lot. I have a dear friend who picks up emotions really easily, and she says it’s exhausting, too. I think what is so beneficial is being able to say what’s going on, giving it a voice. Saying something hurt can be cathartic in its own right.

  3. Nicely written. I’ve always that giving emotions names and value was a human invention and therefore not in sink with the natural world. You never see a lion who’s just made a kill feel guilt or remorse, nor does it feel anger just before the kill. It just does.

    As humans we seem to have a capacity to over analysis things and the over categorize things.

    In the end its how you use those feelings that counts.
    Thanks for the good post.


  4. Very helpful for those who want to be in their own control. People who are sensitive for other people’s emotion are so much prone to this phenomenon. It really makes a difference if we are aware of things like this, so that we can make mindful choices.

  5. I find that when I am more sensitive to others emotions around me, I tend to become a recluse or to give off a vibe to just stay away. I try my best to make others feel better, but when I fail, I consider it a huge failure of the day and it makes me sad.
    Such an informative read. Thank you very much for sharing.

    • I hear you. Know that you aren’t accountable for how others feel. You may play a role in it, for example, if something hurtful is said, and an apology is owed, but we all own where we are, and what we’re feeling. You’ll likely not succeed in making someone else’s mood your responsibility. It does feel good to help out if a friend is down. Be there for them, listen, and help them know they aren’t alone, but it ends there. Absolve yourself of the pain that comes from being accountable for their mood. You get to be with without taking on their emotions. It’s hard. You sound very caring, and it’s hard to release ourselves.

      • Such amazing insight on the subject. I tend to be very accountable for others. I feel like I have been blamed for so much throughout my life that I immediately blame myself when someone isn’t happy. But that is something that I am working on.

        • Setting boundaries around what you are willing to tolerate and accept can help. Ask yourself: What am I worth? We need people in this world that can empathize, and we also need them to remain strong enough to show us the way, and lead us through the tough times. I love hearing that you are practicing (as we all are). Practicing is an action, and no one comes out without skinned knees. You are brave to get in there and try. You’ve taken the hardest step, and there is a world out there cheering you on.

  6. Very insightful and so true! My husband has told me so many times – “If you are not happy, then I can’t be happy.” I heard that as “it’s all my fault” too, but your article made me reevaluate my thoughts on the matter. I am realizing now it is just like when my husband is in a bad mood and I am exposed to his emotions, my mood begins to gravitate towards his. Thanks for sharing, I definitely hope to be more conscious of this!

    • I find that awareness is one of the hardest steps. Once I see it, I can then do something about it. In many cases in my home, I just “warn” my family if I am in a bad mood (usually they can tell anyway!). But, saying it gives it voice, puts in out there, and often, it dissipates. If not, I may just take a time out for myself. There are times I am not fit for human consumption!

      • Yes, I am learning that I have to take the time to pause and evaluate my feelings otherwise I seem to just unconsciously get sucked in to other people’s. I have been trying to announce when I am in a bad mood lately as well, seems to help a bit, even if they already know, you are right! I can also relate to just needing “me time.” Sometimes I am just not in a good mood and there is nothing anyone can do about it!

  7. Very interesting reading! There appears to be some issues going on at my office at the moment, and the bad mood emotion seems to be sweeping through. During turbulent times, I must remember this article.

  8. Love this article. This sort of emotional intelligence is rare (being able to recognise the things you talked about, as well as actually being able to implement what you’ve learned). I also really like how you conveyed it all so well, very simply and easy to understand. Kudos.

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