PMH 19 | Emotional Consent

 

Melissa and Siria discuss the concept of emotional consent and how asking for permission before sharing one’s problems with another person is an act of kindness. They also dip their toes into the sea of their daddy issues.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Emotional Consent

What we’re going to be talking about in this episode is emotional consent. Some of you out there be like, “What the hell is that?” Let me tell you. Think about when you’re having a shitty day at work, and you’re like, “This is a crappy day. I’m going to call Siria and see what she’s up to.” I call Siria.

Hello? Hi.

Siria, here’s what happened.

Why are you calling me? Why aren’t you texting me?

Think about how often we just pick up the phone and start to share our crappy day or whatever’s bothering us without even stopping to consider the other person first and asking for emotional consent. Are you emotionally capable of being able to listen to what I have to share? When I came across a post that asked, “How often do you stop to ask your friend for emotional consent?” I’m like, “Never.”

Emotional, what?

Exactly. What a thought-provoking idea.

That’s why we got excited about it. We can just talk about this. Let’s just talk about it and see what comes out. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to talk about it. Emotional consent, it’s one of those things where a lot of the time, one of my go-to things is, “Do you have a couple of minutes?” That’s going to be for either me addressing something for work or it’s going to be something else. Sometimes, I really need to talk to somebody about this. You know who you talk to. Instinctively, at least I do. I speak for myself.

I instinctively know who is going to be more receptive to whatever that struggle is. I’m going to seek them out and see if they’re available. I don’t think I’ve ever thought to ask, other than, “Is it okay time-wise? Do you have a few minutes? Are you in the middle of a deposition? Are you in the middle of putting your kids to bed?” Outside of asking those boundary questions, I don’t think I’ve ever asked, “Do you have the emotional capacity to listen to my shit right now?”

I think you had mentioned, too, when we first brought up this emotional consent concept, it’s an act of kindness. Do you want to explain it a little bit more and say why you believe it’s an act of kindness?

When you first brought it up, I thought that is an act of kindness of just saying, “I know I’m having a really bad time right now, and I’m seeking you out because I need help.” Asking for help is super important and so powerful, having that community that you can go to, knowing who’s going to be more receptive to this idea, and who am I not going to feel judged by. It’s taking that little moment of kindness to acknowledge, “I need you right now. Are you actually available?” If you’re not, I don’t want you to have resentment towards me of just like, “You only call me when you need a vent.” What is that availability beyond? Is it an imposition on your time and calendar?

You talk about knowing who to call, and I know I can call you. Even the fact of sharing my feelings is actually relatively new to me, by reaching out to someone, I’m already taking this leap of faith. What if they say no? What do I do if someone says, “No, I don’t have the time right now?” How do you emotionally process that?

Say they’re not available. You get that, “I can’t. I’m not available right now.” I don’t think anybody’s going to leave you out hanging to dry. What they might do and what I might do is, “I can’t right now, but can I call you in an hour? Can we talk about this in a little bit?” and just push through it. I had something similar happen where I was in an emotional spiral. I was not available to talk to anybody about it because I needed to be in this deposition. I needed to be defending my client.

As soon as the deposition got past the boring part, they called it the admonition. It’s the beginning of the rules. Once you’ve heard them 1,000, once I got past that part and was actually in it, I was in it present with my client. Before then, I was in my own head because I didn’t need to listen to those rules. Being in my own head, having the magic of Apple products, which I still don’t entirely like, but they do have iMessenger, so I could message a friend, and I was like, “This is going on right now.”

She was like, “Focus on what you got to focus on right now. It’s going to be fine.” I’m having this emotional stuff going through my head, just spiraling, thinking it was the end of the world. It was not the end of the world having this experience. Later on that day, I was able to talk to her and get her perspective, which was fantastic for me. The better thing that happened was I was able to get out of this spiral by myself due to the tools that I’ve learned in therapy. Once I started saying things out loud and talking to her about it, it was like, “My only option is not to quit. I have other options.”

Once I realized I was catastrophizing and being able to bring myself out of that, by the time my partner, Matt, got home, I didn’t dump on him completely, I had done some work and had also had a chance to talk to a friend about it. When I told him everything that had happened, I was in a much calmer place and not just, “This is going to be the same thing.”

The next day, one of my friends at the office was like, “Do you want to go out to lunch?” I was like, “Yes.” We talked some more. He was offering that space to me because he knew that something had happened. He didn’t know exactly what it was. There are people who are going to do that, too. They’re going to offer you that space. You can tell when someone’s off. At least I can. What about you?

You can tell from their text messages if they’re short. I can tell, even with my spouse, if something’s off. He’s not good at vocalizing sometimes. If I’m in the space, too, if you care about someone, you might extend yourself a little bit more than you probably would normally. To try to pull that out of him, you could tell that their actions were a little bit off. Once that pressure has been relieved, they go back to themselves, and everybody’s happier because of it. Coming back to the question I asked you, “What if they can’t support you at the time? What do you do?”

PMH 19 | Emotional Consent
Emotional Consent: If you care about someone, extend yourself a little bit more than you probably would.

 

I was thinking, “How would I not take that personally?” I’m terrible at catastrophizing and blaming myself, which is something I’m actively working on. When someone doesn’t have that time, I feel I’m not worthy. It’s hard not to take it personally. I would do that for them. I would stop what I was doing. It’s understanding that it’s not always about you. You could be in the middle of a deposition. You could be in the middle of doing something where that person just is trying to look at it from a different place.

It’s not that they’re not trying to make time for you. They want to create a space where they can give you their undivided attention to make sure that you’re in a better place. Moving it or doing that flip can help reframe that negative thought that I’m not worthy. I am super worthy, and they’re just trying to work their calendar so they can give me the undivided attention that this situation needs.

I know that you’re imagining what it would be like, but when you’ve had those moments of actually needing help and needing someone, has anybody said no?

No, but I’ve also never asked for emotional consent. A lot of it has to do with the fact that sharing my emotions and my feelings is a relatively new thing for me.

How new?

I started going to counseling actively, maybe about a few years ago. Even then, that took probably a year before I even opened up to the counselor because I was always afraid of how my emotions and feelings would be perceived, and stuff like that, a lot of trauma behind that. I found that people actually thanked me. Here I was spouting all this shit to them. I remember you were one of those people. I remember having a terrible time, and you came up to me. We were at a mutual friend’s baby shower. Something was just off. I put on what I thought was a good fake face.

You came up to me afterward, and you’re like, “You are coming over to my house. I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re going to tell me.” Afterward, after spending hours crying to you, you were like, “Thank you so much for sharing.” You were thanking me because I think you saw how difficult and hard that must have been for me to share. No one’s ever said no to me, not because I wasn’t worthy or wasn’t deserving of the time, but it’s because I don’t ask for that space very often.

That’s what it comes down to. Even though we’re talking about this emotional consent and how it can be an act of kindness of just asking that other person, we might just be overthinking it.

Shocker.

I know. We’re overthinking something. It might just be something where you have to just be willing to put yourself out there and ask for that help. I’m not even just talking about the emotional stuff. I know what friend I’m going to text when I want to buy something. I know when I’m going to text Matt instead when it’s like, “You should probably rein it in.” When he says, “Yes, totally go for it,” I’m going to make that purchase.

You got the green light. Go, Bobo. Go push gas.

That’s a different thing. You know who you can talk to about things in your circle. You know who’s going to be more receptive. It’s surprising who will show up for you as well.

Even if you know the people within your circles who will listen to you, it is still surprising to see who will show up for you. Share on X

When we’re talking about emotional consent, there are times, and I know that I’m probably not the only one, you’ll see a person’s name pop up on your screen on your phone, and you do a quick self-assessment, and you’re like, “I can’t deal with this.” There are certain people that all they do is come to you just to grieve, air their grievances, gripe, complain, and you’re like, “This person always typically brings me down.” Do you ever have those? I know I can’t be the only one where you’re just like, “Not today.”

I have those. For me, it’s anxiety, and it is usually my parents.

I didn’t want to name names, but that was what was coming up for me.

I know my parents aren’t reading this, so it’s not an issue on my end. For me, it’s particularly my dad when he calls me up, and it’s because he wants something or there’s some trouble. It’s not a, “I just want to know how you’re doing.” We’re doing this episode about a week before my birthday. I know I’m going to get phone calls, and it will be good. I’ll get a phone call from him, and it will be fine. Even just engaging in that relationship, I need to be mentally prepared for it. I will, on certain days of the year, which for our readers, just so you know, we will have a line of greeting cards coming to you in 2021 because holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day give me a shit ton of anxiety.

Different subjects for a different day. You and I could go on about that.

We could go on forever on that one, but it’s one of those things where on those days, the good daughter in me wants to still engage, and so I will, but I will wait until the very last moment of the day that I think is reasonable.

You wait until they’re right about to go to sleep, and you’re like, “Dang.” You have to admit. This is terrible. I do this with some people that I may be related to. You get super excited when you hit their voicemail, and you’re like, “I tried calling you.” There’s like a sense of relief, and I know that sounds terrible.

This is awful, but I will time it so that way it’s either on my commute or as I’m cooking dinner.

It’s strategic.

It’s like, “I just got home. I’m cooking dinner.” Maybe I had time that day. Some days, I don’t have the time. Maybe that day, for whatever reason, I did. I’ll sit there, and it will be there, and it ends up being fine. It ends up being like a 5 to 7 seven-minute conversation, but it’s because I’ve controlled it in such a way that I’m not making myself available for all of the shit that could come my way.

It’s not even about the time because you talked about, “I had time.” Would you say it’s not even necessarily about the time? We can always make time for things that are important to us. It’s more of that emotional security, that safety that we want to feel. When you see that your dad is calling, for example, is there anything that you do to help yourself emotionally prepare for what might be on the other end?

PMH 19 | Emotional Consent
Emotional Consent: Always make time for things that are most important to you.

 

I literally breathe. If it’s a bad time, I don’t answer. I might just say I’m busy or whatever it is, if that’s true. If I’m available, I try to answer the phone because the other part of my anxiety comes in when he repeatedly calls. I know if I don’t answer the phone, I’m going to get a, “You never answer the phone when I call.” I know that’s not true, but it also makes me want to answer the first time. I feel like it’s one of those things where I’m like, “I’m not going to engage in this one.” I can do that mostly with my dad and mom. If I need to call her back later, I can. It’s just not the same relationship.

I’m not going to serve anybody if I’m answering the phone in an emotionally compromised state. My father and I were estranged for several years, from the age of 15 until 18, when we didn’t talk. It was still even then. After that, it was very surfacy. There was so much hurt and pain from different types of abuses growing up that just seeing his name pop up on my screen would trigger me into this PTSD where I would just start bawling.

I remember if I did take his call, I’d have to do an assessment of my emotional well-being, only if I felt safe enough to take the call, emotionally safe, not physically. It was never like that. I would take the call in the next room. I didn’t want Vince to hear the conversation I was going to have with my dad. I needed it to be private in case something traumatic came up for me. Even afterward, I’d get off the call with my dad, and then I’d cry again.

I’ve learned since then that if I’m not emotionally ready to take that call, I don’t take the call just because I feel obligated to because it was my dad. I have to put me first. If that means I need to take a day or two to return his call, that’s okay. It’s gotten a lot better now through years of therapy and working through my daddy issues and stuff like that. It wasn’t always that way.

I commend you for going and putting in the work because it’s hard work. Therapy’s not easy. It’s hard to sit there and reveal these wounds to these other people. As you were talking, I was thinking about one of the last times I had an experience with my dad where I was not emotionally prepared for it. My mom was traveling to Guatemala for Christmas. She’d wanted to go. She hadn’t been down there for Christmas for a long time and was excited. She left my little brother, myself, and my dad here by ourselves.

My little brother and my dad did not get along, and then there was me. This was before I started going to counseling. I remember Matt and I were shopping at Macy’s. It was Christmas shopping. We were trying to find different things. We were doing something together with our group of friends. There was something. Either way, my dad calls, I’m in Macy’s, and he wants to move the Christmas plans. He wants to do something different.

I was like, “I can’t do that. I have these other plans. I was planning on going over for Christmas Eve and doing that normal routine that we have.” He got so mad that I would say no. He’s so incredibly mad that he ripped me a new one on the phone, which he’s very good at doing. I started bawling in front of the Clinique counter at Macy’s. Matt’s there with me, and he’s just like, what’s wrong? It’s not even just tears.

It is ugly crying in the middle of this department store at the fashion show mall here in Las Vegas. I’m just losing it because I felt so attacked because I was being attacked. That year, we did not do Christmas over there. There were all kinds of trauma and other things that were going on. In the meantime, my mom’s frolicking and having a good time with her family, but she had to come back to this.

The shit show?

I felt bad about it because she had every right to be able to spend a good amount of time with her family and enjoy these experiences that she doesn’t get very often and has not gotten over the last years.

I do hope that that is not your fault. I know that we often feel that it is, but it’s not.

I know that logically. Emotionally, that one’s one that just sticks out. I think about that moment, and I want to avoid that moment. I want to avoid getting yelled at for being a bad daughter or not being available, whatever it is. I will make myself more available for him, even though I know it can hurt because I don’t want to experience that other thing. I don’t want to experience having a full-on ugly cry at the Clinique counter.

What would it be like for you to establish healthier boundaries or emotional consent boundaries with your father? Why haven’t you established those?

I don’t think we have a full hour for that. I’ll give you my money now.

For example, for the longest time, I would always be fearful of telling my father how I felt or what it was like growing up in that toxic household with that witch that he tried to make my stepmother. The reason why we became estranged was because I said something. His girlfriend didn’t like me, so, therefore, I was kicked out. I was always afraid. I had this fear that anytime I was going to share with my dad how I felt that he was going to leave because he had a pattern of that.

Almost twenty years later, I still have all this anger and resentment. I’m working through counseling, and my counselor’s like, “You need to sprinkle it. You don’t want to just throw it all in at once. You have to share how you feel. You’re carrying the burden of the emotional guilt or stressors he’s putting on you.” One day, I just finally decided that was it. I’ll start to share how I felt. If he leaves, then I have my answer. I’m tired of living in fear. It sounds like you’re living in fear. How might you shift that to one where you’re not operating out of fear, and you’re operating out of a different lens?

I don’t know. That’s the truth on that one.

What would happen if you created or set clear boundaries with your father?

I don’t think he would respect them. I think there are some boundaries he’s come to respect, but I don’t think he cares. I’ve learned over time that, and I’m not a psychologist, I can’t diagnose him, but I’m pretty damn sure he’s actually a narcissist. I feel like I can confidently say that. There are certain things that are just not going to resonate. They’re not going to hit the same way. I’ve avoided that. What I have done and that I’ve found to be quite interesting was I started narrative therapy. That’s basically a lot of writing, and that works out really well for me.

One of the techniques that my therapist suggested was writing letters to people, letters you don’t necessarily intend to send. If you want to send them at some point, you can. I started writing my list of letters. I wrote letters to every single one of my family members. I wrote a second letter to my dad. I went back and compared the two. That was probably the most interesting part because, in the first letter, I kept asking why and what had happened. I wanted to know all the whys.

In the second letter, what came out was empathy. I have a lot of empathy for him. I don’t know his full story. I don’t know that I ever will. I don’t know that he’ll ever share it with me. I’ve asked him to share pieces with me that he hasn’t done, and I don’t know if he’s capable of sharing. Now, I look at him with more empathy, “You’ve got stuff that you haven’t dealt with, but it’s not for me to fix you. That’s not my job. It’s not my obligation. It was never my job to parent you two.” I did, but that’s not my role. It should never have been my role.

Coming back to these boundaries, you had mentioned earlier that asking for emotional consent, say if you were to call me and ask me, “Are you emotionally capable of handling this type of conversation right now?” that that was an act of kindness. Why don’t you extend this sense of kindness to yourself in making sure that you establish emotional consent for yourself before picking up the call with your dad?

That would be a good way of dealing with it. It would be a good way of dealing with just anybody of, “I’m not in the right head space for this one. I’m not available for this one.” That’s really interesting because we’ve talked about safety.

Emotionally safe. Physically, as well, I suppose.

It’s both. When you feel safe, you feel like you can do things like say no. There’s one of the first places that I felt safe beside my relationship. My relationship’s very strong and stable, thank God. Even though I’m not religious, I will give it up to all the gods on that one. I have a lot of safety there, but the next place was my work. I feel really safe at work, being able to voice my opinions and say no to things and other things that they may pop up. That relationship, the parental relationship, is one where I feel like I’ve got a little bit more headway with my mom but not with my dad. I feel like that’s not an option. I could say yes to myself. That would be a good way of reframing it. Now, say yes to yourself. You don’t have to do this right now.

Extend that act of kindness to yourself. It’s so important. Real quick, I know we didn’t have time to research this, but I was able to do a quick Google and did find ways to ask for emotional consent.

What are they?

One is to send a message in advance. I know you and I have done this for each other on occasion like, “Shitty day at work. Are you free later?” just to vent. There’s no meaning behind it. Sometimes you just need to air out that dirty laundry. Boy, does it feel so much better. The next one is giving them options if when they’re available to talk or listen because, as you mentioned, your friend, you were in the middle of a deposition, and you didn’t have time to talk.

PMH 19 | Emotional Consent
Emotional Consent: Give other people options if and when they are available to talk or listen to your problems.

 

I know that there have been times when I’ve reached out to you, and you’re like, “Can I call you back in an hour?” That lets me know I’m not alone. I just have to do something for an hour to keep pre-occupied, and then you’ll call me back within that hour. The third bullet point says, let them know what you need. Think about it. Sometimes, I just need you to listen. I tell this my husband all the time because they try to solve the problem. I don’t need you to solve it.

That’s another topic for another day.

I don’t need you to solve it. I just need you to listen. The fourth bullet point is to let them know how long you need if you know, like, “I just had a crappy Zoom meeting with a colleague. Do you have fifteen minutes?” so they can gauge for themselves if they have that bandwidth or mental capacity for fifteen minutes to be able to hear you out. Be okay with them saying no, which is probably something I would probably need to work on. No one’s ever said no, but again, I’ve reached out to the people I know who would be receptive of me to share.

They’ve even said a soft no of, “Not right now, but give me two hours.” You’re up there in their thoughts. They’re thinking about you. They’re trying to make that space for you. I have a lot of friends in other states where I went to school in California, and people have moved away. Sometimes we have to schedule that time of, “We need to connect. We need to do something,” because they need an emotional release, and maybe I’m just a good listener, or we just need to reconnect.

Even having those planned times, sometimes I wish I could call people all the time and do those things as we did more as kids. You connected with people every day, being respectful of their time and also your own, but knowing, “Let’s talk. We haven’t talked in a while.” Most people are going to say yes, or they’re going to figure out, “When can I do that?” That’s such a gift to be able to give your time to people and want to spend that with them. That emotional consent, we seem to do it, we’re just doing it in different ways, and we hadn’t labeled it.

The term emotional consent, I know we’re like, “Let’s talk about that,” because you don’t hear about it very often. We typically dump our garbage on someone and then leave like, “Thanks. That was a great call. I feel good.” I never even thought to think about how me dumping my crap on someone is going to leave them feeling after the call. I’ve never even considered it.

You want to make sure that you are not just taking.

You have to reciprocate that.

Otherwise, with the people who don’t reciprocate, you know who they are, then you start being like, “I’m not available for that.” It’s a two-way street.

It absolutely is. This has been an exciting topic. I didn’t realize that we’d get into daddy issues, but that seems to be an underlying theme in most of everything I do in my life.

Daddy issues, you’re not alone with that. It’s more of life and parental issues that we have and being in different places. There are plenty of people out there who are going to be able to relate. There are going to be some people that don’t have any of these problems, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not dealing with stuff. Everybody’s dealing with things. Even if they don’t show emotion, they have emotions. They just are better at masking them, or at least they think they are.

Some people are better at dealing with their problems that they don’t show emotions. They are just better at masking them. Share on X

I found this episode to be helpful because we practice emotional consent without necessarily labeling it. That goes to show how far we’ve come with self-awareness, knowing our bodies, “Can I handle this call right now? Can I talk to my daddy right now?” I’m proud of us because the more we talk about issues or topics like this, the more we can start to practice asking for emotional consent, not just of other people, but of ourselves. I’m looking at you, Bobo.

I agree. It’s about being more mindful of what you’re asking the other person to do for you. That’s why I was excited about it. If we can verbalize, “Are you emotionally available for this?” you’re being mindful of they’re a person, too, and they’ve got their own things going on. Maybe they’re not, but what’s beautiful about even our conversation is most of the time, I’d say 99% of the time, they’re going to be available, and it’s us limiting ourselves and reaching out and talking to people.

It’s us being like, “They don’t want to hear my crap. I’m totally alone. Nobody wants to deal with me. I’m a burden,” and all of that shit. That’s in us. That’s in our heads. That’s the story that we’re playing. If you look at the actual evidence out there, your people are your people for a reason, and they’re going to help you out. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be blood. It means that they are the people that you’ve collected along the way, not in a creepster way.

I don’t think anybody thought about that until you brought it up.

Of course, I did. They’re the people you’ve collected along the way that are your support.

Your biggest champions.

Think about all of it.

 

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