Emotional Responsibility: How to Manage Your Impact on Others

How many times have you heard the words "That's the way I am, get on with it". The concept of emotional responsibility concerns your ability to take charge of the way your behavior impacts others.
Emotional Responsibility: How to Manage Your Impact on Others

Last update: 24 August, 2021

Emotional responsibility is behind many of the requests you make in your everyday life. It validates your needs. In fact, it’s what motivates you to manage your emotional, sexual, social, or work relationships.

In this article, we reflect on the concept of emotional responsibility. We’ll also address the question as to why we all tend to be rather wary of people who introduce themselves by saying “that’s just the way I am” or “that’s just me, and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem.”

In the same way, if you find yourself saying these kinds of words, you’d do well to analyze them. Where do they come from? What kind of inflexibility or barriers are behind them?  Because people, like life, are by definition changeable. Therefore, subscribing to a certain type of behavior without seeing how your experience unfolds is harmful.

Your emotional needs

Sometimes, you might feel like you’re asking too much. In fact, you may have difficulty working out if what you’re asking of the person next to you is selfish, reasonable, or acceptable within the dynamics of your relationship.

It’s vital that you take a look at yourself and have a rethink. That’s because you run the risk of leaving aside your emotional rights. This mainly occurs when the functioning of a relationship doesn’t include a healthy amount of emotional responsibility. It could be due to either your or the other person’s shortcomings, or to certain conflicts.

Man talking

Everyone expresses caring in a different way. Partners may say good morning and good night, ask you how your day was, notice whether you’re cheerful or miserable, and listen to you attentively. They don’t put off necessary conversations and they might cook a nice meal for you. All in all, they take account of you and your feelings.

In order to make this happen, there has to be communication. In fact, a  flow of communication. Indeed, being emotionally responsible means listening and attending to the needs of the other as well as what’s needed to establish and maintain your relationship.

However, emotional responsibility isn’t built in a vacuum of thoughtlessness. It takes dialogue as well as a willingness to learn and keep moving forward. Furthermore, you need to communicate your needs in such a way that neither of you gets hurt.

This is an extremely important point. That’s because, in a relationship, there’s usually a dominated and a dominator.

It might sound harsh but, if you’ve discussed and tried to reach an agreement, and you still can’t come to a reasonable and responsible decision, you should probably discard that relationship. Because it’s more than likely this won’t be a one-off. In fact, eventually, you’ll just end up feeling frustrated, uncomfortable, and stuck in the relationship.

Attachment, partner satisfaction, and emotional responsibility

Without a doubt, the concept of emotional responsibility is closely related to the construction of attachment. In fact, the University of Valencia conducted a study on this subject. It concluded that emotional security is associated with greater sensitivity and proximity of care, which is a source of satisfaction and balance in couples.

According to this study, emotional dependence derives from a preoccupied style of attachment. This leads to dysfunctional dynamics, insensitivity toward the other, jealousy, or conflicts that are detrimental to satisfaction and adjustment to the relationship.

Likewise, cognitive distancing, together with compulsive care and dissatisfaction in the partner, is characteristic of a fearful type of attachment. Usually, these behavioral patterns underlie the fear of rejection or abandonment.

Another interesting point from this study is about how people, depending on their attachment style, can tend to idealize the quality of their relationships. In fact, they do this in a similar way as they do with regard to the memory of their relationships with their parents.

Without a doubt, this study is crucial in better understanding the way in which people get caught up in dysfunctional dynamics in their relationships. Furthermore, they seem to be completely blind to them.

Emotional responsibility and behavior

We can’t treat emotional responsibility as a “mixed bag” concept in which “anything goes”. Because that would give room for both manipulative and dependent attitudes. Perhaps, the magic question in this respect is always to ask yourself if what you’re asking of the other person is reasonable. 

With the rise of digital communication today, emotional irresponsibility takes different forms. For example, ghosting, gaslighting, or zombieing.

Ghosting means someone suddenly disappears from the other person’s life without any explanation. Like the legendary person who went out for a packet of cigarettes and never came back. On the other hand, zombieing means someone who, after, ghosting, then reappears in the person’s life. This can often generate feelings of dependence and cause suffering in the affected person as they tend to wonder if there’s something wrong with them.

Gaslighting occurs when a person tries to attack the qualities that they perceive in the other person that make them socially desirable (sincerity, trust, loyalty, generosity, etc.). In fact, the abuser tries to invalidate their opinions and desires. They also manipulate the way their partner views certain experiences.

Woman in silence with her partner

Emotional understanding, moral obligation in relationships

There’ll always be unfortunate moments and events in your relationships. However, your social system tends to normalize the pattern of neglect or of not being emotionally supported. In other words, you normalize patterns of neglect. This may also happen with abuse.

This leads us to consider the possibility that the cry for emotional responsibility is, in effect, a protest against domination. Indeed, it’s an unfortunate fact that, despite social advances, there are certain relationships that are formed based on the expectation that one partner provides the care, attention, and love and the other one is uncaring, inattentive, and basically does exactly what they like.

You need to remember that nobody is actually responsible for your happiness. In fact, if you aren’t happy, it probably means you weren’t in the first place. Furthermore, dialogue is always the way forward, and it’s up to you to put forward your views. This message is one that needs to permeate society if the kind of attitudes that legitimize irresponsible behavior are to be modified.

Emotional responsibility, a term to be handled with care

We’re going to explain what emotional responsibility is. It means:

  • Being aware that bonding with other people means being attentive and caring for them.
  • Being clear in your intentions. Be consistent. Don’t say yes one day and no the next.
  • Examining what you think and feel and acting accordingly.
  • Speaking assertively. Don’t avoid talking about what’s bothering you.
  • Understanding that your attitudes and words have consequences on the other person and their mental health. Therefore, you must take responsibility for what may happen.
  • Not deluding the other person by coming and going out of their life or ghosting them.
  • Not romanticizing the way you are, Nor should you say “that’s just the way I am, put up with it.” In fact, trying to be tough in a relationship is a way of manipulating and masking your insecurities.

Finally, being emotionally responsible means validating the other person’s emotions. In effect, you try to link their emotions to their experiences and understand them without judging them.

Everyone needs to feel heard and understood. For this reason, you should banish phrases such as “it’s not that bad”, “you’re exaggerating”, “there are people far worse off than you”, “it’s not that serious”, “ that’s just me, put up with it ”, or “ change the record ”.

We could go on forever listing these types of phrases. Indeed, they’re as common as they’re harmful. In fact, undoubtedly, almost all of us have used some of them at some point in our lives. However, it never hurts to review our repertoire, especially bearing in mind the contents of this article.

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  • La relación de pareja. Apego, dinámicas de interacción y actitudes amorosas: consecuencias sobre la calidad de la relación. Tesis de Melero Cavero, R. dirigida por Cantero López, Mª José. Universitat de València.