It’s long been known that we are social animals and influence one another. When someone smiles at us, most of us smile back. When a baby laughs, we laugh.
Researchers have recently discovered we “catch” emotions from each other. The fancy term for it is called “emotional contagion,” which means that humans synchronize their emotions with the emotions conveyed by another person. One person’s emotions become “contagious” to others.
This “catching” of emotions can be very subtle and works with all types of emotions, from happy to angry, although negative emotions trump positive ones. When people know one another well, the ripple effect can happen in a nanosecond. It starts with a facial expression or tone of voice, posture or gesture. The other person “catches” the emotion and adjusts their emotions accordingly.
We work closely together and are husband and wife. We “catch” one another’s emotions all the time— consciously and sometimes we are unconscious to the impact we have on one another.
Here’s a simple example of how it works:
Donna notices that David looks sad after a phone call. “What happened? Is there something I can do to help you?” she asks. It could be that he is sad. It also could be that he is actually being reflective about the coaching call he just completed.
Even though we are both recovering Rescuers and learning to escape the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™, we still have a tendency to be overly helpful and want to please each other. If Donna “catches” David’s emotion, he in-turn “catches” her concern and the situation can become magnified even though the issue from the phone call was a minor concern.
This is fertile ground for families and work teams to become entrenched in the DDT without even knowing. It requires that you are highly conscious of your own emotions and those around you.
Scientists are also finding that this process is quite neurologically complex. As a result, one person may feel they are living the emotional lives of other people. And yet many people seem oblivious to the impact of emotions and unaware of how swiftly and how completely they “catch” the expressions and emotions of others.
Many organizations and workplaces encourage teamwork, in which everyone is in an environment full of the emotions of fellow team members, especially the team leader, who greatly impacts the emotions of all of the other team members.
Living beyond the emotional reactivity and drama of the DDT and moving into TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)™ requires that we are fully aware of our own emotions at any moment and take responsibility for what emotions exist in the environment that might be caught by others.
Asking how others are feeling, perhaps from the TED* role of Coach, can help identify the emotions that exist so that others can choose whether or not to “catch” another’s emotion. Another equally important way to set our own boundaries is to limit the negative emotions we might “catch” from others.
We often say that shifting from the DDT to TED* is simple—it’s just always not easy. How we “catch” emotions and the interconnectedness with all of life is proof of that statement!