Emotional Privilege

Emotional Privilege



It’s a special right or advantage that not everyone has. We have various examples of privilege around us.

Over the years I’ve come to see that there’s something called Emotional Privilege. Emotional Privilege means that you have safe spaces and people in your life where you can be yourself and share your emotions and be vulnerable.

Not everyone has that.
Not everyone grows up with that.
Not everyone finds that in adulthood.

Here’s an analogy:
You look up at the sky and you see a dark cloud slowly moving in your direction. You think, okay it’s going to rain and possibly storm. Now, if you have an umbrella and a raincoat and shelter you can go to, you might be annoyed that it’s going to rain but you have tools you need and a place to go.

But let’s say you don’t have an umbrella or a raincoat or a place to go, seeing that storm coming won’t just be annoying, it may be activating. The solution might be to try to outrun it or hide somewhere.

When we encounter feelings, we react in different ways. If we have tools to deal with our feelings and spaces that provide nurturing shelter, we can feel more confident when navigating the ups and downs of life. But if we don’t, the prospect of emotions be terrifying and make someone feel like their solution is to try outrun what’s coming or and try to hide from what’s already there.

In clinical terms we might call this “avoidance”—and I look at avoidance as something that often has really really good reasons behind it. When you grow up without emotional privilege or don’t find it in adulthood, avoidance can become an important lifeline.

This is one of the reasons why I’m often hesitant to give wholesale advice, online, especially when it comes to relationships. Everyone has such a different situation when it comes to emotional privilege. There are people in this pandemic who have been quarantined at home with people they love and can lean on and open to with their feelings. There are people in this pandemic who have been stuck at home with an unsafe partner or family member. There are people in this pandemic who haven’t been stuck at home with anyone and would love more than anything to have a partner there in the trenches with them.

Gratitude means recognizing the privileges—some of these privileges are minor and some are more major. Some privileges we have may not even realize how major they are. I believe that emotional privilege is a major one; one that when we take a moment and take stock of our lives, we can probably see where we have had it, where we craved it, and where we still wish it could be. We can also think about the way we can be on the other side of it—the spaces we provide others to share their emotions and feel okay being vulnerable.