The 3 Stages of Emotional Slavery

A few weeks ago I finished reading “Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Here is the second post I’ll be doing on this amazing book.

In this post I’d like to discuss some of my own shortcomings regarding emotional slavery. Then I’ll list out the 3 stages of emotional slavery. Then I’ll finish by challenging you to do a quick self-inventory to see where you land with your own emotional development.

As a child, my parents taught me to always put other people’s feelings before my own. Your brother’s bike has a flat tire, let him use yours. Your friend dropped his ice cream cone, give him yours. Your friend’s Super Nintendo broke? Let him borrow yours.

At a point, all of this giving left me with nothing.

As I got older I noticed that I was short-changing myself because I had a black and white view regarding how much emotional security everyone needed from me. Without even asking them.

I had not taken the next step in emotional maturity. I had become a willing participant in my own emotional slavery.

“Emotional slavery is where we believe ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest to us as burdens.” – Rosenberg

If we stick to this script we’ll be prepared to “turn the other cheek” and “follow the golden rule.” This approach works fine for toddlers but it starts to break down as you get older. Stick with stage 1 of emotional maturity and you set yourself up for emotional slavery.

Even worse, if you meet someone that sees how willing you are to take the blame or give up your own resources they will start to take advantage of your generosity.

Keep at this and you’ll be bled dry – emotionally, physically, and you may even lose some money. So how do you prevent this from happening? You need to develop and reach stage 2.

“In stage 2 we become aware of the high costs of assuming responsibility for others’ feelings and trying to accommodate them at our own expense. When we notice how much of our lives we’ve missed and how little we have responded to the call of our own soul, we may get angry.” – Rosenberg

At stage 2 we’re able to see how much we’ve led ourselves astray. The only person that truly knows what we want is ourselves. And if we are unable to clearly say that, feel it, and know it, how will others know. We need to start noticing how much of our own lives we are missing when we’re busy tending to the needs of emotional vampires.

Take stage 2 too far and you might become an asshole. That’s why evolution to stage 3 is so important.

“Stage 3 is emotional liberation where we respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt, or shame. Our actions are therefore fulfilling to us, as well as to those who receive our efforts. We accept full responsibility for our own intentions and actions, but not for the feelings of others. And at this stage, we are aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others. Emotional liberation involves stating clearly what we need in a way that communicates we are equally concerned that the needs of others be fulfilled.” – Rosenberg

Now that you’ve seen all three stages, where would you rank yourself? How did you learn to navigate all three stages? Was it difficult to put your foot down and say, “No, I’m not free to help you move house on my birthday weekend.”

Did this post help to clarify what steps you need to take to evolve your own emotional maturity? Contact me, I’d love to hear about it.

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Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.