Emotional Contagion – Can You Really “Catch” Someone’s Feelings?

Our nation has been pummeled by a pandemic.

A virus that most frequently doesn’t present very “clear” and “obvious” symptoms.

Medical experts have warned us that getting within 6 feet of each other can be dangerous and they recommend we all wear face masks to help prevent infection.

To put it very simply – it’s an EXTREMELY contagious disease.

While definitely not classified as a deadly disease, there’s another pandemic that can NOT be stopped by wearing a mask. It can also be VERY easily transmitted from person to person from anywhere in the world.

Our emotions.

We communicate with people every day, but have you ever wondered why some conversations leave you feeling different than others?

This person always leaves you feeling great. That person always leaves you feeling horrible.

Believe it or not, every single interaction we have leaves us feeling one of five different emotions:

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Fearful
  • Shameful

It doesn’t matter if it’s a conversation we have in person, on the phone, or via text message. We will walk away feeling one of these 5 different emotions EVERY single time.

And the other person with whom we’re speaking with will leave the conversation experiencing the same thing. However, their emotional state may be 180 degree’s opposite of ours.

Welcome to the world of catching feelings.

Have you ever heard and/or used the phrase “monkey see monkey do?”

Did you know it’s a term that originated from a scientific study of monkeys back in the 1990’s?

The study found that monkeys actually discharged neurons in their brains while watching other monkeys performing an act.

These neurons are referred to as “mirror neurons,” and it’s believed that human brains function the same exact way.

We use these neurons to help us understand the emotional state of others, and we generally tend to “mimic” them. The end result is often subconsciously “catching” these feelings through the imitation of gestures, speech patterns, and/or attitudes of that person.

Aka – Emotional Contagion.

Emotional contagion is a phenomenon where one person’s emotions are “shared,” resulting in the “triggering” of similar emotions in other people.

Ever notice how feel when you’re around someone that’s smiling and laughing uncontrollably?

I bet it made you feel happy.

Ever notice how you feel when you’re around someone that’s very distraught and crying uncontrollably?

I bet it made you feel sad.

Understanding how emotions guide our thoughts

Sharing in someone else’s feelings (aka empathy) is a good thing. It helps foster emotional “synchrony” between individuals and is a critical component for building deep relationships.

But it can also be very detrimental to our own mental well-being if we’re not aware of it.

This is sometimes referred to as “taking on someone else’s feelings.” It’s when we unconsciously “catch” an emotional state someone else is in, and take it on as our own.

This can be dangerous for very obvious reasons and so many of us fall victim to it.

Do you have friends that always leave you feeling “blah” every time you’re around them?

Have you ever been in a relationship that made you feel like you just weren’t yourself anymore?

Or even worse, have you ever witnessed your child experiencing pain?

It instantaneously transfers directly to your heart and makes you feel their exact emotion, but 100 times more severe.

These are all examples of how easily emotions can be transferred – especially when they’re coming from people we care deeply about.

At a time where our nation is running on 24/7 “emotional overload,” it would probably be wise to keep close tabs on the kind of feelings we’re catching from the people we surround ourselves with.

And just to play it safe, I’d recommend wearing a mask to protect your brain.

Emotional intelligence

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