Giving Others the Option to Care

What does 'consent to care' mean?

Do you try to force people—or perhaps just convince them—to care about what you care about? When you express your feelings, do you offer people the option to consent to care?

To consent means to give our permission. We like to be able to give our permission. Many people are offended or turned off when their permission is not asked but they are instead reminded of an obligation or a responsibility.

When we express our feelings as an obligation to someone else, it can cause them to flex their permission muscles and remind us that they aren’t required to care about certain things.

It can feel vulnerable to express feelings and wait for a response. It feels easier and less vulnerable, in the moment, to attempt to convince someone of why they should care about whatever it is we need. But when people feel forced into an emotional position, they’re more likely to resist meaning you won’t get the response you desire, the response that confirms you are valued and your feelings do matter.

When we feel welcomed into someone’s truth, we’re more likely to try to understand it.

In addition to allowing consent to others to care about our feelings, expressing our feelings without blame is empowering. Flexing our own discipline, choices, and boundaries is a powerful feeling. When we stop to ask ourselves what we need, why we feel the way we do, and how we can communicate our desires to someone else, we get to know ourselves a little bit better and we’re empowered to choose composure.

When we afford someone the option to consent, they may choose to not care. That hurts, but it also shows you what their priorities are in relationships so you can make a decision about whether or not they add to your quality of life.

Letting someone know how you feel gives them the opportunity to care and work through it with you, or not care and leave you feeling isolated to work through the issue alone. If you do feel isolated in working your problems out, that’s another feeling to express. As we have feelings and express our feelings, and then have feelings about the response to our expression of feelings, there becomes layers upon layers of interpretation happening. Isolating our interpretation allows us to communicate it properly and give someone the opportunity to care.

Example: Your girlfriend eats your leftovers. You were excited to come home and eat them so now you’re upset. You say “I can’t believe you ate my leftovers, I was looking forward to having them after work.” Your girlfriend is upset because she feels attacked by “I can’t believe you…” She responds with, “You never eat your leftovers, I expected them to go to waste.” Now you’re angry because your initial feelings of disappointment over her assumption about your leftovers were ignored. She didn’t apologize, she defended herself. Now you’re arguing over how many times you’ve thrown away leftovers. Communication is lost.

Allowing someone to consent to care is saying, “I’m kind of pissed you ate my leftovers, I was really looking forward to eating them.” If your girlfriend responds with, “You never eat your leftovers.” You could then remind her that you don’t want to resolve your feelings of disappointment in isolation. “That’s not the point, they were mine and I just told you it upset me that you ate them, your response makes me feel like you don’t care that I’m upset.” Give her the opportunity to say, yes, I do care and I’m sorry I made that assumption. You don’t have to argue for your feelings or convince anyone to care for them.

Your feelings are important whether someone else cares about them or not because they’re yours.

Express yourself clearly, say what you feel and what you think you need. In a healthy relationship, the response will be to care, apologize, or help you resolve your feelings. Seek out healthy relationships, find people who will consent to care.