If you are feeling anxious, stressed or depressed for now apparent reason…..

perhaps you are “catching” these emotions from other people near to you!

A case example: Susan comes to see me in my psychology practice because she is about to write her final exams and is concerned that she is so “stressed out” that she fears that she will go blank when she is faced with her exam paper and will do badly as a result.

When I explore the factors that may be adding to her stress levels it turns out that she is in a small class at college, where her class-mates talk about themselves about how stressed they all are. They also commiserate with each other about how difficult the work is and how “impossible” it will be to do well in the exams.

In this way the stress levels of the group tend to increase as the exam date looms nearer and nearer.

Case 2: Tony is in his early twenties. He reports that he suffers from debilitating social anxiety which affects both his ability to interact socially and to find a fulfilling job. has grown up in a household where his father has always worried about everything. Tony’s father has conveyed the unconscious message to his children from the time they were small that the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place and that other people are generally not to be trusted. Tony comes to see me because he wants to become less anxious and more comfortable in social settings.

Case 3: Mary comes to see me because she is feeling “down” and unmotivated – that she has lost her enthusiasm for life. She is a homemaker and has many friends and hobbies but of late she has lost enthusiasm for the things she previously enjoyed. Her husband has been retired for a year and her children have left home. She reports that her husband tends to sit around the house all day, eating, drinking and watching TV. He tends to be demanding and would talk at length about how bad “things” had become.


Most clients who come to see me for counselling and psychotherapy tend to believe that their unpleasant psychological states are due to something they are feeling, doing or not doing – that they are the source of their problem (this is not the case with most couples I see, who usually blame each other, initially at any rate, for the problems in their relationship). I have often found though, on closer examination, that the social environment can play a big role in the our emotions states. Psychologists and social psychology researchers put this down to our ability to empathize with others. Those of us who are high in emotional empathy tend to “pick up” the emotions of others easily and will thus be more likely to be affected by the negative of other people. This influence is especially strong when there is a close emotional bond and a close and lengthy proximity with a stressed, anxious or depressed person or group.   Psychologists call this phenomenon “transference”.

This tendency to “catch” feelings from others and from our environment isn’t always a bad thing of course. We can also be affected by joy and happiness! 

In a following post I will suggest ways of counteracting the negative effects of this unconscious “force”.





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