We all have them, we all use them, and unfortunately, many are, like our regular checking or savings, severely overdrawn.
When I was a teenager, my dad and I did not get along. At all. He didn’t understand me, and I did not understand him. My dad can be, let’s just say, a bit insensitive. Let me also say that we now have an incredible relationship, one I am exceptionally grateful and thankful for every single day. However, as a raging bag of hormones in my teenage years, insensitivity can be the end of the freaking world. One day, my mom took me aside and talked to me about our “Emotional Bank Accounts.” Basically, each interaction you have with the people in your life either puts something in or takes something out of the account. If a certain person puts in positive items, when they take something out by saying or doing something we don’t like, it isn’t that big of a deal because there is still a large amount to draw from. On the other hand, if someone is constantly taking, taking, taking from the account, it is substantially more damaging and painful. Because my dad and I weren’t having very many positive interactions, the negative ones were amplified and over-exaggerated. I swear, my mother is a fucking genius.
I can see this seeming overly simplistic to many people, but it has come in incredibly handy recently in such a variety of situations that I think it is something worth exploring. It is applicable to so many different situations, and it helps me to take a step back and analyze why something someone said or did made me so upset. It also helps me empathize with the person who has hurt me in a way I might not be willing to do otherwise, and I think empathy is the strongest emotion we can offer to others. For example, one of the people in the office is currently behaving like a douche. He is incredibly stressed out for a number of reasons, and the way that is manifesting itself is by taking it out on those around him in the office and treating them like garbage. It has reached the point that there is absolutely nothing he can do that doesn’t piss people off.
The other day, he had one of the office assistants do a ridiculous task that kept him out of the office for most of the afternoon. The task was unnecessary, but the response of the others on staff was thoroughly overboard on the anger front. I asked them to stop for a moment and imagine their reaction if one of the other attorneys in the office had asked for the same thing. I asked them to think about all the ridiculous tasks we are asked to do for people in the office on a regular basis, and whether this particular item was more or less obnoxious. I remind them that one of the attorneys had called me on Saturday afternoon at home because they were out of ink for their printer. In Los Angeles. 400 miles away from me. How is that not more asinine? They agreed that the offending attorney was not that out of line, and then they rolled their eyes and said, “You’re going to talk about Emotional Bank Accounts now, aren’t you?” Yes, yes I was. And they admitted and acknowledged that part of the overreaction was the lack of any positive deposits by him into theirs lately. They still think he’s a dick, but at least they have a bit more perspective on why they feel so strongly about his behavior.
Perspective is another valuable insight the EBA provides, and perspective is something I can always use more of. I can think of many times in my life where I was actively admonishing myself for being so upset about something that shouldn’t have been that big of a deal; wrestling with why I was taking something so personally or allowing myself to become and stay so upset. Yes, there are times when something upsets me irrationally (hello, mean Internet commenters!!), that isn’t related to the EBA, but most of the time, I can trace it back to feeling neglected somehow in that relationship. For example, my husband is constantly putting positive stuff in my account (that’s what she said!), so when I, for instance, ask him how I look in a particular outfit and he replies, “fine,” I want to kick him, but I don’t get upset with him. I merely remind myself that he has no fashion sense so his opinion in invalid and move on. In past relationships that weren’t as, shall we say, healthy (more like horribly mentally abusive and self-esteem crushing douchebaggery), that exact same comment in the exact same tone could have sent me into a tailspin of inadequacy and body-loathing.
I realize it sounds ridiculous to tell somebody that they haven’t been making enough deposits into my emotional bank account. That sounds like some cheesy life-coach, new-agey, touchy-feely nonsense, but hear me out. It makes a difference. It is a very simple way to explain a very complex emotional structure and while it may seem trite, it is an analogy that even a child can understand. When part of the problem in relationships is people not being able to understand how the other is feeling, shouldn’t we embrace the little ways that we can all figure out?