The day came when I felt empty. I had nothing left to give to the relationship. I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. All the dreams and hopes I’d held going into the marriage were dashed on the rocks of reality. I was no longer afraid of leaving because I was already dead inside.
During my healing process, I came across the term Emotion Bank Account (EBA), ‘… a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.” (1)
Kind words, respect, kept promises, thoughtful acts, listening, being on time are some of the behaviors that make deposits into an EBA. Trust is built between you on the demonstration of your honesty, commitment and dependability. If your partner makes a statement that could be taken in a hurtful way, you know him or her well enough to understand the real intention of the comment. If your friend is late for an outing with you, you become concerned instead of angry because you know your friend would not deliberately blow you off.
Disparaging and disrespectful comments, interruptions, disregard for the other’s time, physical or emotional attacks and betraying trust are a few of the behaviors that drain EBAs. Relationships do not thrive on these behaviors, they shrivel up and die.
When I learned about the Cycle of Abuse, I had an aha moment. The honeymoon stage, where the abuser becomes contrite and loving, reoccurs just often enough to throw a few bones of hope that things will change to the starving victim.(2) I remember how grateful I felt to receive any kindness—grateful enough to stay a little longer. Since the cycle grows shorter and the honeymoon period almost or does fade away, it was no wonder that I became an empty shell.
Had my EBA been filled, I would have had something to give back, from a reservoir of confidence, self-esteem, safety and trust. As it was, there was nothing left to give. When he asked why I left him, I told him he had continually hacked off chunks of the love I had for him until it was gone. He had thrown our life away one handful after another. I knew he didn’t understand since he had little regard for my feelings.
As I thought about the EBA concept, I realized that we also have an EBA with ourselves. I began to look at what kind of deposits was I making into mine. Here’s where that inner critic can sabotage our emotional health. Is our self-talk disparaging or encouraging? Do we expect only the worst outcome from any given situation or the best? Do we read uplifting and encouraging materials and limit those that are disturbing or violent? Do we respect the needs of our bodies for sleep, exercise and nutrition? I have a notecard on my desk that says: “The most important promises to keep are the ones you make to yourself.” Are we learning to trust and respect ourselves? If we take care of our own EBA we will be less likely to put up with those who attempt to drain them.
We also have EBAs with our children. Nurturing them is paramount in their emotional growth. It’s important to catch them being good and tell them so. Being trustworthy, honest and kind not only builds a solid relationship with our children but also teaches them how to treat others. Opportunities to help those in need also fills their EBAs with good feelings about themselves and builds their self-esteem.
Thinking about this reminds me of a parable of a man who takes a tour of hell. He discovers a long table filled with a bounty of delicious food. All the inhabitants of hell sat around the table. The problem was that each person had long spoons attached where their hands should have been. They sat in eternity starving because they could not bring the bowl of the spoons up to their mouths to eat.
Next, the man went to tour heaven. To his surprise he discovered the exact same scene. The people gathered around the table abundant with food also had spoons attached to where their hands should have been. The difference was these heavenly beings were not trying to feed themselves, they were feeding the persons who sat across from them.
What kind of deposits are we making into other’s emotional bank accounts? What kind of deposits are we making into our own?
- From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covy (© 1989 by Stephen R. Covey)
- See the Cycle of Abuse tab at the top of this page.