Investing In Yourself In Relationships
I have an investment question for you. Of the following two banks, which would you choose?
So, which option would you choose?
What if the options were not banks but people in your life and what if the funds were not money but emotional energy? Would your choice change? Why?
No. Really. Ask yourself why?
Often in psychotherapy, I start to see patterns among clients. Perhaps it’s the time of year or phases of the moon or something I don’t understand like Mercury in Retrograde or El Nino. Or, maybe it’s just me. Whatever the reason, lately I have seen a pattern emerge in many of my sessions – the expense of emotional energy.
What is emotional energy?
I like to think of emotional energy as money. It’s the emotional cost of doing something. Think about Bank A and Bank B. Now think about the people in your life. Which people would you categorize under Bank A? Which would you categorize under Bank B? Think about your last encounter with someone from Bank A. Maybe it was a phone call, a party, a work meeting, a vacation. How much did it cost you emotionally to participate in that encounter? Did you find yourself emotionally drained afterwards? Did you text someone from Bank B after the encounter and say, “I need a glass of wine. Stat!” Did you go home and overreact by snapping at your spouse or your children? Did you skip a workout because you were too drained? Did you push yourself super hard at the gym because you needed to process the encounter? Did you turn your radio up really loud in your car? Did you cry? If you had any of these responses, then it’s safe to say that the encounter was probably emotionally costly for you. You invested a whole lot of energy into being with that person and you didn’t get anything back of value in return. In fact, it cost you to be with them.
Now, think about your last encounter with someone from Bank B. What was that experience like for you? How much did it cost you emotionally? Did you actually feel that it recharged you emotionally? These are the people we need to be focusing on in our lives. These are the people we need in our lives. They fill us up. They make us rich, emotionally.
But, how do you manage these people in your life that are emotionally costly? How do you handle Bank A? Well, you have three choices:
1. End your relationship with them.
While this is not always a possibility, sometimes it is something that can happen. You can end friendships. You can leave toxic work environments. You can avoid certain family members. Sometimes you can choose Bank B over Bank A. Usually, however, I recommend trying the other options first…
2. Limit your encounters with them.
Perhaps you aren’t ready, don’t want to or simply can’t leave Bank A completely. Are there ways that you can limit your time with Bank A? Can you establish some new boundaries with them? Can you weigh out how much emotional energy will be invested in a certain encounter and perhaps skip it or role play some ways to better balance it beforehand? Can you be honest with them about how you are feeling?
3. Change how you approach them.
The first step in this option is to evaluate WHY your encounters with them are so costly. Take some time and truly explore your previous encounters with these individuals. What is it about the encounters that requires you to invest so much emotional energy? Are you being criticized by them? Are you constantly trying to seek their approval? Do they use up all of your time asking for your advice or complaining to you about their own problems and never give you anything in return? Is there something in the past for which you aren’t able to forgive them?
The second step in this option is to understand HOW your encounters are costly. What is your internal process while you are with them – are you anxious, angry, hurt or feeling some other emotion? What are you thinking in the days leading up to the encounter? What are you thinking during your time with them? What are your immediate thoughts after the encounter?
The third step in this process is to truly accept that the individual will likely NEVER CHANGE. I know what you are thinking – “How does she know? Maybe if I could just be a litt more _____ or a little less ______, I can make them ______ or help them to see ________________.” No. Change is hard and people only change when they want to change. Nothing you say or do is going to make someone love you, respect you, appreciate you, value you or acknowledge you more. Nothing you say or do is going to make someone hurt you, ignore you or let you down less. Stop trying. Stop hoping things will be different. They are who they are and you cannot change that. The only thing you can change is how you choose to interact with them, how you respond to them and how much emotional energy you choose to invest in them.
Let's take a moment to think about and consider the feelings of people from Bank A. They probably are not bad people. (In fact, I often correct my children and tell them that there aren't bad people, only people making bad choices.) They probably aren't aware of how emotionally costly they are to you. They likely think you are overly sensitive or rude or require too much from the people in your life. It's worth considering those thoughts for a while. Are there some changes that you should be making in yourself? Are they right? Do you want to change those things?
If you have people in your life from Bank A and you feel that you are investing a lot of emotional energy in those relationships then you have some soul searching to do. So, pour yourself a cup of coffee or go take a long shower or take a long drive or get out your journal. Do whatever you need to do in order to create some space for you to think and reflect.
Life is too short; far too short. Isn’t it about time you find a way to invest more in yourself?
Relationships take effort and need to continuously be renegotiated over the years. These articles explore friendships and romantic partnerships - both their importance and how to improve them.