Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cubby's Emotional Bank

Many years ago a woman who was doing a communication workshop at a retreat held by the magazine I worked for, posed this question: "Ever notice how one coworker will mess something up and instead of getting upset or exasperated, you're calm and generous, helping them clean up the mess? But then another coworker will mess up in a similar way and suddenly you're extremely annoyed? What's going on?"

What's going on, she went on to explain, is that coworker number one has been making regular deposits into your emotional bank account and so when coworker number one has to make a withdrawal, there is already a cushion of goodwill to drawn on. Coworker number two, on the other hand, has made no deposits, she never steps up to help with anything, never talks companionably or offers a kindness, doesn't honor her commitments or appreciate your efforts or otherwise engage in a positive relationship with you. So when she draws down on your emotional bank account she's immediately overdrawn and you're pissed!

I never forgot this woman's analogy. It was based on the insights of Steven R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book I have never actually read. This woman had dubbed her version of the bank "Cubby's Emotional Bank" to make it more idiosyncratic and relatable. It made so much sense to me. And even though she was giving us this little metaphor in a workplace context, I was struck by how well it applies in every sphere of human interaction. When my children were growing up, I consciously tried to teach them the concept of Cubby's Emotional Bank, to encourage them to always be looking for ways to make deposits in other people's accounts, acting with empathy and integrity in all their relationships. I tried to explain there will always be days when we need to make a withdrawal and we want to do our best day in day out to make sure we're not overdrawn. There is never any guarantee about the other person's response, of course, but the idea of emotional bank accounts is still a pretty good guide.

I was thinking about this last night when a cousin told me how ticked off she was to have to clean up after her son's girlfriend. She told me this right after telling me how little interaction she had with this young lady, how she could find no avenue to getting to know her better despite the fact that her son had been seeing her for some years. She was feeling as if this young woman had willfully shut her out. So when she complained about the mess this young woman had left in her kitchen, I reflected, "It wouldn't be such a big deal if she'd been making regular deposits into your emotional bank." My cousin, who is a therapist, knew at once what I meant. But it got me thinking.

Here in this place, this virtual table we sit companionably around, we are making deposits all the time, in comments, in posts, in reaching across the table simply to say, I'm here, or maybe even, I have walked this walk and I will bear witness with you. How powerful that is, to have a place where we can go and write our truth as closely as we can manage it and have a community of souls who do their best to understand. And when I need to make withdrawals, when I get too cranky or moody or opinionated, too busy or distracted or life-confused to post or comment, they mostly hold on till I can get it together and find my way back. No wonder I cannot stop coming here! So thank you, dear friends who read here. I have been thinking about each one of you today, and I am so very grateful you are here.


  1. You're really so very generous to write these wise words -- words that I was literally drinking -- and then draw them into that conclusion. Thank YOU, dear Angella, for administering, over and over again, through your words and your photos, your sharing of your family and your wise and kind comments all over the blogosphere, to others' emotional "banks."

  2. <3 and <3.

    I agree with Elizabeth - I too was literally. So well-written.

    My godson learned about the emotional bank deposits at school and I was so impressed to hear him discuss it with his mother when he was about 5-6 years old. He's more mature than I am, as I struggle to figure these kinds of things out. Reading your blog helps me so much!

  3. I've never heard this theory but good Lord- yes! It rings true, it IS true.
    And Angella. You make deposits all the time. We could never, ever run out of bank for you. Ever. Your spirit is wealth that you don't even realize you spread to us all. I don't even have the words to express how truly and deeply I mean that.
    Isn't this a precious community? Aren't we rich in each other? I think so.
    Thank you for yet another insight shared. Thank you for always reaching out. I feel your hand so strongly. I hope you feel mine as well.
    With love...Mary

  4. What a beautiful way to view this community we have here. I will think of this when I am finding myself frustrated with others, and remind myself to be sure to make as many deposits as I do withdrawals, in my real life and in my blog life.

  5. This fully speaks to me and resonates so much, as I am now living with two people, my younger cousin and my little sister, and I find myself being much more tolerant of my younger cousin than of my sister... And this makes a lot of sense.
    Thanks for writing this.

  6. I love this. I'm going to remember this, it's such a clear way of seeing relationships.

    Thank you for filling up my emotional bank, bloggy friend. I'll write you a check any time. :)


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