The Knowledge Center

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The Emotional Bank Account

By: Dr. Larry Grubb

If you are involved with Facebook you’ve probably had the experience where you read a comment a friend wrote about you and you immediately say “I can’t believe what she said about me! I trusted her! I’ll never speak to her again!”

Your friend just made a huge withdrawal from her Emotional Bank Account (EBA) with you and it will take a lot of work to refill the account and repair the relationship.

Do you constantly write checks on your bank account or use your charge cards so much that at the end of the month you don’t have any money left over and don’t know how you are going to pay your bills?

Well, you have a bank account for EMOTIONS just like you have a bank account for money!

When you write checks and make withdrawals from your emotional bank account without refilling your account you will end up feeling empty and depressed.


I first encountered the concept of an “emotional bank account” over 20 years ago when I read “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Dr. Steven Covey. I was very impressed by the book and would use his “7 Habits” when discussing self-improvement and interactions with others in meetings with groups and my psychiatric patients.

In my psychiatric work I have seen thousands of patients who suffer from anxiety and depression. On many occasions when I am talking with people who are dealing with large amounts of stress in their live I find myself telling them they are “overdrawing their emotional bank account.” Most people quickly understand that their emotional energy is saved just like a bank account and how they can quickly overdraw their account. They also come to understand how important it is to have reserve funds in the emotional account to cover unexpected emotional situations just like they need to have a reserve fund of money to cover those “rainy day” expenses.

Dr. Covey’s concept of the emotional bank account focuses on developing, improving and maintaining personal relationships with family, friends and co-workers. As you can see in the Facebook scenario, he uses “trust” as the currency we use to make deposits into and withdrawals from the emotional bank account. If we make a deposit into someone’s bank account, their trust in us will grow. If we make regular deposits into the EBA, the balance

will grow so that if we do make a mistake in the relationship, people will be more accepting and they will be able to continue their relationships. But if we do something that decreases someone’s trust in us we make a withdrawal from the emotional bank account and if there is not a positive balance, the relationship may end. To regain a positive balance must make a deposit into the EBA by rebuilding their trust in us.

Let’s briefly discuss some ways we can make a deposit into the EBA:

• Understand the individual
• Attending to little things
• Keeping commitments
• Apologizing sincerely when you make a “withdrawal

Understand the individual: we all come from different backgrounds and experiences and whenever we meet someone for the first time we automatically try to understand them based up on our previous experiences and relationships. A lot of time we find ourselves saying, or doing something, that can cause an immediate withdrawal from the EBA which may just be starting. If we take time to learn more about the person, such as their background and family, it is much less likely for us to make a negative withdrawal and instead to make a positive deposit by showing understanding of their background and experiences.

Attending to little things: a phrase I really like when someone discusses buildings or paintings is “the Devil is in the details.” In the same way, it’s the little things in relationships that can either be a deposit or withdrawal from your EBA. Going by the grocery to pick up some milk or groceries may seem small, but not having something essential for dinner can definitely be a withdrawal. On the other hand, even if you have not been asked to help clean up the house and you get started on your own can be a big deposit into your EBA.

Keeping Commitments: Samuel Goldwyn, a famous Hollywood Studio Head once said “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it is written on.” We have both written and unwritten commitments. The key is when you make a commitment, or a promise, it is essential that you meet that commitment, otherwise the other person’s trust in you will definitely decrease and you will have made another withdrawal from your EBA.

Sincerely apologize when you make a “withdrawal: many times we make a mistake, such as writing an email when you are angry and send it without thinking about the impact it might have on the other person. When you get the angry email or phone call from that person and you realize what you have done, and its impact on your EBA, it is vital that you sincerely say how sorry you are and that you take responsibility for what you did so that you can at least make a small deposit into the EBA after making a big withdrawal from the EBA.

It’s easier than you think to make a withdrawal from your emotional bank account. A sarcastic word, a joke at someone’s expense, and a joke always has a victim, not keeping your promises or honoring commitments will lower your emotional bank account. A big part of stopping withdrawals is to take responsibility for our actions. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people take responsibility for their actions. It’s always easy to blame someone else if we make a mistake in our relationships or at work. “They didn’t tell me the paper was due today!” is a great line my son uses in school if he forgets to write down his homework assignments.

Understanding, and using the EBA, can be a great help in building and maintaining relationship. So, the next time you are interacting with someone, either in person, through email, text of Facebook, think of your EBA with that person. Are you making a deposit or a withdrawal and is the balance in your EBA positive or negative?

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