What Exactly is "Emotional Stinginess" and How
Does it Manifest In Various Relationships?
One useful way to conceptualize emotional stinginess is to
think of it in relation to its direct opposite: emotional
generosity, which may also be thought of as "generosity
of spirit." Bear in mind that you may run into emotionally
stingy people in any area of your life.
For example, in the workplace, a boss or colleague who is
emotionally stingy makes a habit of withholding praise,
positive feedback and proverbial "pats on the back"
for a job well done.
Similarly, an emotionally stingy friend holds back in the
verbal expression of praise, kind words, compliments and affection.
As an example of emotional stinginess in the context of a
parent-child relationship, a teenage son may only feel truly
loved by his father when he brings home perfect report cards
or performs incredible feats on the athletic field. Somehow,
perhaps subtly or perhaps not so subtly, this father has sent
his son the destructive message that love is both finite and
conditional, and that if the son gets B-pluses instead of
A-pluses, then he is not quite as worthy of his father's love.
And finally, an emotionally stingy romantic partner or spouse
withholds kind words, loving gestures, kisses, hugs, cuddles,
massages, back rubs, foot rubs, even sex, and other emotional
and physical signs of affection, only doling out them whenever
he or she feels like it. In addition, many emotionally stingy
spouses or partners are particularly miserly about "doling
out" loving and/or complimentary phrases like "I
love you," or "You mean everything to me,"
or "You're the greatest," or "You look so incredibly
beautiful or handsome."
What the Great Depression Can Teach Us about Emotionally
Emotionally stingy partners typically withhold praise,
love, affection and tenderness, or only dole it out
For a useful metaphor, think of the United States during
the 1930s, that volatile, economically unstable decade famously
known as The Great Depression.
During that time, soup kitchens and other charitable organizations
had to ration out limited amounts of food to feed each hungry
client, or else the food would quite literally run out. Simply
put, there was only a finite amount of food and other goods
to go around, so these items had to be doled out very carefully
Well, just as there was a only finite amount of resources
to go around during The Great Depression, there are certain
people who believe (falsely) there is only a finite amount
of love to go around in their relationships. And because of
this misguided belief, they behave as though love is something
that ought to be hoarded-and even lorded over others-rather
than something that ought to be spent lavishly and abundantly,
as if there is no end in sight.
But the fact of the matter is there is not now, there never
has been, and there never will be a "finite amount"
of love in the world.
Actually, love is one of the few infinite and self-sustaining
"resources" that we have available to us. Indeed,
the more love you give, the more love you find in your heart
to keep on giving. And
not only that, but the more love you give, the more love you
end up receiving as well.
A quick story that illustrates this point: I can vividly
remember talking to a young mother who had just given birth
to her second child. She confided that during some of her
more anxious moments of her second pregnancy, she had worried
that maybe she wouldn't have enough love to give to a second
baby; that maybe she only had a "set amount" of
maternal love to give, and that perhaps all of that love had
already gone to her first child.
But she was thrilled to report that when her second baby
finally arrived, she discovered the exact opposite to be true.
In fact, the instant she gave birth the second time around,
all of her worries about "the possibly finite nature
of love" slipped away, and her heart became flooded with
more love than she had ever thought possible.
What would make someone emotionally stingy in their relationships?
Well, there may be a small number of people who just happen
to be cold, distant and emotionally stingy "by nature."
In other words, for whatever reason, emotional stinginess
is a character trait that has been "hard-wired"
into the very core of their being.
But many emotionally stingy people learned this behavior
somewhere along the way. Maybe their own parents, and/or one
(or two, or five) of their ex-romantic partners were emotionally
stingy with them, and they simply learned to emulate this
behavior in all of their relationships.
One huge factor in emotional stinginess, as you may have
already guessed, is control.
If one person in a relationship only doles out love, kindness
and affection very, very sparingly and unpredictably, and
if the other partner in the relationship constantly feels
desperate for whatever little scraps of affection may or may
not be coming her way, then the emotionally stingy partner
is clearly the one with all of the control. And of course
it is never healthy or desirable to have such a massive power
imbalance in any relationship.
Because emotionally stingy individuals view love as finite
and conditional-rather than viewing it as infinite and unconditional-and
because they are so miserly about how much affection they
are willing to "dole out" to just about everyone
in their lives, they often end up creating an atmosphere of
emotional deprivation, or even full blown emotional starvation,
in their households.
In her book, Are
You The One For Me?, relationship expert Barbara De
Angelis, PhD writes: "What's the purpose of being with
someone who is emotionally shut down? Staying in a relationship
with a person who cannot share feelings is a form of self-punishment....You
deserve to have someone in your life who shows you his love
and appreciation on a consistent basis. The opposite of emotional
generosity is emotional stinginess-hoarding love and emotions
as if they were in a limited quantity and offering you tiny
pieces of one's heart...Unless you want a full-time job as
a teacher, avoid relationships with emotionally stingy partners!"
Emotional stinginess can do extensive damage to relationships,
but you don't have to tolerate it any longer.
How to Cope With the Emotionally Stingy People in YOUR
So, how can you cope with an emotionally stingy person in
your own life? Well, it's not easy, by any stretch of the
imagination, but below are some possible steps to consider:
Depending on the nature of your relationship, you
may want to confront the person directly and let them
know their emotionally stingy, affection-withholding behavior
is both cruel and unacceptable.
At this point the person may get angry and defensive,
or he may acknowledge that you have a legitimate gripe.
If the person acknowledges to one degree or another that
you do have a valid concern, then you have a genuine opening
to start a conversation that will not be easy, but will
definitely be worthwhile.
Give the person specific examples of his or her
Let the person know exactly how these specific instances
of emotional stinginess have made you feel (hurt,
angry, betrayed, sad, desperate, unloved).
Explain how you make every effort to be emotionally
generous with your love and affection, and how you
deserve the same generosity in return.
If the person seems open and receptive to hearing you
out, give him or her some time, first to digest
the information, and then to implement some behavioral
If the person does not seem at all open to listening
to what you have to say, and does not seem receptive to
the idea of making the necessary behavioral changes, you
may need to re-evaluate the entire relationship and
ask yourself very honestly and directly what you are getting
out of it, if anything.
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