Emotional debts can happen in any relationship: romantic partners, spouses, family relations, friends and colleagues. Such relational debts need not be explicitly stated and agreed upon by both parties to have a profound influence over the relationship. In fact, as long as one partner perceives “debt”, the debt will continue to hold the relationship under seige.
Some people are prone to incurring relational debts while others frequently perceived debts owed in others. I am sure all of you will be able to identify acquaintances or others you have known in these “types” of relational debtors and creditors.
Let’s take a look…
1. People who see themselves as unworthy.
“As long as everyone is happy, i am happy.”
“Whatever your decision, it is perfectly okay.”
Such people always put others above themselves. They consider themselves unworthy of consideration or respect. Because of this mindset, they are always in debt. Such a person may have learned to be so from religious ethics of submission and accommodation. It can also be the result of an abusive childhood, where as a child, she/he was demeaned and criticized, such that it is difficult to form a positive identity. Children who are over-protected may also be part of this group if they internalised the idea that they are “weak”.
2. People who promise easily and yet do not deliver.
“No problem. I will take care of everything.”
“Just trust me… i will solve the problem.”
“Please don’t go. I will do everything you say!”
Such people are conflict-avoiders. They do not wish to deal with conflicts so they postpone the conflicts as long as they can. Cohen and Sterling suggest that children who grew up in a childhood of turmoil (e.g. physically abusive parents) may end up in this category. Such children may engage pacifying (as a means to avoid conflict) and distraction as coping mechanisms.
3. People who feel that other people are never good enough.
The perfectionist that impose high standards on others say…
“That SMS is not sincere enough!”
“Can you stop looking at the ground when you walk? It’s a disgrace to walk next to someone who looks so inferior!”
“Look at that cute dyke. Now if you would look half as good…”
“Can you at least be as sweet as my ex-girlfriend?”
In other words, nothing is ever good enough. Partners of such perfectionists (or fault-finders) tend to be of low self-esteem when over time, when (and if) they internalize what the perfectionists say. This may create resentment in these partners towards the perfectionists. Ironically, a sense of dependency may concurrently result because the partner believes that she is inadequate and is in need of the perfectionist’s “better judgment”.
4. People who think they are helpless victims… forever.
“If you are in my shoes, you will know how difficult it is to get out of this.”
“She’s very strong-willed. I have no choice but to listen to her and do as she says.”
The victim laments her/his state and maintains that she/he is powerless to do anything about it. The victim refuses to take an active part in problem solving, avoiding responsibility and preferring to wallow in misery, hopelessness and sense of victimization.
5. People who use guilt to influence others.
“Go ahead… do what you want. What can i do anyway?”
“Don’t worry about me. I will just manage somehow…”
Such people appear helpless and weak, but their sacrifices and “altruistic” behavior have great emotional strings attached. The bad news is: once he/she succeeds in making you feel guilty, he/she has power that is almost unshakable. If you are guilt-stricken and under obligation, you are possibly under the hands of a manipulative guilt extortionist… who simply may have no wish to release you.
6. People who purposely indebt others.
These people start with:
“Don’t worry, you can just use mine anytime you like.”
“You can pay me back later when you work.”
And after a sense of debt is created, they say:
“After all i have done for you… surely you can do this for me?”
“That’s the least you owe me, isn’t it?”
“What would you have become, if it wasn’t for me?”
“That’s not the way to treat someone who has given you so much, isn’t it?”
The tricky thing about such people is that you cannot distinguish between those who are fishing with a hook and those who are merely throwing bread crumbs into the pond (no strings attached). We all know of genuine generous souls out there and giving (in an estimated reciprocal manner) is a way of bonding. In treating people around us, it might be good to be a state of “even-ness”. This will be covered in later parts of this series.
In concluding part 2, i must say that debtors and creditors are not mutually exclusive. In a relationship with the same person, you can be a debtor and a creditor at the same time. This may be according to the same incident or separate incidents. Thus, things can be fairly complex. In the next release, we will be discussing how to identify debts and how to bring clarity into relationships.
Concepts from “You Owe Me- The emotional debts that cripple relationships” by Eric J. Cohen and Gregory Sterling.