I am always fascinated by the topic of temperament. This is no doubt because I have spent so many years trying to figure out why my temperament is so-touchy. I am a highly sensitive person, and having discovered that has helped to explain my propensity to be a little on the high strung side. Certainly, there are other parts of my temperament that are a bit easier to deal with, but recently, I have come face to face with a type of person that baffles me, and being the need-to-know kind of person that I am, I began my search to try to better understand this type of person.
It began with my soon-to-be-ex-husband, and his family. They are not generous people, and I am not just talking about money. Sure, they do give what many would consider miserly gifts. My son turned 6 last week, and in the box sent by his grandparents was a fortune cookie, two “I voted today” stickers leftover from the recent election, and a plastic elephant. These people are not poor, and it is the thought that counts, and all of that, but really? A fortune cookie snagged during your last Chinese meal as a gift?
What is truly sad and disconcerting is that this stinginess extends far beyond actual earthly things. I finally came up with what I felt was an accurate discription of their way of life, and mindset, and it is emotional stinginess. A little googling showed me that I did not invent the term. My STBX withheld anything that could possibly be withheld, from the most basic of needs, to the truth, and affection. His parents are very emotionally stingy as well.
They all hold grudges, and are very stingy with their time, and talents. In short, to me they look like emotional Scrooges. Their lives are driven by fear of appearing less than perfect, and by an extremely strong need to control others. It is really quite sad for them, and it is hard to be around them. It became impossible to be around my husband, as he just got worse over time.
The opposite of emotional stinginess is emotional generosity. An emotionally generous person freely gives love, praise, affection, and encouragement. They freely give smiles, and hugs, and also tend to give freely of their time, talents, and resources. They are positive, fun, and generally very pleasant to be around. I tend very strongly towards emotional generosity and I began to wonder if that was a temperament thing, or a nature/nurture thing. It can be both.
I think for me, being a highly sensitive person, or an HSP, I quickly and readily sense the moods and afflictions of people around me. This can be a gift and a curse, but is more often a gift, as it gives me the opportunity to provide encouragement, a little humor, or a hug when I see that it may be needed. It also just plain feels good to me to give of myself, and what I have got. I do not have a lot right now, which is bothersome to me, not because I do not have enough for me, but because I cannot give the way that I would like to, but that has opened doors for ways to be creative in my giving.
Quite recently, I came to be in close proximity to another emotionally stingy person. The M.O. looks almost identical to my in-laws and husband. There is the control, the lack of generosity of time and talents, the lack of encouragement, and the clinging to worldly possessions beyond what is healthy. There is also a lot of fear, and anger present, as with my in-laws. Once you spot emotional stinginess, and you have already had a run in or two with it, the red flag pop up, and you seriously want to run screaming in the other directions, but the reality of life is that sometimes you simply cannot.
Why are some people emotionally stingy? Rachael G. Baldino, MSW, writes that a small percentage of people are simply “hardwired” to be emotionally stingy. That means that emotional stinginess is a part of their temperament. But, for the vast majority of emotionally stingy people, it is a choice, or a learned behavior. For these people, there is a mindset that love comes in limited quantities, and you have to work very hard to earn any of it.
Love, praise, affection,and simply generosity of spirit is doled out in minute amounts, and it is usually very conditional. The bottom line, says Baldino, is that this type of emotionally stingy behavior is about power and control. If you have to behave yourself according to the stingy persons expectations in the hopes of receiving a scrap of encouragement here, or a tidbit of affection there, then they have they power. That is not an emotionally healthy relationship.
What are the emotional and psychological effects of being in a relationship with an emotionally stingy person, whether it be a boss, friend, parent, sibling, or spouse? The toll taken can be very high. Relationships with emotionally stingy people are highly stressful, and depending on the type of relationship, can lead to anxiety, depression, and a deflated sense of self worth. It can also just plain wear you out. Emotionally stingy people, in my mind, are among those people that I have found to be toxic to my own health and well being.
These are tough times for many people. The economy has ravaged many, and so many people are having to adjust to lifestyles that are different. It is in times like these when the one thing that we all have to give is love, time, attention, affection, and encouragement. Emotionally generous people are happier people, and happier people are healthier people. It is my overall experience that there are a lot more emotionally generous people around than the stingy types.
You can do yourself two favors that will benefit your emotional health tremendously. The first is to surround yourself with emotionally generous people, and the second is to be emotionally generous yourself. What you give to others will come back to you many times over, and it is those intangible things that we never lose, bad economy or not.
Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW
How to Handle Emotionally Stinginess in Human Relationships