Emotional Currency

A couple months ago I visited my brother, Mr. Hamilton, in the lovely state of Colorado. He picked me up from the airport in Denver, and after not having seen him for a while, the reunion was crisp and sweet. My brother is my biggest advocate, despite being hundreds of miles removed from the massive small-town that is Louisville, KY. His unflinching loyalty to me has been a steady place in the roughest times, and on our hour long drive from Denver to his abode, we did what we normally do, talk excessively about the deep things in our lives.

Both my brother and I are not “how’s the weather” kind of people. We are more “what is your opinion on the ship of Theseus” kind of people.

That being said, we talked about our respective experiences in abandoning the religious doctrine of our upbringing. This lead into a revelation that he has only recently come to, a truth that I beat him to for once (finally, I did something before my brother!). That truth is this: love is not transactional.

Then he mentioned something that has haunted me for years. See, my parents and I aren’t super close. I suspect this is primarily due to the fact that my mother and I argued quite a bit growing up. As you can imagine, even then I had opinions about things, but more so than wanting to hear myself talk, I wanted to know why things were the way they were. I wanted to see the cogs turning. My mother, I am grieved to say, does not appreciate such inquisitiveness. We would get in screaming matches, and I would be jettisoned into catch 22’s. I would be accused with paradoxes, things like “You are always argumentative”; ya’ know, a statement that I can’t disagree with without sounding argumentative.

We were discussing this, and this is the moment when my brother speaks up, “I remember that. I remember you trying to get out thoughts, but you were just a kid. You didn’t have the vocabulary to explain your side of things or how you felt. You would point at Dad and say, ‘You know that I’m right!’ and he would stand there and watch. You didn’t have anyone on your side.”

It still gets me a little choked up just thinking about him saying that. I had no idea that he still thought about those times, those week long stretches of being verbally beaten to a pulp, having my child-level reasoning taken advantage of. He was right. I already knew that, but I never thought I would get the validation of hearing someone else say it. A lot of who I am was birthed out of that constant friction. My vocabulary, my love of writing, my love for questions, my passion for defending outsiders, my desire to help, my determination; it all comes from having to exist on an island of one. I had to be resourceful in order to survive.

That’s just one side of the coin though, the side that tried its best to cope. The other side is depression, self deprecation, rolling over at my own abuse, fear of the unknown, self doubt, low self esteem, and a pervasive black sheep syndrome. It’s a heavy coin.

It is currency, though. Its emotional currency, a phrase that I use a lot mainly because my therapist said he that he liked the sound of it. I talk about this concept in a pretty esoteric way in Blood on the Altar, but I want to address it a bit more practically here. Finding verbage for novel concepts is about as important as the concept itself.

We are constantly expending our emotional currency on something. Even when we are sleeping, we are distributing our wealth. Anyone who has been plagued with insomnia can attest to that. We are also building up emotional equity during our day, and the way that we go about doing that is where we get the differences between introverts and extroverts. Introverts, in a general sense, build up their emotional bank roll when they are in solitude or in intimate social settings. Extroverts gain emotional currency from higher energy, public events. Keep in mind, that this is admittedly a little reductionistic; I don’t have enough internet real estate to really dig into the nuanced differences between the two in an in-depth way. If you want to learn more about yourself, and the differences in personalities, I’d recommend taking the Myers Briggs 16 Personalities Test.

Anyway, we are spending and receiving that currency in a constant flow of exchanges. It’s normal and natural, but things sour when we invest our finances into relationships without seeing returns. We can’t help but put equity into encounters we like, and that is why it is so counter intuitive to realize that healthy relationships are not transactional. Healthy relationships produce returns without the other party expecting them to.

Admittedly, it’s weird to think about our friendships and romantic exchanges in this way, but I believe in this concept wholeheartedly. It took me so long to understand it, however, because from an early age I was duped into believing that affection is always balanced on a scale of how much value you are and how big of an inconvenience you are. I had to figure out myself that you can choose to see people as intrinsically valuable. You can choose to see people as complete and dynamic at the same time. That is love. Love is taking someone as they come and saying, “I’m am here, and you make my life better just by existing.”

For a long time after the divorce, my concept of love was utterly decimated, but I think I have finally settled on a definition that I like. It’s general, but it is specifically useful when using that general concept of love. Love is the desire to see someone personally thrive. That is going to looks so vastly different from one case to another, but that’s the point. Sometimes loving someone means letting them go. Sometimes love means saying, “This isn’t going to work.” Sometimes love mean standing your ground, but I really believe that loving others begins with loving ourselves.

Today try to take some time and really take stock of how you are bringing yourself joy. Start small if you have to, and if you are really having a hard time coming up with something, maybe try to find some new things to do in the spirit of treating yourself right. It’s time stop depreciating our emotional currency.

We had a great depression for a reason.

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