Friday 14 October, 8.45 a.m.
Lynn’s mobile displayed ‘MUM’ as she began to answer the call
while negotiating a tight parking space, much further away from
her office than she’d wanted.
‘Hello, dear,’ began a friendly voice. ‘Can you bring me a few bits
and pieces on the way home tonight?’
Lynn had occasionally attempted to explain to her 71-year-old
mother that collecting Nicky from school, picking up ‘a few bits
and pieces’, taking the shopping to her miles off her route home
and cooking dinner required the skills of a circus juggler!
But today, as usual, she just bit her lip and reached for a pen and
paper. A driver blared his horn impatiently as she paused in her
parking manoeuvre, causing her to jump.
It was after 6.30 before she delivered the 27 items of groceries to
her mother – and an hour later before she got home.
The phone was ringing as she put her key in the door. It was
Steve, with his customary call to say he was running late. ‘Motor-
way mayhem’ had cost him more than an hour. The rest of the
delay was caused by the two unmentioned pints he’d downed
before setting off.
He was winding up the call when ‘CALL WAITING’ interrupted
– causing Lynn to rush her goodbyes as she took the new call.
‘Lynn, it’s Helena’, began a faltering voice. ‘I’m needing a sympa-
thetic ear and a large glass of wine. Can I pop round?’
Lynn could have screamed. Instead, she said, ‘Of course. I’ll get
Nicky off to bed and put some wine in the fridge.’
Feeling resentful of a free Friday evening now about to be swal-
lowed up – and annoyed at her inability to turn Helena down
– Lynn picked up the mail and began to open up the top letter,
The bank statements often filled her with dread, but this one was
especially unwelcome as her eye went straight to the heading on
the unfriendly-looking letter.
It read: ‘Account Overdrawn’.
With virtually no bonus money these past six months from Steve’s
disappointing order book, they were struggling financially. Worse
still, Steve would be upset by the news.
Nicky was remonstrating by now – tired, hungry and starved of
his mother’s undivided attention.
Three times she begged him to put down the opened carton of
orange juice he’d removed from the fridge, which she’d left ajar
when popping in the wine. But when he finally dropped it – spill-
ing orange juice in all directions – her reaction surprised him.
Her eyes filled and a solitary tear ran down each cheek.
The distinctive tone of an incoming text message came from her
handbag on the kitchen table. At first, Lynn ignored it. But, drying
her eyes, she reached into the bag and illuminated the phone.
The message read:
Is your emotional bank balance in
Lynn burst into tears.
Lynn is struggling to keep her hectic life in balance.
She’s constantly bombarded by the demands of others.
In her work as a Human Resources trainer in the bank, she’s repeatedly
encouraging people to perform better – while often struggling herself.
At times she feels as if the needs of others are impossible to fulfil – like
a bottomless pit!
And then there are Steve and Nicky to look after.
Steve plays little part in nurturing Nicky, preferring to deal with
the ‘nice’ aspects of parenting, like taking him to the cinema or
playing football in the park.
He avoids the ‘tough’ stuff such as keeping him in order. Certainly
the ‘messy’ bits are usually left for Lynn to deal with.
Lynn finds herself taking on the responsibility for others all too
She’s done this for as long as she can remember. She recalls that
her mother used to do the same.
Lynn learned this way of functioning from her as she was growing
Gradually, over the years, Lynn has become a people pleaser – with-
out ever realizing it.
Lynn also has an over-developed sense of responsibility. For
If needed, she is there for family, friends, co-workers and indeed
anyone who might seek her help or support.
Sometimes Steve says to her that she imagines being needed, even
when she isn’t.
Lynn finds herself unable to say ‘no’, to anything or anybody.
If she does occasionally withhold her help, usually because she
has simply taken on too much, she feels uncomfortable, uneasy
As if somehow she is being ‘selfish’.
In other words, she goes on a guilt trip.
In error, Lynn has come to believe it’s her job in life to please
everyone and to ensure that others are happy by always putting
their needs before her own.
Avoiding confrontation if she possibly can, she hates falling out
with people because she likes to be liked.
More than that, Lynn needs to be liked.
This is because underneath the people pleaser coat she wears, Lynn
is really an approval seeker in disguise.
Approval seekers have a deep and powerful desire for both them-
selves and their behaviour to be fully accepted by others.
The cycle works like this:
• If they are needed by others then they feel liked.
• If they are liked then they feel approved of.
• And if they gain approval they feel better about themselves.
Your emotional bank balance
The important upside for Lynn is that this pattern of functioning
is a way of repeatedly giving little boosts to her fragile sense of
The downside is that she has to keep on doing it over and over
again for it to work.
Lynn ends up feeling utterly drained.
She’s literally being sapped of energy by the incessant demands
made by Nicky, Steve, her work and her friends.
And to top it all, her ageing mother is piling on the pressure through
The energy she gives out to others well exceeds the energy she gets
back from those around her.
And that can only go on for so long before her battery runs flat.
Although Lynn has managed like this for years, she’s gradually
making too many withdrawals from her energy account.
Lynn’s emotional bank balance is moving into the red.
When Lynn answered the door, it was clear to anybody that she
had been crying.
Except, that is, Helena Stoddart – a redhead with all the empathy
of a cauliflower.
Her professional career as a criminal lawyer was as successful as
her love life was disastrous.
‘Sorry, Helena,’ began Lynn, explaining her appearance, ‘I’ve
been a bit upset.’
‘I’ll give you upset,’ shot back Helena. ‘D’you know I got a mes-
sage from Mark this morning on my voicemail – my bloody voice-
mail – more or less telling me it was over …’
Helena didn’t listen to Lynn’s words of consolation as she tossed
her coat on to the coach and, uninvited, took two large wine
glasses down from the cabinet. All while recounting her latest
Lynn could hear Nicky whimpering from the bedroom, possibly
because she’d skipped the bedtime story to tidy up ahead of
Helena’s arrival. She could barely take in Helena’s tale of woe as
guilt consumed her to the point of drowning.
Steve arrived just 15 minutes later, to find Helena holding court in
his flat, on her second glass of wine – with Nicky’s whimper now
upgraded to full-blown crying.
He allowed himself a brief, disappointed sigh at the sight of one
of Lynn’s ‘bloodsucker’ friends, as he called them, before going
to attend to his son.
There were three bloodsuckers in all – the ‘Three Witches’ was
the collective term he gave them. He just couldn’t understand
why she tolerated them.
Steve fell asleep on Nicky’s tiny bed and, later on, found Helena
leaving as he emerged from the dark bedroom.
‘I’m sorry, Steve,’ was Lynn’s response, after closing the door.
‘She’s really upset. What could I do?’
‘Tell her to bugger off and cry on somebody else’s shoulder,’ he
volunteered, accepting that the remark would be met with a dis-
‘I put a couple of pizzas in the oven,’ said Lynn. ‘They should be
As Steve poured them both the remains of the second bottle of
Chardonnay, Lynn told him about her latest text.
‘Is your emotional bank balance in the red?’ she offered. ‘It really
upset me. Well that and the thought of Helena using up my Friday
night – having already spent an hour and a half getting mum’s
shopping and running round there!’
Steve looked down on the two uninviting cheese and tomato
pizzas in front of them.
With his knife, he started to slice his pizza into quarters.
‘Imagine this is all the energy you give to the people closest to you
in your life, Lynn,’ he began.
One quarter, you give to me. One quarter, you give to Nicky. One
quarter, you give to your mum.’
‘That’s not true,’ replied Lynn. ‘Mum’s 71 and …’
‘Just bear with me,’ reasserted Steve.
‘Now you’ve got one-quarter of your energy left. Who do you
give it to?’
‘Helena, Clare and Andrea,’ she offered.
‘Correct – the Three Witches.’
‘Now, Lynn, which of your close friends or relatives is, therefore,
denied any of your energy?’
Lynn thought for a moment.
‘No! And you’re out of time!’ said Steve triumphantly. ‘It’s you,
Lynn. You have no energy left for yourself!’
That old chestnut. God knows how many times Steve had urged
her to go back to dancing, take up yoga, learn to play tennis.
Anything for herself. But she never had time.
‘And where do I find the time for that, Einstein?’ asked Lynn, a
‘Well, watch closely,’ said Steve – now slicing up Lynn’s pizza.
‘Even if you give Nicky and me the same slice of your energy, if
you just cut down a bit on your mum and halve – or better still
– remove the Three Witches’ slices – hey presto, you have some
left over for you.’
Steve was on a roll. So he continued.
‘Ask yourself what they all give to you. Your mum devours your
time when it suits her – and you get virtually nothing back from
the Witches. If you only gave any of them back what they give
you, that would surely be fair wouldn’t it?’
But how could she? Her mum had become increasingly depend-
ent on Lynn since the death of her husband. And the Witches
– no, Helena, Clare and Andrea – were equally demanding.
She could, however, see Steve’s point. Very clearly, as it hap-
‘But what has all that to do with my emotional bank balance
being in the red?’ she asked.
‘You’re overdrawn,’ said Steve, ‘because you’re giving much
more to your family and friends than you ever get back!’