How often do you fill up your emotional tank?

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

People have different theories about when to fill the car with gas. One very important person in my life fills the car when we are coasting into the gas station on fumes (or so it seems to me). I generally tend to fill mine before it gets to that critical point. I don’t want to take the chance of running out.

I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for anyone who runs out of gas because they let the tank get that low. You may know this scenario in your own life. It’s just one of those things in my life and the VIP in my life that is not going to change. We gotten used to our different ways of filling the gas tank.

Did you know that people have Emotional Gas Tanks? John Gottman, as very well known author and expert on family relationships talks about them in several of his books and quotes Dr. Ross Campbell who says, “Inside every child is an ‘emotional tank’ waiting to be filled with love. When a child really feels loved, he will develop normally, but when the love tank is empty, the child will misbehave.”

In working with children and their families, Dr. Gottman also came to realize that many adults were suffering from the effects of an empty love tank. These effects were evident not only in their children, but in their adult relationships.

As hard as we might try, we can’t escape the fact that giving and giving and giving without receiving some nurturing ourselves is not possible or healthy. The other fact is that as adults we are faced with people and situations of our choosing, as well as people and situations, not of our choosing. Keeping our emotional tanks filled doesn’t even register on the emotional GPS.

Just like our cars break down or stop without gas and maintenance, so do we human beings. Just like many of our cars (or smart phones) have GPS that help us locate gas stations, our emotions are a GPS system that lets us know when we need to refuel.
We can make the choice to wait till we are running on emotional fumes and fill up our tank just in the nick of time or we can fill up before we run down or out completely.

Some of the common signs of running low or on fumes can be increased crabbiness, lack of energy, being short-tempered, eating and drinking more sugary, caffeinated substances to keep going, losing patience more quickly than usual, isolating…and the list goes on.

If you are noticing this in yourself, you might wonder if your emotional tank needs some filling. This could be a simple as a few hours to yourself, a long hot bath, some time with your significant other or as complex as re-evaluating your job, the amount of activities you or your children are involved in, commitments you are making that you really don’t want to make.

With the holidays approaching, people are making travel arrangements and if they are going by car, they are making sure the car will make it. Traveling with the challenges of snow and ice and unexpected detours can make holiday travel even more stressful and running out of gas would just add to the stress of traveling.

With the holidays approaching, it could be helpful to look at your own and your families’ love tank. What might you need to do to refill or keep it filled as the holidays approach so that you can navigate the expected and unexpected events of the holidays without running out of emotional gas?

If you have some tips you’ve found helpful in planning ahead to manage your holiday navigation, I’d love to hear them. I will look forward to your responses.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560

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