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Emotional Payoffs Finally Revealed

Alright, so I teased you a bit on the first post of this topic. You probably thought you were going to hear all about these so-called “emotional payoffs” I keep talking about. Well, here I will get to the “rest of the story.”

Just a caveat, this whole self-awareness thing can be kind of dicey. Be careful what you ask because you might get answers that make you uncomfortable. If you see yourself in these descriptions, try not to soak it up too strongly all at once. Just make a note of it and read on through the end. Keep in mind that the first post referred to your special someone becoming disinterested in a night out with you. We will now look at the emotional possibilities with this conflict.

Angry and vocal – This brings the confrontation to a head quickly. The payoff could be good if something has been brewing and needs to be discussed. If the emotion can stay in control and a good conversation can begin, the evening may be better for it. Or, you might be feeling powerless and this is a way to make your special someone know you have power in this relationship, too. Payoff – This direct confrontation can make you feel in control, though you might lose the evening if you push it too far.

Slow and simmering anger – Being passive-aggressive like this is also about feeling powerless. You are rubbing it in their face somehow, most likely talking in a sarcastic but smooth tone, bringing up old hurts when the opportunity arises, taking jabs that you know will sting. Or, if your special someone does make a positive advance at you that evening, you might reject them simply because they had rejected you first (even though it’s what you had wanted earlier). Payoff – You may end up feeling in control, but you may also do damage to your relationship.

Retreating inside despair – It’s all your fault, you screwed up just like usual, and it’s no wonder they hate you. What?? That’s kind of extreme, but it becomes a pity party for you. You pout, sit off in the corner with a hurt look on your face, but you won’t really talk about anything unless it’s about how awful everything has become. You are essentially the martyr, making your special someone the bad guy. You jerk around your special someone’s emotions to make them react in a sympathetic way. Payoff – They try to smooth things over with you, which brings them close to you again. You may believe that your intense reaction was justified, but your see-saw emotions will feel manipulative and draining to your special someone.

Shaking it off – You are somewhat stunned and yes, disappointed. But you also remembered that they hadn’t felt well during the week. They also had a difficult day at work, and they were looking forward to hanging out at home. Although they didn’t want to go out, they are ready to watch a movie and just be casual. They have offered to go out the next weekend instead.

While this isn’t your first preference, you would rather spend the evening having some fun rather than being a big pain about it. After a little quiet time to collect your thoughts and emotions, you come back with some suggestions about which movie to watch and what to cook for supper.

You may be saying, “Wait a minute, I can’t control how I react.” And to some extent, it may feel like it is all automatic and happens in a snap. However, many reactions are out of habit and established emotional patterns. Do you typically lash out when you are upset? Do you find yourself always doing a “poor me” type of thing?

Everyone has patterns and no one is perfect, even when you are honestly trying to make good choices. Even responses that would seem destructive are often chosen for their particular benefit. It also depends on what behaviors the person is comfortable with. Whatever your reaction of choice, it’s helpful to see what your ultimate payoff is.

How much do you want to have emotional control over the situation rather than finding a way to spend time with your special someone? A tough question, but a useful one. I’ve learned about my own habits over the years, especially those born of my depression years (and less mature years). I must always be cautious of becoming the martyr or being sullen and sarcastic. I’m sure you didn’t notice that at ALL.

Whatever the payoff is, be aware of whether your choice is destructive or positive. It can make all the difference.

Emotional Payoffs Finally Revealed

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska. She blogs regularly on the Psych Central blog, Family Mental Health.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2018). Emotional Payoffs Finally Revealed. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Mar 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.