Hope for Relationships

The whole-person approach to healing

The Empty Promiser

Has someone destroyed your faith in their good word?

"Mom, can you drive me over to Jenny's house today? She's having some friends over and wanted me to come." Anna couldn't wait until she was old enough to get her driver's license so she wouldn't have to set herself up like this. But she'd secretly called just about everyone else she knew to see if she could get a ride over to Jenny's, without success. She was left with her last and most unreliable option -- her mother.

"It's going to take forty minutes out of my day to drive you over there! If you want me to take you, you're just going to have to help me get some things done around here. If we get everything done, then I ought to be able to take you over there," her mother replied, looking up from the Saturday morning paper.

Reluctantly Anna got a list of chores from her mother and began tackling them one by one, even though her mother hadn't moved from the table and her coffee. Anna knew this was a risk. She could end up getting all of the chores done and then find out that this was only the first set of things her mother wanted her to do. If her mother really didn't want to take her, she'd find a way to postpone leaving the house until it wouldn't be worth going anyway. Still, there was no way to know that for sure, and Anna really did want to go to Jenny's. She figured she had a fifty-fifty chance. It depended upon how much stuff her mother wanted her to do and how little her mother would find a way not to do what she'd said.

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As Anna worked around the house, she thought again to that all-important driver's license and the freedom it would bring. Of course, she'd still need to borrow her mother's car to go anywhere. But if she was lucky, her odds to have more freedom would go up.

Some people give empty promises. They say they'll do something and they never do. Even if the other person fulfills some sort of imposed condition on their compliance, they find a way to renege at the last minute. This sort of behavior teaches children the lie that words don't really mean anything, that words can be used to manipulate other people to do what we want, and that we don't have to live up to our promises.

As adults, we know all of those lessons are false. We know that words do mean a great deal, that words should never be used to manipulate other people, and that we are expected to live up to our promises. The people around us expect that.

If there is an empty promiser in your life, or there has been in the past, then you have experienced a form of emotional abuse. The effects on you may include:

  • Distortion of what is normal, with negative consequences to all relationships
  • Undercutting of a strong and healthy sense of self
  • Establishment of a potential for emotional abuse in future relationships
  • Caution, fear, and suspicion in relationships
  • Feelings of abandonment
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Cycling the pattern of abuse with your own children
  • Codependency
  • Excessive compliance or passivity

Of course, if you are the empty promiser, make note of the impact your behavior is having on the relationships in your life. When we fail to live up to our promises, we teach those around us that we don't value them enough to follow through.

2013 Gregory L. Jantz, Hope & Healing From Emotional Abuse, Revell.

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

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