Altrusim is one of the highest forms of human consciousness. It is an intrinsic desire to contribute selflessly to the well-being of others and the society at large. It is hard to give selflessly when our giving takes from us and puts us in a situation of needing help ourselves. Altruism is not about depriving oneself, it’s about doing what we are realistically able to in order to bring others to where we are and where we believe they deserve to be because they are human.
Maybe for this reason, giving is valued, encouraged, and applauded. If we are reliant on the approval and appreciation that comes from our helping, however, things can take a dangerous turn. It can set the stage for codependency when our giving isn’t for the sake of adding value, but rather for buying love and approval. Dysfunctional helping and giving can be a huge power drain, and can quickly pull us into a disempowered victim state. Once that cycle starts, it is very hard to break out of, and can lead to high levels of codependency where we are no longer in charge of our own life and have no energy to attend to our own needs. That can lead to sickness, bankruptcy or even death.
As a woman who grew up in Turkey — who had been socialized to find my value in helping others — I have suffered greatly from my overgiving and have ended up in places where I needed rescuing to get back on my feet. I can now recognize signs of misuse and resentment in me and pop myself back out. If I get caught up in this cycle, that is.
When it comes to over-giving, there are a few signs and symptoms that jump out and are worth knowing about for us to have self-awareness when we are leaking too much energy out without allowing it to come back to us.
1. Your giving promotes dependence:
There is a big difference between helping and rescuing. It feels good to feel “useful”. It is aligned with the altruistic inclination in us. Yet, our giving should not replace the other person’s own genuine efforts to make their situation better. The way to know if you are fostering dependence on you (unconsciously) is to imagine the person you are helping winning $500K from the lottery and being completely independent of your help. If that makes you uncomfortable, then you are over-giving and giving with an agenda. This robs the person off of their ability to reach their potential. In the long-run, they will hate you for it. Because deep inside people actually want to be self-sufficient, and reach their life goals on their own.
2. The person you are helping uses your help to escape responsibility:
Someone who does not want to take responsibility for their own life and happiness will abuse your help and maybe even emotionally manipulate you to continue rescuing them. This will leave you bitter, resentful and angry. Definitely not the feelings you were going for when you helped them out initially. Maybe what they need is life skills and a new perspective. Yet, you see no motivation to gain these skills or look for ways to change their perspective.
3. Your helping causes you to compromise your integrity:
If you find yourself making up fake excuses and lying to get out of helping them, lending them money (again) or letting them stay over another week, you are leaking immense amount of personal power. Lack of integrity will wear down your soul and cause you to self-sabotage your own happiness.
4. You feel guilty when you feel reluctant to help them:
Either they are causing you to feel guilty or have implanted the seed fear of rejecting you if you don’t continue giving. If you begin to think, “I should want to help my friend. She is really struggling” but can’t shake the feeling of guilt for not wanting to help any longer, pay attention to that. It means that you are letting your kindness get taken for granted and even expected, when kindness should only be offered from the heart.
5. Your help is putting you in a difficult place financially, emotionally or physically:
We can’t give what we don’t have. If you are putting their groceries or phone bill on your credit card and it causes you to tap into your savings to pay off next month’s bill, that’s clearly not a good sign. Know your limits and communicate them. When I was going through my divorce, I reached out to a friend for support and she stated that she has way too much going on to be present and consistent with me. Her mother was in the hospital and she had just gotten a promotion that required her to work overtime. She knew that she would’ve been tapped out if she allowed me to put her on my “people to call instead of the crisis line” list. I respected that and appreciated her openness greatly.
6. Helping them has changed the texture of your relationship in a negative way:
Now, there is room for resentment, guilt and exhaustion, and no place for a way to relate equally. You are put in a one-up position without really wanting that. When the need for helping is gone, the possibility of the relationship going back to where it was is slim. In fact, a bad ending may be in sight where you no longer can be friends who trust each other.
7. You are in denial of the negative effects of your over-giving:
If you find yourself finding excuses for them and justifying your help, you may be in knee-deep into this cycle. Your need to be “the good person” who helps others in need has begun compromising your ability to take care of yourself and set the boundaries you need for your own well-being. You have become blinded to your own needs and have gotten caught up in their drama. You are no longer in charge of your own life. This is a very bad place to be because soon, you will be in need of help and it is a very difficult cycle to get out of.
Our giving has to feel good for both parties and should not replace our need to feel safe, respected, and appreciated.
If you resonated with any of the above seven signs, it may be a good time inquire about your intentions for helping and getting honest with yourself. You may have innocently learned to base your self-worth on how useful or helpful you are to others. Altruism is wonderful, but it should never come with a price tag that marks down our happiness, joy, independence, and self-respect. We all have equal responsibility on this planet and if our helping disempowers us and the other person, it is worth reviewing the price we are paying.