I am writing this post as a recovering over-giver and as someone who knows the pain of depleting oneself with this habit. It is true, we all have an innate desire to contribute to the well-being of others. Yet, if we are reliant on the approval and appreciation that comes from our helping, it can be detrimental to our emotional, financial and even physical well-being. What I share here come from the wisdom I gathered from having been someone who over-gave in exchange for approval and love. Here is what I found…
Over-giving can become a power drain and can quickly make us feel disempowered and even victimized. Once we step into this cycle, it is very hard to break out of it. It can pull us into a system of co-dependency where don’t have enough energy left to attend to our own needs. We lose control of our happiness, in some cases, even our lives.
When it comes to over-giving, there are a few signs and symptoms that can help us recognize if we are leaking too much energy out but not letting it to come back to us.
1. The person you are helping uses your help to escape responsibility
Maybe you aren’t seeing it or just not admitting it to yourself yet but the person you are helping does not take responsibility for their own life. They may abuse your help and even manipulate you to rescue them when they are unwilling to help themselves. The only feelings that can come from this awareness are anger, resentment and bitterness, the opposite of the feelings you were hoping to have when you initially helped them. Maybe they need new life skills or a new way to see the situation they are in. Either way, you see no motivation in them to gain these skills or look for ways to change their situation.
2. Your helping causes you to compromise your integrity
If you find yourself coming up with excuses and lying to get out of helping them, you are doing a disservice to yourself. Not only because you are giving when you are no longer able to but also because now, you losing the integrity of your word. Lack of integrity will build up guilt towards yourself and cause you to self-sabotage your own happiness.
3. Your giving promotes dependence
It takes us a while to learn the difference between helping someone and rescuing them. It feels good to give because it is aligned with the altruistic wiring in us. The way to know if we are fostering dependence on us by helping someone is to imagine the person you are helping to inherit a million dollars and becoming completely independent. If that makes you uneasy, then it is possible that you are over-giving and/or giving with an agenda. Over-giving and fostering dependence robs the person off their ability to reach their own unique potential. We grow through hardships and our creativity kicks into higher gear in difficult circumstances. In the long run, they will resent you for it even if they like it for the time being. Because deep inside people want to be self-actualized, self-sufficient and reach their life goals by their own means.
4. Your help is putting you in a compromised position
If you find yourself using your credit card to put their groceries or phone bill or you stay up till wee hours of the morning talking to them on the phone to comfort them when it is a work night for you, it might be time to stop. Recognize your limits and communicate them. When I was going through a rough time during my divorce, I reached out to a friend a few too many times for support and she kindly set a boundary with me. She shared that her mother was going through cancer treatments and she had just gotten a promotion at work which was requiring her to work more than usual. She was unable to extend herself to me the way she would want to. I didn’t get mad. Instead, I respected her for her honesty.
5. You feel guilty deep inside when you don’t want to help them
They may be laying a guilt trip on you or you fear that they will reject you if you don’t continue helping. You might see their struggle and have a desire to help but can’t silence the feeling of guilt for your lack of desire to support them further. It may mean that your kindness is being taken for granted and even expected. Kindness should only come from the heart, not out of obligation.
6. Helping them has changed the texture of your relationship in a negative way
The inequality in giving and receiving has made room for guilt, discomfort, and resentment. You are put in a one-up position without realizing or desiring that. When the person you were giving to becomes free of that need, it will be difficult for the relationship to go back to where it used to be. In fact, it may be irreparable unless both parties can come clean, own their parts and do what is necessary to clean it up. It might be hard to trust each other or relate as equals again.
Giving has to come from the heart, create a space for deeper connection and cannot cancel out our need to feel appreciated, respected and safe.
If any of the above warning signs resonated with you, it is worth paying attention to. Maybe somewhere along the way, you learned that in order to feel worthy of connection, you need to be useful or helpful to others. Altruism is our wiring and it is beautiful. Yet, it cannot come with a price tag that marks our self-respect and sense of autonomy down. The energy of this kind of imbalanced giving eventually takes its toll and stays with us, diluting our experience of joy and connection. Take your power back and re-evaluate what makes you feel connected and safe in relationships. Who knows, you might end up teaching someone about boundaries and the value of equal relationships.