I could have called this post: Confessions of a Chronic Over-giver …because, unlike regular giving, I believe that over-giving is an affliction/disease/compulsion.
My definition of over-giving (it is not a dictionary term):
Over-giving (verb) – the act of giving too much at the expense of one’s own well-being or needed resources. An over-giver compulsively gives even when it is not asked for, and sometimes even when it is not wanted, needed or useful.
For me, this is a life long affliction (I recall the Brownie motto: “a Brownie (girl scout) is cheerful and obedient, a Brownie always thinks of others before herself”.)
I first wrote about over-giving a year ago when I read an article by Elizabeth Gilbert (The author of Eat, Pray, Love) titled “How-to-Avoid-Giving-Too-Much-of-Yourself” in the December 2011 issue of Oprah. (Here’s the link to the my original post “The more you Give, the more you… Give“)
I felt awakened then, yet now, one year later, I’m still doing the same things… and I end up in my own private (self-induced) hell.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote:
“Now, over-giving is not quite the same thing as generosity. Generosity is neither entangling nor aggressive, because the generous person doesn’t expect anything in return. The over-giver doesn’t expect anything in return either—except to be petted and feted and praised and loved unconditionally for the rest of time (and I was)—so that’s not emotionally loaded. Nothing toxic there!
For most of my life, my over-giving problem was relatively contained, limited by my own resources. But then a few years ago I wrote this book called Eat Pray Love, which sold about a bajillion copies, thus transforming me overnight into a wealthy woman, and presenting me with the amazing newfound opportunity to not merely over-give but to over-over-give. Oh, bliss! I was like an alcoholic locked in a distillery—what wonderful and terrible luck!”
Read more: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-to-Avoid-Giving-Too-Much-of-Yourself-Elizabeth-Gilbert#ixzz2FziA4bez
Gilbert goes on to say how her over-giving resulted in lost friendships, disdain and lack of appreciation – something I know only too well. Like Gilbert, I realize that the disappointment that ensues (and the realization that I have to do without by not keeping my resources for me!) – is a self-induced hell.
My journey to unconditional self-love includes the awareness that I need to put ME FIRST and figure out “what’s in it for ME?” before I routinely over-give of my time, my money, and my energy. (Note, I said “over-give” not give.)
The first step is to recognize my bad behavior
I realize that I over-give instinctively (and thinking it is “helpful”) by:
- rescuing others when they say they are in pain (I make the mistake of NOT first asking what is needed and assuming I CAN help! Sometimes I make things worse and it comes back to bite me!);
- giving to people who haven’t asked or don’t need my help (I’ve given away over a million frequent flyer miles to friends and family in Canada, some of whom now do not visit unless I send them a “free” ticket);
- offering to over-give of my time or money or energy before confirming I have the capacity or capability to help (and not considering if it could be detrimental to my own well-being).
I fully realize today that I cannot save the world (or anyone!) and that over-giving hurts others as much as it hurts me. Other people learn to take advantage of my over-giving (my own fault) and they often respond with disdain or rejection or downright hostility.
Recognizing that my behavior hurts both me and others…
I frequently over-give to my children (I should be apologizing to them for doing this – it has created a sense of entitlement!), family members, friends, and even strangers. I once gave a $600 Delta airlines voucher to an acquaintance to come to Florida for Christmas. When he got here he spent so much on himself he had to purchase and new suitcase for all the “loot” he could now afford from the $600 saving on airfare! (When I asked him to assist me with a trip to Europe months later, he said he couldn’t afford to help me at all – airfare was my problem to afford!)
When I put others ahead of myself, I realize I over-give. It always comes at my expense (there is no free lunch or free airline trips or free hotel rooms – there is always a cost!)
Examples of compulsive over-giving…
I routinely give away airline tickets (few points left), hotel nights (ditto), time (without being asked), expertise (that should be paid for by clients!), money, and other resources. I thought that I gave these things freely and with little expectation of reciprocity, hoping to foster a good relationship of mutual giving and receiving, but I believe that is delusional thinking.
One of my siblings (whose family of 4 I’ve flown to FL on my “points”, visited for 2 weeks in Canada at my expense when they were despondent over a relationship, and flew down again on points so they could vacation), no longer talks to me. When I had my own crisis and needed support, the sibling didn’t have the time or energy to reciprocate. It was my own folly to have expected support as a mutual thing. My over-giving led to unrealistic expectations on my part – and I realize today that they could have afforded the trips on their own.
I am learning that people who take without giving, are nothing to do with me, and my expectations of reciprocity are both narcissistic (on my part) and unrealistic.
Another family member (who I have flown around the world, often to save him/her money – even when not asked) told me that my gifts are conditional to them being my emotional support. Perhaps that is true – the over-giving may be my way of “buying” my way. Stark reality that my actions hurt me – I need to stop this over-giving.
Water Under the Bridge, time to move on…
Having seen the negative effects of my actions – you’d think I’d have learned to stop them (Recall the Einstein quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.) And seeing the positive effects when people give so much less and are held in high-esteem, should be my wake up call.
My personal history includes thousands more instances where I gave and was met with disdain, rejection, and even dislike. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, I need to allow people to help themselves when they can. I need to step back and figure out my own life instead of being an unhelpful ENABLER. I need to become a hopeful, generous, good-hearted, giving person – with no expectation of anything from others. I need to practice TOUGH SELF-LOVE instead of trying to help others through over-giving!
If I had a nickel for every trip I’ve given away, every hotel room I’ve paid for, every trip I’ve taken to support others, every hour I’ve donated more than was necessary – I’d be rich beyond my wildest dreams. Instead, I am flat out of airline miles, hotel rooms, and money – and it’s my own damned fault as an over-giver. Ultimately I’m a disappointment to myself! (Don Miguel Ruiz‘ The Four Agreements cites the first agreement as “Always live with integrity” (i.e., never treat yourself worse than you would treat a best friend – and I need to learn to live more selfishly with integrity!)
The Solution to Over-giving
Overcoming this compulsion to over-give is not going to be a quick fix where one can pop a couple of aspirin and go to sleep, and I need help.
As part of this journey, friends promise to help me identify and recover from this addiction to “saving the world.” I will still be a “giving person” but when I am tempted to over-give of my time, energy or money to someone, they promise to pull me back, slap me silly, and confront me… at least until I can realize and recognize the self-abuse that comes with over-giving.
In this season of over-giving, over-consumption, and capitalism, isn’t it about time we all have more gratitude and less disappointment? If you are like me, I confess that I am an over-giver and it has cost me friends, family, and respect. I can see the level of respect earned by the givers and takers in my family (none of them over-givers!) – I’d like some of that!
Wishing you a happy holiday season no matter how you celebrate – and a happy new year 2013!
p.s. One of the most beneficial sites I’ve found lately is “The Receiving Project” an endeavor that fills you up with life gets you down – it allows you to be open to receive from the universe – especially helpful when you are feeling depleted!