As a classically trained engineer, I know that there are some immutable (unchangeable) laws of physics such as: an object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by a moving force; an object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by and equal and opposite force; the law of gravity (gravity works); etc. These are guaranteed laws that hold true no matter the where or when.
When it comes to people, however, there are few immutable laws. People behave well or badly often without logic.
Nonetheless, there are marketers who promote their workshops and profess networking prowess based on what they tout as an immutable law:
The more you Give, the more you Receive…
What a nice momism (things moms say to make the world seem nicer!) Certainly the world could be more harmonious if this was a law of nature, but the two concepts (Giving and Receiving) are not coupled.
This causes undue stress when we believe that Giving and Receiving are related because it gives rise to unrealistic expectations. Giving does not necessarily have anything to do with increasing the amount one will be given TO. It is simply a fallacy to relate the latter as a natural occurring result of the former. The truth is simply that the more you give, the more you, well, give. Nothing more.
The expectation of reciprocity implies balance, of give and take in equal amounts, and when it comes to human beings, this simply is not the case.
There are those who give and give and then give some more, while there are those who readily take and take and take. In between the two extremes are those who give and take and take and give in equal measure, but the two are still not related concepts. There is no guarantee that giving will result in reciprocal giving – it might be a nice bonus if this happens, but that’s it. A bonus. If you are a frequent giver, there is nothing that says you will ever receive anything in return, nor should it ever be associated with the giving.
Now before you cite me as being critical and negative, think about this for a minute. If you give unconditionally and altruistically, why is it that if you gain nothing, ever, in return do people get upset? It is the anticipation that there will be giving and receiving in some equal portions – and this is simply an unrealistic expectation (leading to disappointment).
There is no relationship between giving and receiving, and it is about time that society (and parents) realize this. These are two separate concepts:
- Giving is sharing and providing something to another without strings or conditions. A giver that gives freely should never anticipate or expect anything in return – ever! This is the simple concept of giving.
- Receiving is a completely different concept and is the opposite side to giving. Those who give need to give up the notion that there is a relationship here. What you get has no dependence on what you give. If someone decides to give something to you, they may associate it with an action you took, but it really is an independent self-contained action on its own. One can give without receiving, but one cannot receive unless someone else gives. Giving is an independent, receiving is a dependent action.
Why is it so important to separate giving and receiving?
Only recently I woke up to the fact that I am an obsessive OVER-GIVER, and this is as unhealthy as being an OVER-TAKER. An over-giver gives of him/herself relentlessly and often at their own expense (the classic sign of an addiction). Conversely, an over-taker is often a narcissist who simply takes and takes without notice or regard for anyone else – this is not an addiction as there is no victim when it comes to overtaking!
Problems arise when an over-giver succumbs to his/her addiction and wakes up to the reality that s/he gave away too much and it is too late. Over-givers lose friends, family, and loved ones in the process because they do not give others the chance to make it independently (over-givers do not like to watch others struggle – especially when s/he could ease the suffering through sharing and giving). Over-givers need to step back and take care of themselves first (see earlier post – Put on your own mask first!)
Confessions of an Over-giver
Being an over-giver came naturally and quickly took its addictive hold. It started innocently and early: as the oldest of five children, I already had four siblings by the time I was seven. I had to share everything with everyone, and then some. Growing up I can recall my father emphasizing Matthew 19;24 “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” and once I hit adulthood it stuck with me. I recall feeling like every cent I ever made was destined for sharing with everyone around me, lest I be a bad person.
Naively, I trusted that those with whom I shared would in turn be kind or at least appreciative, and instead they responded with entitlement or worse. I did not realize that there was no connection between giving and receiving. I gave and gave to others before giving to myself. It didn’t stop with money – my over-giving extended to time, energy, expertise, passion, kindness, etc. – even if it meant that others gained, and it was to my detriment. Giving the shirt off of one’s back was my mantra.
Today, at mid-life, I realize that my current financial, career, and relationship situation is a direct result of my compulsive over-giving. It has rendered me powerless, almost penniless, at times jobless (I would spend time finding work for others first), and it caused conflict with former friends and family. I have a feeling today that over-giving is a common addiction, but it is seldom talked about because there are no obvious victims aside from the over-giver him/herself. And those who are over-takers love to be taken care of!
I am not alone in Over-giving…
I take comfort that the author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert struggles with her own over-giving and wrote about it in the December 2011 issue of Oprah magazine: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Confessions of an Over-Giver (Dec, 2011):
(As a great British wit once quipped, “You can always tell people who live for others, by the anguished expressions on the faces of the others.”) All I know is, those friendships withered under a cloud of mutual discomfort, and now we cross the street to avoid running into each other.
Years ago, in India, a monk warned me, “Never give anyone more than they are emotionally capable of receiving, or they will have no choice but to hate you for it.”
The blog The Curvy Life, featured a post on May 4, 2010 called The Trap of Over-giving.
Here is an excerpt:
For many of us, giving comes so naturally and easily that we have to be reminded not to over-give, either by giving beyond our means, beyond our time constraints, or beyond our energy levels. While I think that over-giving is often motivated by a heart full of gratitude and love, I also think that giving to the point of discomfort or pain can be motivated by a feeling that what we have to give (within our means, time, energy) or even more tragically, who we are as a human being, is not enough…
Over-giving is a trap. What may start as heart-centered giving can become a burdensome obligation. Those around us can begin to expect and feel entitled to our over-giving, thus depriving of us our rightful recognition and further feeding our sense of not-enoughness.
Where do you fit in? Are you a freely giving person who can accept that the more you give, the more you give? Or do you expect some level of reciprocity with those to who you give?
Or are you a taker who revels in the fact that people routinely and happily give to you, without consideration of giving back?
A counselor once told me that my ex and I were polar opposites: I was the classic addicted over-giver who “enabled” his over-taking. Receiving remained an unfulfilled and unrealistic expectation on my part. I know better now.
What has been YOUR experience?
Have a stress-free week ahead!