It's 4:35pm on a Friday. Joanie approaches your desk. She asks if you could take a look at her report. She is nervous about meeting with the boss and hopes you can go over it with her and give her some pointers. You still have a lot of work to do yourself and you're looking forward to the weekend. You've worked hard all week. But how can you say no?
You give and you give. In fact, you give with all your heart because it feels good. So where does it go sour and why?
Giving is a beautiful act. It allows us to contribute to the world and create connections with other people. But what happens when regular giving turns into #overgiving? And why do we go overboard?
If you're someone who over-gives, it might be because you have a belief that your needs are not as important as those of others. You may tie your #selfworth to how people see you. When they are happy because you've done something for them, that makes you feel good about yourself and boosts your self-esteem.
But over time you start to notice a shift. You feel depleted. You might even feel resentment when the sentiment isn't reciprocated. But the glue that keeps you coming back to give more is #guilt. You might notice that when you focus on your own needs you feel guilty.
The increase in positive feelings and the decrease in guilt are the two mechanisms that contribute to the perpetual cycle of over-giving. But as you can see, it is not sustainable.
The story that exemplifies this scenario is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In it, a little boy and a tree have a beautiful relationship. The tree loves the boy and wants to fill his every desire. As the boy matures and grows into a man, his needs change and increase. The tree doesn't want to let the boy down. He continues to provide him with everything that he has. And as the book states, "the tree is happy." But eventually, the tree is left as a stump having given away all its fruit, branches, and trunk to the boy. The story ends when the tree has nothing let to give and is "happy...but not really."
To break the cycle, you would need to change your underlying belief about your worth. Your needs are very important and when they aren't met, you start to experience a slew of emotional problems. These negative emotions can then manifest in behavioral problems (i.e., emotional eating, drinking, spending) as well as in physical tension or pain in the body.
Once you recognize your own self-neglect as a result of this pattern and the consequences of running out of resources, including time and energy, you can begin the journey to repair.
Practice mindfulness. Each time you are faced with a decision of doing something for someone else, ask yourself whether the investment will be taking resources away from your needs. What are the potential consequences to diverting your energy away from you?
Giving is something you can do when your own cup is overflowing. Take care of your needs first and foremost. Do so until you have more than you need so you can give the excess away. Don't operate from an empty vessel. It only leads to burnout.
By changing your self-limiting beliefs about your worth, by recognizing that your needs are important, and by understanding that your guilt is not based on anything immoral that you are doing, you can begin to make more empowered choices. You don't want to end up a tree stump no matter how much you care about others. At that point there won't be anything left to give even if you want to do so. Think long-term. It's what will sustain you and those around you for the long run.