Selfless folly of those who give too much

While laudable, overgiving can be associated with negative health consequences and emotional burnout

Special to The TribuneAugust 17, 2012 

Overgivers are those sincere, caring folks who chronically tend to the needs of others ahead of their own. For instance, a woman continues to volunteer countless hours for her church and favorite nonprofit organization, even though she complains of being exhausted and overwhelmed.

While kindness and compassion are laudable characteristics, extreme giving is associated with negative consequences. Overgivers tend to be in poor health. They seldom exercise and often have poor eating habits. Many can be classified as obese.

They are easily taken advantage of. Less diligent co-workers and family members gladly foist extra chores their way. And because of their overgiving nature, they are reluctant to say no.

They have few outside interests. Overgivers report that their favorite activity is attending to others, so they fail to develop hobbies and friendships that relieve stress, provide distraction and offer emotional support.

Finally, overgivers can feel resentful and unappreciated. Their efforts are rarely equaled. They always give more than everyone else. It’s easy to overlook their tireless contributions. And, when they finally do ask for assistance, others are often too busy to help them.

Overgivers justify their behavior by saying, “I love taking care of other people” or, “There’s so much suffering I want to relieve.” But in reality, they have difficulty setting boundaries. It’s often hard for them to determine where their personal lives end and their caretaking duties begin.

They may have poor timemanagement skills. They have problems setting aside adequate time to sleep, exercise, prepare and eat healthy meals, and relax. In fact, they may secretly pride themselves in all the extra hours they put in at work.

Overgivers possess a strong need to please. They want everyone around them to be happy. If they perceive that even one person is upset, they work even harder to make things right.

It’s no surprise that most overgivers are female and that they congregate in the helping professions. Nursing, education and social work are packed with women who love to give. It’s also evident in certain families where matriarchs take doting to the extreme.

Of course, we all like being nurtured. And I’m so grateful for the sensitive, caring people who have helped me throughout my life. Even so, it’s good to keep overgiving in check to minimize emotional burnout and to allow givers to do what they obviously love.

FOLLOW THESE TIPS TO AVOID THE PITFALLS OF OVERGIVING

• Allow others to do their share. You don’t have to do everything. It’s important for others to pitch in, too. Smile and remain silent when volunteers are requested. You have enough on your plate.

• Recognize the signs of fatigue. Low energy, insomnia, irritability and feeling overwhelmed are all clues that you’re doing too much. Pay attention and heed the warning that your psychic batteries are drained.

• Exercise regularly. Exercise is equally important for both your body and your mind. It strengthens your muscles and improves your tone. It also means you’re taking care of yourself. That’s extra important for you!

• Limit the hours you work. Your job is never-ending. There’s always more to be done. Decide beforehand when you’ll leave, and make it a priority to be gone.

• Develop a life away from work. Hobbies, friends and social interactions are vital signs of a well-balanced life. Not only are they fun and stimulating, but they help recharge you after a draining day. Give yourself lots of permission to enjoy your free time. You’ve earned it after all you’ve done.

• Learn to say no. Saying no can be difficult. You feel you’re letting others down. Start by refusing to do something small, then work up. At first it may feel awkward. It gets easier over time.

• Practice adequate self-care. Cook and eat wholesome meals. Decorate your home. Get a regular massage. Purchase a few stylish outfits. Relax for awhile in the evening before falling asleep. Each of these is a way of saying, “I’m important to me.”

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.

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