The act of giving is highly valued in our culture. Children are taught at early ages that it is better to give than to receive. We sharply criticize people who we view as behaving selfishly.
Yet some folks carry the act of giving to an extreme. These well-intentioned givers (who are almost always women) spend so much of their time and efforts giving to other people that they overlook their own needs.
Women who give too much tend to gravitate toward certain professions that allow them to express their natural caretaking tendencies. The fields of nursing, teaching and social work are filled with people who devote their lives to the service of others.
Women who give too much say that they like taking care of others. They may even report that giving is their favorite pastime. And of course, generously donating one’s time, efforts and money is a highly laudable act.
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But lopsided overgiving eventually takes its toll. For example, women who give too much often take poor care of themselves. They may be overweight and disinterested in exercise. Several years ago I attended a conference that attracted a large number of nurses. I was astonished at the high percentage of women in the healthcare profession who were clinically obese.
Women who give too much may fail to develop any outside interests or hobbies. "I don’t like doing anything but helping my friends and family," one overgiving client confided in me. As a result, she was unable to find enjoyment in her life outside of giving and she had few tools for decreasing her stress.
Women who give too much can suffer from low self-esteem. They seek praise and gratitude from others to boost their flagging mental states. Unfortunately, adequate kudos are often absent or in woefully short supply. So overgivers feel like failures and seek even more approval from others.
Overgivers frequently suffer from exhaustion. They may spend so much time tending to the needs of others that they neglect to rest or recharge their own personal batteries.
Women who give too much may harbor resentment. They may feel unappreciated by those to whom they give so much. The recipients of their generosity may take their extraordinary efforts for granted, leaving the overgiver feeling angry for the lack of gratitude she receives.
Overgiving women may then feel guilty about their negative, conflicting emotions. Because they give in order to feel good about themselves, they become confused and even depressed when their plans fall short of the intended goal. They then resort to the one behavior that they trust — giving more to others. A damaging cycle can be established of over- giving followed by resentment followed by further efforts to give even more.
Are you prone to overgiving?
Are you wondering if perhaps you are giving too much? Ask yourself the following questions:
Do I feel a need to constantly give to others?
Do I have few interests or hobbies?
Am I tired because of all the giving that I do?
Do I often neglect my own self-care as a result of my giving?
Do I feel hurt when others aren’t appreciative of all that I do for them?
If you answered yes to two or more, then overgiving may be interfering with your life. Consider the following suggestions to create more balance in your life and in your giving:
Develop self interests. Nurture hobbies that are fun, relaxing and rewarding. You might choose something that involves other people, such as dancing or travel. Or you may select more solitary endeavors like painting. Either way, make sure you feel positive and recharged by what you are doing.
Eat three balanced meals every day. When life is out of balance, it shows up in our eating habits. We nosh on junk food in the car or we keep eating because we’re sad. Allow yourself the time to prepare and serve yourself nutritious food. You can’t take care of others if you completely ignore yourself.
Think before you commit. Before you say yes or volunteer your time, first ask yourself "How do I feel?" Then, consider "How long do I want to do this?" Only do activities that comfortably fit into your schedule and that don’t require too much personal sacrifice.
Learn to say no. You don’t have to do everything that is asked of you. Other people can also do the job.
Tune into your emotions. If you’re feeling anger or resentment towards those you love and give to the most, then you’re probably giving too much. Cut back on your involvement until you feel more in control. Only return to activities you can maintain with a calm and centered frame of mind.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, go to lindalewisgriffith.com.