If you’ve spent your entire life just giving, it may seem like an impossible task to break through this habit. The breakthrough has to start in your mind.
Overgivers don’t always recognize they are stuck in this pattern. This became clear to me at a recent conference I attended. The presenter asked for a volunteer so she could demonstrate her technique. Sandy, the volunteer, was asked what issue she wanted to work on. This question alone got Sandy completely flustered.
As Sandy explained, she wasn’t used to receiving. She’d been the caretaker for everyone in her life. Having to come up with an answer to the question of what she wanted to work on was completely foreign. Instead of coming up with another topic, the presenter smartly decided that Sandy’s inability to receive is exactly what she needed to work on.
I watched the transformation that happened in that room, not only with Sandy, but with my neighbor, Pat. As Sandy described from the front of the room how difficult this is for her, I could sense Pat becoming increasingly emotional. This was completely landing for her too.
When the instructor asked for another volunteer, Pat’s hand shot up. She explained how she has the same exact issue as Sandy and wanted to work on it and clear it up.
These two brave women shared their inner workings that keep them stuck in an unbalanced paradigm and as I watched them transform, I noted three distinct steps they had to take.
But before we dive in, let’s first figure out if you qualify as an overgiver, why you overgive, and what makes it so difficult to receive.
How to Know If You’re Too Generous
People who are empaths or highly sensitive to the needs of others are more likely to be overgivers. But in case you’re wondering whether you qualify, here are some questions to reflect on:
1. How do you feel when you say “yes” to other people’s requests, excited or filled with dread?
2. After you perform an act of service, do you feel energized or drained?
3. Do you take on too much and feel overwhelmed?
4. Do you avoid saying “no” to others due to guilt but then feel resentful toward them?
5. Does it feel uncomfortable to accept what other people are offering because you’re not used to receiving?
You know you’re an overgiver if you’ve answered “yes” to at least a few of these questions. Now that you know this about yourself, let’s find out what’s in it for you.
Why You Overgive
Whenever we do something, even if it is seemingly harmful to ourselves, there is an underlying reason. Overgiving is no exception.
Consider how you benefit by taking care of everyone around you. Is it that you want people to like you so you feel like you have to do something for them? Do you secretly want to receive what you’re giving away and give it in the hopes the person will reciprocate? Do you worry that something bad will happen or that you’ll feel like a bad person if you say “no” to other people?
Pay attention to your expectations. When you give to someone, what are you hoping for in exchange? Is it for them to merely like you? Are you seeking approval? Or do you want them to return the favor?
The more aware you are of the underlying reasons for your overgiving, the closer you’ll be to getting your needs met in a more balanced way.
The Other Side of Giving
Overgivers don’t only tend to give too much. They also tend to receive too little. That is, when someone does come along and offers to do something nice for them, pay them a compliment, or gift them something nice, overgivers feel uncomfortable and push away.
Have you ever noticed that you make excuses as to why you’re not as wonderful as someone says you are? You might say, “Oh, this old thing? I’ve had this dress forever.” If they tell you how nice you look, you might respond with, “I certainly don’t think so. I need to lose some weight.” Or when they try to gift you something, you tell them, “I can’t accept this.”
The mechanism that drives us to overgive might be that we want to create a sense of safety whereby we are liked by others or that we feel appreciated and validated to counter our negative self-image. When it comes to receiving, it can be quite difficult for you if deep down you believe you don’t deserve it.
Balance Between Giving and Receiving
It can feel really good to give to others, especially if your love language is Acts of Service. But if you’re always giving and are not able to receive, you are operating out of an unbalanced equation that can leave you feeling drained, resentful, and burned out.
If you’ve always struggled with receiving from others, it’s likely because of the way you’ve been programmed by your early life experiences. When you give too much to others, you lose yourself along the way.
It’s time to reclaim your space. Here’s how you can do that in 3 steps.
Step 1: Release the Resistance
When Sandy and Pat were going through the demonstration at the conference, they verbalized some of the thoughts they hadn’t allowed themselves to verbalize previously and as they did so, they went through a rollercoaster of emotions:
The cycle starts with a thought such as “I’ve always taken care of others” and sadness or grief for the years you’ve led your life without allowing yourself to be nourished by others.
The grief then turns into anger. This is where you become energized to make a change.
“When is it my turn?” is a powerful question to ponder. It means you’re acknowledging how much you’ve done already.
You finally realize that you deserve to receive.
Step 2: Identify Your Story
You may realize you’re operating out of an unbalanced equation, but that doesn’t mean the transformation will be easy. Quickly, confusion and panic show up as you think about receiving.
Your mind throws out some stories to contribute to this emotional state:
- You don’t know how to receive
- You don’t know if it’s safe to receive from others
- What if I receive and then I go back to not being able to receive again?
You feel terrified of receiving but simultaneously feel terrified of not receiving:
“This is so new, I don’t know if I can pull it off, but it costs me so much.”
The anger shows back up and you hear yourself shouting at others, “Take care of your own damn selves. It’s not my job to take care of you!”
Suddenly, you turn the anger inward as you realize you’ve trained other people to depend on you and feel pissed off at yourself.
You’re not used to feeling angry. You might even think, “It’s not okay to be angry about this. I have to be nice about it and do it with a smile on my face. I should thank them for the opportunity to serve!”
Give yourself permission to allow for the back-and-forth nature of this internal conversation. You are in conflict. It’s important to give voice to both sides of this equation.
Once you have allowed both sides to speak their truth, ground yourself. Take a few deep breaths and get into your body.
Step 3: Create a New Manifesto
At this point, you have all the information in front of you. It’s time to consider what you want to do moving forward.
If the reason you’ve been stuck in this unbalanced scenario is the fact that you’ve been telling yourself a story about how you should take care of others and how you don’t deserve to be taken care of, it’s time to create a new manifesto.
What do you want to do?
Pat came up with, “I can take care of other people, but I’ll at least be in the equation.”
That’s what I call balance.
Sometimes we are so set in our patterns that we don’t even realize what we are doing. Then one day, they show up on our radar. At that point, we are faced with a choice – continue doing the familiar or face your demons.
Self-awareness is always the first step to change. Once you realize that you’re giving too much and not receiving enough, it helps put into context why you feel so drained, resentful and burned out. By releasing the resistance to receive, identifying the story that keeps you stuck in your old ways, and creating a new manifesto, you can arrive at a more balanced equation.
If you’re burning out, download the Burnout Checklist to see which stage you are in and what you need to focus on to recover.