How to Recognize When You’re Giving Too Much

Ever heard the saying “It’s better to give than to receive?” I am convinced that this seemingly positive cultural belief is at the core of why so many of us struggle to take care of ourselves. Think about it: We’ve been conditioned to believe that, in order to be a good friend, wife, daughter, employee, mother, partner, we must give—even if we don’t have the time, money, or energy to offer. And not just give a little, but give, give, give until there’s nothing left.

When you give too much, you’re operating like a bank that only offers withdrawals and never takes in deposits. You don’t have to be an economic genius to run the results of this equation: bankruptcy. We over-give, under-receive, and end up emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained and depleted—internally bankrupt. While giving to others is a good and loving act, giving to the point of sacrificing your own health, wealth, and happiness is not loving or good—because living this way is not loving to a very important person: you.

As a recovering achievement junkie, “doing” addict, and Superwoman who was told she could do, be, and have anything, I’ve been an over-giver for most of my life (and still have to monitor my giving/receiving equation every day). I’ve worked too many hours, put others’ needs above my own, and given all I had, which caused me to drop into a heap of exhaustion every several months, making myself physically sick so I had a “valid” excuse to rest. At times, I’ve become so mentally spent that all I could do was lay in a vegetative state on the couch and watch a season’s worth of Downton Abbey or Law & Order in one day.

What if taking care of others and taking care of ourselves didn’t need to be an either/or equation? What if we could take care of the people and projects we love, and take care of ourselves, too? What if loving ourselves was seen as smart, not selfish?

Try changing your internal operating equation from “It’s better to give than receive” to “It’s better to give and receive.” It’s a one-word modification that shifts everything. Imagine if the way you gauged your success for the day and the measure to which you held yourself to be a good friend/mom/mate included how much you gave to others and how much you retained and received for yourself?

To get your giving equation into balance, you need to become aware of the over-giving habits you’ve developed. Do you

  1. Say “yes” to people or projects when you really want to say “no,” and then find yourself stressed out and stretched too thin?
  2. Use the word “busy” when people ask you how you are, as in, “I am so busy!” “I am too busy to … ”?
  3. Feel like it’s impossible to find time for yourself—maybe when the kids graduate, or you finish this project at work, you’ll finally have space (but that day never comes)?
  4. Feel like there are never enough hours in the day to get it all done?
  5. Feel crabby, cranky, and frustrated more often than you feel joyful, peaceful, and well rested?
  6. Work more than 10 hours a day as part of your standard way of operating?
  7. Get sick—and are secretly happy about it because you can finally rest?
  8. Feel guilty when you’re working because you’re not with your family, and feel guilty when you’re with your family because you’re not working?
  9. Binge-shop, overeat, and otherwise overconsume?
  10. Give freely and then feel resentful, angry, unappreciated, and unsupported?

As you start to become aware of these signs, you will begin to notice the drain on your energy, time, and happiness levels. If you really pay attention, you’ll be able to feel the “withdrawal” in your body when it happens, see the cost to you, and start making better choices.

How do you stop over-giving? The moment when you become aware that you are about to over-give or are in the midst of over-giving, take what I call a “power pause”—a moment to turn inward and tune in to what will support you instead of sacrificing you. Stop, breathe, and ask your inner wisdom, “What would enough look like?” Wait for an answer, and then do that, and no more.

This might feel uncomfortable or impossible at first. Recovering over-givers like me need to re-pattern years—maybe even generations—of self-sacrificing habits, re-attuning our internal operating system to self-love, and proving that, if we take care of ourselves, we can actually accomplish more and help others even more. Now that’s a positive equation.

Find out about upcoming programs with Christine Arylo at Kripalu.

Christine Arylo is founder of The Path of Self Love School, a social impact organization whose programs focus on teaching people how to create a strong inner foundation of self-love.

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