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How to Be Giving Without Giving Yourself Away - By Tad Lusk, LPC

If you’re a giving person who has been hurt or let down, or if you want to achieve a healthier balance in your relationships, this is for you.

I’m going to share 3 tips on how you can foster your wonderful quality of giving while still taking good care of yourself—how you can balance your innate generosity and enjoy giving to others, without burning yourself out (i.e. without “giving yourself away”).

Good Intentions, Bad Habits

I saw something recently that surprised me.

I watched an interview with Neale Donald Walsch, author of a series of books I really enjoyed called Conversations with God.

Walsch shared what he said was one his most important realizations at the end of the video: 

“Your life is not about you, it is about everyone whose lives you touch.”

That’s not what surprised me. I thought this was a beautiful and meaningful insight. 

What surprised me was how many people commented on the video in response, saying things like:

“No way. I’m done with doing things for other people. I’ve only gotten burned. I’m focusing solely on myself from now on.” … and so on. 

There were many comments like these. And while at first I was taken aback, I quickly understood the subtext of what these commenters were really saying:

I’ve tried to be giving, given myself away, and I feel drained, hurt, and disappointed. I used to give and give and eventually felt let down when people keep taking and taking and I can’t do it anymore. Therefore I’m going to put up my defenses and close off to avoid feeling hurt again.

As a counselor, I’ve learned to hear not only the words people say, but also the source and meaning behind them. I’ve learned to listen to what isn’t spoken. And I’ve learned a lot about patterns in human behavior, including in myself.

Common Patterns of Unhealthy Giving

One of the most common patterns I’ve encountered is when people who are giving, kind-hearted and well-meaning—wonderful traits to be sure—wind up exhausted, drained and burned out because they only give of their time, energy, attention, love and resources, without filling themselves up too. 

This can happen for lots of reasons, such as:

  • Giving to others but refusing to receive anything in return.
  • Giving with “strings attached” (i.e. unspoken expectations of what you want back from the other person), which can lead to resentments, bitterness, hurt, etc.
  • Taking care of others but neglecting your own needs.
  • Getting taken advantage of by those who’ve proven themselves untrustworthy through abusive or manipulative behaviors. 

Do any of these ring true for you? Whatever the case may be, it’s important to recognize the patterns as well as where they might come from.

Common Misunderstandings

In many ways, we’ve been socially conditioned to believe that giving is all-important and that receiving is somehow lesser. Or that to take for oneself is somehow bad or “selfish.”

We’ve all heard “it’s better to give than to receive.” I believe the intention of this quote was to encourage us to be giving and remind us not to obsess over only getting. And it really does feel awesome when you can give from an unconditional and genuine place, doesn’t it?

But the truth is, giving and receiving are equal parts of one process. To give something naturally implies (and requires) that there is also receiving.

Likewise, I believe the classic quote above, and Walsch’s quote, while both well meaning and filled with truth—are easily misinterpreted.

Many of us formed the false belief that one should ONLY ever give. We’ve internalized a flawed message that it’s bad to receive or to focus on your own needs or wants.

And these simply aren’t true.

The Problem With Flawed Beliefs

Flawed or one-sided beliefs often result in unhealthy behaviors—such as martyrdom, burnout, resentment, or failing to set reasonable limits and boundaries with others.

I really believe that the commenters on the video above had good intentions in whatever situations led them to becoming bitter.

However, I would be willing to bet that their giving vs. receiving, or their self vs. other focus was out of balance.

Because this is such an easy trap to fall into—and because it can be so damaging—I want to share three tips on how you can achieve a healthier balance of giving in your relationships. These will help you to continue growing your innate capacity for giving while still feeling filled up yourself and not “giving yourself away.”

3 Tips for Healthy Giving

Practice Being a Good Receiver 

Like I mentioned above, it’s natural for most of us to demure when offered something—whether it’s an actual gift, or someone’s time, attention, love, energy or other resources—due to social conditioning and politeness.

However, this can become unhealthy when you always say “no thanks.” So try to be conscious of allowing more into your life. Allow yourself to receive when you have the opportunity.

In addition to balancing out the scales of your own energy & resources, you’ll also be giving a hidden gift of allowing the other person the enjoyment of giving to you. Plus, you’ll naturally have more to give when it’s your turn to be the giver.

Think of it this way: if you never allowed yourself to receive, you might be robbing the other person of the joy of giving. By gracefully receiving from someone, you are in many ways giving them the gift of enjoying that experience. And when the time comes, you can enjoy the other side of that exchange as well. 

So if you’re a person who is always focused on doing for others, practice being a good receiver too. Remember, giving and receiving are two equal parts of one beautiful process. 

Practice Setting Boundaries

Guilt can be a strong motivator. Unfortunately, many giving people feel unnecessarily guilty when it comes to saying “no” or establishing limits on their time, energy & resources. 

This can result in becoming a “yes-man” or a “people pleaser” – both unhealthy patterns where the scales of giving are out of balance.

Remind yourself that it’s okay to say “no” to requests sometimes, that you don’t need to always go the extra ten miles, and that it’s okay to take breaks from your commitments when you need to recharge.

In fact, remind yourself that it’s healthy and necessary to do these things. Try to let go of worries about what other people will think, as these will just get in your way.

For even more tips on how to set healthy boundaries, check out my blog “Enough: How to Set Limits and Say No.”

Practice Self-Care

Make sure you’re giving to yourself in addition to the other people in your life. I promise, it’s not “selfish” in a bad sense. It’s healthy and necessary for each and every one of us to practice self-care—especially if you’re a giving, caring person by nature.

What helps you take care of yourself? What helps you feel rested, refreshed, recharged, or re-energized? Make it a priority to carve out some time every day or every week for self-care. By giving to yourself in this way, you’re helping to ensure that you’ll be able to continue giving to other people.

Because if you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to take care of others indefinitely either. By becoming drained or burned out, you won’t be doing anyone any favors—least of all yourself. 

Next Steps 

Finally, try doing some honest self-reflection to look at the reasons why you give. If you’re like most people (myself included), there are probably some pure, altruistic and genuine reasons motivating you to help others, but perhaps also some hidden motives too.

For example, maybe it makes us feel more important. Maybe we tie it to our self-worth, or identity. Maybe we’re seeking to get something in return. Or maybe we’re motivated by fear or guilt.

Of course it’s usually not all one way or the other. But honest self-reflection can help us make more honest and authentic choices about how, why and when we choose to give to others and ourselves.

So what are your next steps? What are you going to focus on to help you continue being a giving person, without giving yourself away?

Let me know in the comments. Be Well!

Tad