Giving Until It Hurts: Somewhere Between Give and Take: Part I
by: Amanda Kirk, MS
Over the years, I’ve heard some variation of the following phrase many times, generally in a tone of admiration and praise. “She is always taking care of people. He is such a giver. She never asks anything for herself. He just has a servant’s heart” and so on.
I suspect you’ve heard or made similar statements yourself; I know I have. I don’t recall ever hearing that stated with an air of disdain, disapproval, or pity. No, instead, it calls forth the image of a noble, wise, generous person who, apparently self-sufficient, has endless resources with which to offer him/herself to others in need or want.
And we just love her*, don’t we? Some of us seek her out to be a benefactor of her graciousness. Some of us, though painfully aware of our own limitations, want to be her. Some of us, for better or worse, are her.
Over the course of my life, I’ve generally resided in the camp of “wanting to be ‘Her’”. As a not-so-recovered perfectionist, I’ve long admired the people who seemed to have it all together – independent, capable, and endlessly resourceful. But the longer I live on this earth, observe, interact with, and work with clients and others, and certainly, as I get to know myself more and more, I have become increasingly convinced, to my own admitted surprise, that “Her” does not actually exist. Nor, even more shockingly, should she!
Sure, there are people – both men and women – who are innate “givers.” They are generous, hospitable, capable, and resourceful. And those are beautiful, needed characteristics. But those people are not self-sufficient. No one is without need. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we accept it or not, whether we have it or not, every single one of us needs others. It’s a part of our divine design. Just as we need to invest in others, we also carry the legitimate, healthy, and necessary need within us to be invested in, cared for, challenged, loved, supported.
Why is this important?
Because there tends to be an unhealthy trend toward imbalance – in both directions.
The “Her” we’ve been talking about is so revered; we tend to feel guilty, weak, and ashamed when we can’t measure up to that impossible standard. We tend to be the Givers. And most definitely, not the Takers. So we keep our needs quiet to maintain a facade of self-sufficiency, often costing us deeply with burnout and overwhelm.
Or, conversely, we feel cheated, disillusioned, and endlessly disappointed when the “Her’s” in our lives fall short of our expectations of them. We tend to be the Takers. And even if we could also be the Givers, we’re so desperate to have our own needs met that any thought of extending ourselves for someone else feels too threatening, too exhausting.
To be either and only the Giver or the Taker is unhealthy and, I would submit, even dangerous to our well-being and the well-being of those around us. I purposely talk in extremes here for clarity, because most people tend to tip the scale in one direction or another.
The Giver becomes so depleted she has little energy to truly invest in the people and projects she is most gifted for and passionate about.
The Taker becomes so self-absorbed she cannot even see the people around her in any other context than what they can do for her.
So in very different ways, both the Giver and the Taker become isolated, unable to appropriately ask for and accept help and love from others, as well as extend themselves generously and healthily to loved ones.
Any idea which one you tend to be?
In our next post, I’ll offer an easy exercise to help you evaluate whether you tend to be a Giver or Taker. And some thoughts on simple things we all can do to get a little healthier, a little more balanced.
*I use the pronoun “Her” throughout this article for consistency and clarity, but of course, this person could be interchanged as male or female and is intended for all.