Giving is a wonderful and worthwhile experience.
Except when it’s not.
For those of us who endeavour to live more authentically and with more self-compassion, it can be important to know when giving starts to do more harm than good.
I am a giver. I give my time, emotional and mental energy, ideas, goodwill, expertise, trust, advice, commitment and assistance easily. I show regard for people by remembering birthdays, responding to messages and following through on commitments. I check in with my loved ones to see how they’re doing and I show interest in their lives. I volunteer in the community and in my workplace. I donate, create and share in the service of others.
This isn’t surprising, given the role models I have in my parents; both givers from way back. And while it’s something I love about myself and them, I wish I was taught to discern when I am danger of giving too much or if I am giving for the wrong reasons.
After much trial and error, I now know that I have strayed into this territory when I:
- Feel resentful that my boundaries are being undermined or disregarded – being pressured to give of myself in ways I do not want to.
- Am repeatedly left feeling depleted, angry, humiliated or overlooked.
- Realise that I am the sole caretaker of a relationship or that the give-get ratio is frequently out of balance.
- Feel that my efforts are going to waste or I am prevented from living according to my values.
- Am shut-down, ignored or invalidated and left without the opportunity to say what is on my mind.
- Am tempted to give up experiences or expectations that are perfectly reasonable and right, in order to keep the peace or demonstrate my regard for someone.
- Am tempted to keep on giving even when someone has shown me significant disrespect.
To me, living authentically means (among other things) engaging with those who deal with me respectfully. If, in the absence of respect, I am giving more of myself than I can sustain, or if it is not wholehearted giving, then I compromise my ability to live an authentic life.
While I am fairly self-aware, mindful self-compassion practice has helped me to fine-tune this awareness to know which situations are likely to trigger these reactions and what lies beneath my surface-layer response. Making these connections is not something we are routinely taught, and so breaking through the expectations and fear of disappointing others can feel like a baptism by fire for many givers.
For me, it manifested in a form of cognitive dissonance between wanting others to validate my need for respect and wanting to avoid loss and disappointment if respect was not forthcoming. What I love about self-compassion is the opportunity it gives me to validate and honour my own needs, without undermining either my need to be connected to others or my right to respect.
In addition to wisdom and objectivity, self-compassion also has helped me understand which situation requires which action. I am learning that not every experience is going to have a resolution and not every resolution will bring about change or reconciliation.
In the end, this has meant accepting the loss I tried so hard to avoid. However, if this loss means I am able to live more in line with my values, more wholeheartedly and more meaningfully, then I have come to learn I am actually giving in service of myself.