Personal Growth

Giving from Your Overflow

By Suzanne E. Harrill

Many of us have a preference for giving over receiving. Giving is a good thing, yet it can go to the extreme of not being healthy for us. If you are honest with yourself, you will notice that at certain times in your life it is very natural and easy to give, while at other times it is a stretch to give of your time and energy. Maybe you care for young children, have had surgery recently, cared for an ill family member, or had a parent die. These times of being in need puts givers in a dilemma. Some feel guilty receiving. After all, many were taught it is better to give than receive. Consider that giving and receiving are flip sides of the same coin. To understand this idea, imagine what would happen if everyone wanted to help others and give.

There would be no one to receive. The same would happen if everyone were needy and wanted to receive; no givers would be available. It takes both for the world to go round. In a balanced life there is some of both: giving and receiving. Let us look within to view how giving and receiving manifest in our own lives and where there might be blocks holding us back. Self-awareness is the key to understanding our patterns of giving and receiving, to correct imbalances, update beliefs, and make different choices for a well-nourished self and balanced life. Going within helps determine what is right for ourselves day to day and at each stage of our lives. Let us discuss ways to rebalance any imbalances.

Take a look at your own life; is it easier for you to give or to receive? When did this start in your life? What were you taught and what was modeled to you growing up about each? What decisions did you make as a child that still influence you today that might need to be updated? Like, "It doesn’t do any good to ask for what I want because I am not responded to and only given what the adults choose to give me," or " Mom is always stressed, so I will not add to her burdens by asking for anything," or "I keep a tally because I never want to feel obligated or controlled by another," or "I do not want to get used to receiving, even though it feels good, because it may not be there when I need it in the future," or "I do not want to feel dependent because others are not consistent or trustworthy to meet my needs." Make your own list and ponder whether any need a refresher from an adult point of view. Update the ones that keep you stuck or out of balance. There is a worksheet at the end of this article if you want to write down your answers.

If you notice you are more of a giver (or a receiver), how would your life be different if there were a shift to the opposite side? How would you feel? What changes would you have to make in your thinking and behavior to move in this direction? Continue becoming aware of more of your beliefs that keep the scale skewed in one direction or the other? Another point to note is that what is appropriate at one stage in our lives may not be at another. For example, most parents and aunts and uncles are in the habit of giving to the children in the family, which starts in infancy and is totally right and healthy to do. Patterns continue many times with grown children, however, where the giving is not age appropriate or helpful to the adult child. If you see yourself in this situation, ask yourself some penetrating questions, knowing it may take you a while to find your answers.

Some examples follow. Are you totally okay with the current patterns at this stage, does it feel right today? Would you like to enjoy some reciprocity? What does an adult relationship with grown children look and feel like? What is a new perspective? To change the dance in any relationship, start with yourself, first thinking about what you want and then taking steps to change the patterns, like communicating new options with others. This, of course, requires you to take risks in building a deeper, emotionally intimate relationship. Are you willing to risk? Why or why not? There is no right and wrong here, simply look at your patterns and make changes that feel right for you.

How can we really give what we don’t have? In giving, it is important to give to yourself first. The secret is to stay healthy and not burn out by giving too much. When you practice good self-care and are aware of and know how to get most of your needs met, then you give easily, from your overflow. It is also important to be aware of other people’s needs too. Giving another person what they need to give themselves robs them of their self-esteem and prevents them from learning to make independent choices. By making mistakes, picking themselves up and beginning anew, they learn to problem solve on their own. You may have heard the statement: Don’t simply feed someone, teach her/him to fish.

In giving from your overflow, it is important to have a well-nourished self. Have practices in place that fill you up; such as meditation, walking in nature, looking at the sky, connecting to a pet, talking to a loved one. It is important to practice self-care and to nurture yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. After this article is a list of activities in each category. Notice that most of us have a couple of areas that we do naturally and one or two that we would benefit from doing more. Consider adding one or two activities to your life for balance.

In conclusion, it is important to be honest with yourself with your patterns of giving and receiving. Know that we go through different stages in life. Sometimes we are depleted and can no longer simply use "mind over matter" to force ourselves to act in certain ways, like being the giver. When this happens open yourself to receiving from others and to practice self-care. Giving is a great thing when you give from your overflow. A well-nourished self is the key.

Ideas for Contemplation

1. Is it easier for you to give? to receive?
2. When did this start in your life? What memories do you have from your past?
3. What were you taught and what was modeled to you growing up about each?
4. List some of the decisions you made as a child that still influence you today that might need to be updated?
5. What might you do to balance giving and receiving in your life? Is any action required?
6. How can you improve taking care of yourself?


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