By: Dr. Laurel Schwartz
Society tells us that being a generous and giving person is one of the qualities that define a person as good and moral. The tenet of giving to others is found in our politics and our faiths. Psychological research adds to the pressure, telling us that people who give to others live longer and healthier lives. Women, living with the burden of gender stereotypes have unique giving demands placed on them. Indeed the very definition of femininity includes being caring, nurturing and sympathetic.
When it comes to adult relationships, reciprocity is important - that is each person gets a turn to give and to receive. Relationships, however, often fall into patterns where one person is the giver and the other is the taker. For example, a compulsive giver is the one who always rearranges their schedule to get together with a friend, or can’t say no when asked to volunteer. They’re the person who says, “That’s no problem,” and consistently over extends themselves. As a result they find themselves doing things they really don’t want to do. What happens next? The compulsive giver starts to feel angry and resentful. Sometimes they hold that anger in and then finally explode often doing things that are self-destructive.
By compulsively giving, a person can be avoiding feelings of deep inadequacy. Indeed, all that altruism can make a person feel important and significant. They may also have the feeling that if they don’t turn themselves into a pretzel to meet other people’s needs that they will be rejected or abandoned. Some parents may even feel this way with their own children. A compulsive giver may not even be able to define their own likes or dislikes because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop as a person.
A person who gives excessively often finds it difficult to receive. For example, a woman has been complaining about the impersonal and unsatisfying birthday gifts her husband has been giving her for years. Finally, he gives her the dream gift for which she has been waiting. She opens the box, looks at it for a moment and says, “It costs too much, bring it back.” As a result, her husband is left deflated and she is, once again, empty-handed. People can accept and invest in things that nurture themselves without being assigned that hair raising adjective, “selfish.”
If you are a compulsive giver, you might want to bring mindfulness to your behavior and ask yourself from time to time, “Is this something I really want to do?” They answer may be no. Remember, if you feel guilty, you just might be doing something good for yourself.
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