In Part 1 of this series, I addressed reasons you might be over-giving, taking care of too many people and too many things—to the point of exhaustion. In this next part, I want to suggest a path toward recovery (from the over-giving habit), and ways to take charge of your own time and energy.
How do you know if you’re an over-giver? The short answer is you just know.
If the title of this article spoke to you, my guess is that some part of you already knows you’re over-giving, that you’re prone to saying “yes” when you really want to say “no.”
Or, perhaps there’s a part of you that feels resentful about how much you have to do for others. Maybe you’re tired of making the case to yourself and other people about how unfair it is, how much is put on you, and how burdened you are. You’re probably an over-giver if you feel physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausted (or all three), overwhelmed by the demands you have to meet while also feeling you have no say in the matter. If you experience a sense of hopelessness or depression or feel like you’re trapped on a hamster wheel of other people’s needs that you can’t get off…these are signs that you may be over-giving.
The consequences of over-giving and giving past your own limits are real and far-reaching. Consequences that may not impact those you take care of, but most certainly and profoundly impact you.
The first step in breaking the over-giving habit is recognizing that you have it. Becoming aware of and acknowledging what so much giving is actually doing to you, and how it’s impacting the quality of your life. Allow yourself to feel the effects of all this care-taking on your physical energy, emotional well-being, mental health, and happiness.
The change process starts by getting real and honest with yourself, honoring the truth of the situation without judging or blaming yourself for the experience you’re having. Breaking the over-giving habit requires that you look at the truth in your own life, and be willing to consider your experience honestly. To really ask, “Is this life working for me? Can I live this way and be happy?”
Once you acknowledge what all this giving feels like and what it’s doing to you, the next step is to investigate (with curiosity) the obstacles you face in cutting back, doing less, and being more discerning about where you choose to offer your care, attention, and energy.
Are there genuinely too many emergencies happening in your life right now, all of which require your full attention? Sometimes, that is the case; sometimes, life delivers its life-ness like a tsunami. When that happens, we have to give past our limits, which also includes giving ourselves the grace of self-compassion. But more often than not, there’s some flexibility in the needs you’re choosing to meet, and the people, places, and things you’re agreeing to take care of.
When you’re taking care of what you might not need to take care of, what are you believing? Do you believe that your needs matter less than other people’s needs? If so, why? And who taught you this? Do you feel you have to say “yes” (regardless of the cost to you) to make other people like you, or because you owe others for some reason? Are you afraid of disappointing people? Not being who they need you to be? Will no one will want to be with you if you don’t give them what they want? Do you like the identity that comes with being perceived as super-human, someone who can always be counted on and who never says “no”? Are you afraid to let go of control? If you don’t take care of it, do you believe that it won’t get done, or done right, which seems worse than burning yourself out?
Breaking any habit starts by becoming aware of the roots of your own behavior and beliefs. The big paradigm shift happens when you transform the question and measuring stick by which you determine where and to whom you offer your most valuable resources: attention and energy. The paradigm shifts when you change the question you’re living by—from Can I do this? to Can I do this…and be well? Asking, listening to, and heeding these three extra words, and be well, is the kryptonite to the over-giving habit.
But the kryptonite only works if you ask yourself with curiosity, kindness, and a genuine willingness to be open to what comes. It only works if you can listen to your own truth without judging or shaming it, and without criticizing yourself. In so doing, you’re putting yourself and your own well-being on the map of what’s important…what matters. Just by considering the question, you’re offering yourself kindness, for your own experience, and with it, permission to take care of yourself.
In part 3 of this series, I’ll offer specific strategies for breaking the over-giving habit: new behaviors and language to help you get off (or at least slow down) the over-giving hamster wheel and guide you in becoming more discerning about where and how you devote your energy. I’ll also address some of the deeper issues required to shift your perspective so that you can start living as someone who also matters and whose needs and well-being are deserving of care.