Nancy Colier
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When Over-Giving Is Depleting You: How to Stop (Part 4)

Here, I will lay out some of the deeper beliefs at the root of over-giving, and what is really an unwillingness to give to yourself in the same way you give to other people.

For most over-givers, underneath it all, there’s a reluctance to admit the un-admittable, namely, that you’re human and not, as you may have led others to believe, super-human. Breaking the over-giving habit requires a willingness to let the cat out of the bag, get honest with yourself and others, and acknowledge your own limitations.

To admit that you’re not emotionally, physically, and mentally invincible, but perhaps, disappointingly, vulnerable and finite like the rest of us. More specifically, you cannot do and be everything for everyone, not, that is, without real consequences to you.

The willingness to acknowledge your own humanness requires a shift in a deeply ingrained, culturally conditioned belief, namely, that it’s shameful, weak, and a failing of sorts to be fallible, to have needs, and to be just human.

In breaking the over-giving habit, you must also become willing to let go of a certain image of yourself, to forfeit the perception of you as always reliable, available, and limitless. And with that perception, the identity you’ve built and enjoy as the one who can do it all. When you stop over-giving and dial back your responsibilities, you’re allowing yourself to be a fully fleshed-out whole person, with strengths and weaknesses, complexities and contradictions, with your own wants and needs.

You’re handing in the cardboard cut-out version of yourself, who shows up and plays whatever character is needed in everyone else’s movie—so they can be well. Stepping back means becoming real and possibly truly known (to yourself and others) for who you really are.

Giving up over-giving also demands that you become willing to risk being disappointing—to others, the very thing you’re never supposed to be. It takes great courage not to be who and what other people want you to be, and sometimes, suffer the consequences of that choice. We’ve been taught that we’re strongest when we can give others what they ask from us.

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But it may take even more strength not to be who or what others want us to be but rather to become who and what we actually are.

Simultaneously, being more discerning about what you take on requires that you become ready and willing to surrender control. When you stop taking responsibility for everyone else’s happiness, you have to let go of the control that comes with it. Ultimately, you have to accept that other people’s needs may or may not be met, but (and here’s where the change happens) that it’s not and doesn’t need to be up to you. You must be willing to tolerate a new reality; other people’s situations may not be solved in the ways you think they should be, or sometimes may not be solved at all (at least as you imagine “solved”).

What you think should happen and could, in fact, make happen, may not happen. What’s remarkable, however, is that sometimes (and even frequently), when you’re not in charge of solving and fixing everything, life tends to unfold in a direction you could never have thought of or produced. People step up and change, creative solutions appear, and life surprises you and goes better than it would have had you stepped in to give and fix.

When you take off your hat as “the one in charge,” you have to be willing to be the one who is not in charge, to let go and turn life back over to life. How it all rolls out then is (thankfully) not up to you and can even surprise you.

On a practical level, it’s important to consider what really matters in all that’s on your plate. Sometimes, it’s the drip-drip-drip of just too many responsibilities, all added up, that depletes you, too many side dishes when you’re better served by focusing on the heart of the meal.

If you’re currently visiting your mother three times per week in assisted living while arranging your father’s care in the home and your own children’s lives, maybe, just now, you don’t also need to chair the pumpkin festival or give your family the holiday they’ll never forget.

It’s important to identify which situations and people are genuinely important to you and need you instead of those that can be handled by someone else. It’s a process of shifting your focus from what you should do and who you should be to what really matters to you and living your life from there.

Becoming more discerning in your choices, learning to say “no,” becoming willing to delegate, and ultimately, surrender control, all these steps are critical in breaking the over-giving habit. So, too, considering your own experience and well-being in your caregiving choices, ask yourself, Can I do this and be well? But as you subtract responsibilities from your giving plate, you also want to add self-care to your daily practice.

These days, we’re conditioned to equate self-care with pampering, a spa treatment, or maybe a dose of “retail therapy.” But often, what you really need—to feel nourished, taken care of, replenished, and revitalized, is not what you’ve been taught. It’s important, therefore, to ask yourself what actually takes care of you replenishes your spirit, and makes you feel well. What is self-care—for you since it’s not a one-size-fits-all experience?

Often, what you really need is a lot simpler (and less expensive) than what you imagine. Perhaps a few minutes of silence, stillness, or sunshine. Or maybe it’s permission to drop your to-do list for a moment and actually be where you are without an agenda.

Or, permission to stop listening to your inner critic and taskmaster, the voice that reminds you what you need to do and haven’t done yet. Whatever self-care means for you, adding more of that into your day can go a long way in breaking the over-giving-exhaustion cycle.

But here’s the thing: Life includes hard things and hard times when you have to do more than you can—and still be well. Sometimes, you have to give past OK-ness; that’s a reality—for everyone. But even in those wildly demanding times, you can still make it just a little easier for yourself.

When saying “no,” delegating and taking responsibility off your plate is not an option; you can still take care of yourself and stay on your own side. You can choose not to add to your burden—not shame and blame yourself for how you feel, for hating it all; you can choose not to criticize yourself for being exhausted, burnt out, resentful, or sad.

And furthermore, you can acknowledge that sometimes it’s just plain difficult to be a human; it’s not your fault that life is like this or that you feel this way. Remind yourself, too, that, like everything, this too shall pass. It won’t always be like this.

At the end of the day, your kind and compassionate relationship with yourself is what’s most required when too much giving is also required, which, thankfully, is not most of the time.

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