And how would it change your life to know?
by Wendy Keller, occasional martyr
All our life, we’re told to give. You have to share your favorite toy in kindergarten; religious groups exhort us to give unto others and/or “give ’til it hurts”. We’re told God loves a cheerful giver. The widow’s mite. Self-help groups tell us “Givers Gain!” Every charity commercial makes you feel bad if you don’t give more to feed orphans somewhere. Some people take in that message and comply…they give until it hurts and then some.
Of course, giving isn’t wrong. But if you’re regularly giving to someone who gladly takes, there’s a chance you might be enabling them to expect to permanently take from you, thus disabling their own potential. Which is pretty short-sighted on your part! If you are always the one who forgives; if you are always bending over backwards; if you give and give and the other person is unkind, neglectful or abusive, take it as a warning.
The minute you feel like you’ve “given too much”, it is a message from your inner guidance system telling you that you probably have.
I am not advocating stopping giving. I am advocating stopping being taken advantage of. Stop being a martyr. Stop letting others step all over you until you are empty. (My friends, this is the voice of experience talking! I am sometimes guilty of this too!)
People who we’ve trained to take us for granted (grown children, relatives, partners, bosses, employees) come to expect constant mercy, constant cash, constant sacrifice from us. It sets up an unfortunate dynamic that, like the quote on this page says, causes you to lose value in their life. You’d think just the opposite is true. But reflect on the people to whom you’ve over-given. Are they grateful, appreciative, happy and caring toward you? Or do they just require more?
I’m increasingly convinced that the secret to all of this is to listen to your own body, heart and soul. It will tell you when you’re out of balance. If you are giving so you have the ability to manipulate or control someone, it is not healthy giving. If you are giving so many second chances or so much money, time or energy that you feel personally depleted and perhaps even a little resentful, it is not healthy giving.
The solution? Take a step back and as calmly as possible, observe how you continue to create this imbalance. If you don’t like what you see, summon up your courage and change the dynamic. You are responsible for your own life, just like other adults are responsible for theirs.
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14 thoughts on “How Much Self-Sacrifice and Giving is TOO Much?”
OMG … this is EXACTLY where I am at right now with my adult daughter. I have given all my life and now she treats me like dirt. I realize I became codependent with her… now trying to figure out how to change this cycle.
I have similar concerns with my own daughter, who is almost 21. I’ve thought about this a lot. I think as mothers, especially with first babies, it’s a shock how much the child needs and how utterly dependent the child is on us. As the child ages and we theoretically release the support structure little by little the child allegedly becomes more independent. But there’s no ritual in our society that says, “OK, now you’re an adult. Go take care of yourself.” It’s not graduation from high school or even college anymore; getting one’s first car and job; etc. Maybe getting married, but kids get married (wisely) so much later these days. So I think there isn’t a day when the parent and the child both realize “This is it. I did my job and this phase of it is finished.”
In my humble, unqualified opinion, that’s why we end up with all these dependent “You owe it to me” kids in this age group in our culture right now. What do you think? Does that make sense?
Debbie R says:
I finally broke down and started seeing a therapist who said the same thing to me! My daughter is 29, equipped with all that I could give her, & the more I do, the worse she treats me. I had to stop rescuing her and giving tangible items to her. (I don’t mind giving emotional support.) I desperately don’t want her to blame me if she chooses failure in her life.
Isn’t that the most amazing thing? First our lives are gladly sacrificed for our children, and then we suddenly have to reclaim them for ourselves. It’s a difficult habit to break over-giving! I face it daily with my daughter.
I resonated with your comment about not wanting her to blame you if she ends up a failure. I look at my own parents and realize I’ve made my life very, very differently than they wanted for me, at times not at all to their liking. Perhaps your daughter will hew her own way through the world?
Debbie R says:
I wrote in Feb- it’s now July, & you were so right! My daughter responded right away to my setting limits regarding what I would stand for and what was acceptable behavior from her. She got out of her rut, found a better paying job, a great new apt with no roommates, & is standing on her own two feet for the first time since college (she’s 29.) I kept your comments in mind and I don’t enable her any more. I’m simply her “cheerleader” for whatever she decides to do, keep it to myself that I want to say “told you so” & we have a much, much better relationship. Thank you for being there- it helped me a lot!
I SO remember your story and your note! Thanks for the update! My daughter, who just turned 21, still sometimes falls into wanting to be dependent again and I remember our exchange and my own commitment to help her gain entrance into adulthood, so you’ve certainly helped me, too. Thank YOU! I’m glad yours is making such progress – that’s wonderful to hear!
Wishing you much love, joy and peace always,
This is an amazing article that feels like you wrote it for me especially.
I have a situation with my elderly father who wasn’t a loving nor compassionate or supporting person when I grew up.
My first marriage was to a very abusive, alcoholic husband – never once did my father step in to help.
My eldest son had cerebral palsy and I could not afford all the treatment he needed whilst he was alive – never once did my father offer to help.
When I got divorced, being a single mom with 2 children and nowhere to go – my father did not offer to help.
I managed on my own. Remarried and have a happy family of my own.
Then my mother died and my father fell apart. Heaven knows what we have offered up to help him – emotionally and financially – during the past 18 years. My father treats everyone around him as if they owe their existence to him. He is demanding, disrespectful, selfish, spiteful, doesn’t have a charitable bone in his body and drinks too much. Yet he expects everyone to be there when he needs a helping hand. So now he is in hospital with a fractured femur – mainly due to the fact that he fell after consuming too much alcohol – and guess what – he expects all these people that he has treated to badly in the past, to come running with overflowing emotions of sympathy.
Well, I have had enough. I left my parent’s house when I was 18 years old and I am now 47. I have given and done more for him in my life that he has ever done for me or my family, yet he still has the opinion that he can snap his fingers and we will jump. We have stresses and problems of our own and, we did not bring the difficulties we are facing in life, upon ourselves!
My biggest desire is to drive this point home in his head: you might have been the ‘sperm donor’ that gave me life but you are most certainly NOT MY LIFE!
Any suggestions? ….
I’m sure not a therapist, but it does seem to me it’s time to set yourself free from that enmeshed relationship with your dad. I know you’ve been told that a million times by friends and family, though, so I suspect the bigger question is “Why don’t you?” You know what will help you, yet it appears you fail to take healthy action to protect yourself. The root of that will probably resolve the entire issue.
Wishing you love, peace and joy as you move toward what’s healthy for you,
I’ve learned that women who give too much are trying to buy love. Something I was guilty of for way too long. My parents and siblings always expected me to do the giving and they were happy to do the taking and reciprocate only with complaints and back stabbing. Through counselling, I came to understand that I had toxic parents and a very dysfunctional family, and no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t going to change them. I’ve learned to set boundaries with my family, but it has meant I don’t have a relationship with them anymore as they are not willing to change their behaviour. It’s hard, but I’m building a new circle of friends who appreciate me and are my new “family”.
Great perspective, Ellen! Thanks for sharing.
I think there are lots of people that need to be reminded of this. I feel that if you love yourself enough to put your heart first, this won’t even be an issue 🙂
Sharon Hester says:
My husband takes but don’t give as much as I do!
Oh, Sharon! I’m sorry to hear that. Have you ever asked him why?
Thank you!! As simple as it sounds, it truly is hard to see at times… Thanks Wendy from another Wendy…funny…there seem to be a lot of Wendy’s here…interesting… 🙂