by Andrea M. Darcy
Being a generous person is one thing. But what about when we give too much or our time and energy? Or are always indulging in, say, excessive gift-giving?
Generous person or over-giver?
It is really a question of our intent when it comes to giving.
Real giving is done from a place of true generosity and because we have an excess of something to offer (time, support, energy). It tends to be an impulse we don’t have to overthink. And the giving leaves us feeling good and energised.
Over-giving tends to come not from generosity, but from hidden need.It is an energetic transaction where we expect a return, even if that is just praise, appreciation, or to stop feeling guilty. And when we give too much, we feel depleted, not energised. We might even feel annoyed at ourselves or with the other person.
The psychology of excessive gift giving
So when we over-give, we are generally giving because we are:
- hoping for a return on what we give
- wanting to be appreciated or loved
- needing feel good about ourselves
- wanting to be seen as the stronger/smarter/wiser/ person
- think nobody else is capable so we ‘have’ to do something
- believe if we do something it will ease a feeling of guilt.
The cost of over-giving
When we over-give, we give because we think we ‘should’ or ‘have to’.
So essentially we go against ourselves and trample our own personal boundaries. Particularly if we give energy and time we don’t really have, this can result in in feeling upset with ourselves. Which in turn lowers self-esteem. No wonder, when we put our own needs last.
When our self-esteem is always being bashed, and we lose sight of our needs? The end result, over time, can be depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and repressed anger.
Over-giving and codependency
Over-giving is often a sign of codependency. When we are codependent we take our sense of self from pleasing others. So we give too much in order to receive praise and attention that then gives us a feeling of esteem. But it’s ungrounded esteem, that does not come from within but from without.
Codependency can mean we are so wrapped up in being what others want we lose any sense of real identity. Again, this leads to depression and even an identity crisis down the road.
Another hidden cost of over-giving is actually loneliness. Over-giving is not a healthy transaction, and it doesn’t lead to healthy relationships. It often involves the sort of ‘friendships‘ and ‘relationships’ where a part of you starts to secretly resent the other person, and what kind of relationship is that?
The cost for others when we over-give
Often, when we over-give, we are not even actually benefiting others.
For example, if we over-give because we want others to see that we are smarter and stronger?
We can stop someone from attempting something that could have led to their personal development.
Always doing things for someone also means they have less chance to do things for themselves. Even if it’s just excessive gift-giving, especially with our children, it can mean someone doesn’t try to work and save their own money for what they want. Spoiled children often end up lazy and entitled because of this dynamic.
In fact codependency, the extreme of over-giving, can be seen as a form of control. When we do things for someone without really asking, we are essentially dictating what they have the choice to then do or not do.
An example of a generous vs over-giving
Let’s look at a basic example illustrating the difference between giving and over giving.
It’s time for your break at work. You notice that a younger colleague seems upset about something. So you offer to take them for a coffee, and give them your time, energy and advice as they share a difficulty they have had with a project. Feeling good after that you’ve been of aid, you decide to respect their privacy and tell no one.
You are really pressed to finish a report for end of day. But you notice a colleague is moody. You worry you are somehow responsible they are moody, perhaps your stress is affecting them? So you ask if they want to grab a quick coffee, even when you don’t really have the time and actually don’t like them that much. But as you sit there listening to them rant, you think, well I am giving them my time and advice. At least they will owe me one in the future and have to be nice to me, and my boss will be impressed at my generosity (I will make sure she finds out about it).
So what to do next?
Read our related articles, “How to Stop Over-Giving “, “How to Say No“, and “The Importance of Boundaries“.
So used to giving away all your energy and time you can’t seem to stop? Aware that your self-esteem is dangerously low? It might be time to receive some support in the form of counselling or psychotherapy. A professional therapist can help you recognise how you learned this pattern of behaving, and support you in trying new ways of being that mean you are finally in control of your time and energy.
Harley Therapy connects you with warm, professional therapists in central London locations who can help you stop over-giving and improve your relationships. Not in London? Our new platform connects you with therapists across the UK who you can work with over Skype.
Andrea M. Darcy had to learn the difference between generous person and over giver and overcome her need to people please! A popular mental health writer, she also runs a therapy consultancy, helping people save time and money by quickly finding the right therapist and therapy for them. Find her @am_darcy