Being a generous person is one thing. But what about when we give too much?
Is there a psychological cost to over-giving? And what can you do if you are too generous?
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.
So when we over-give, we are generally giving because we are:
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. This results in feeling upset with ourselves, which lowers self-esteem.
We are often giving time and energy we don’t have to spare. This means we put our own needs last, which can again leave us angry at our selves.
Over-giving is also a sign ofcodependency. 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?
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.
A classic example here is the over-giving mother who still does everything for a grownup son or daughter. This often results in the son or daughter being unambitious, and not making the psychological progress they should.
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.
Let’s look at a basic example illustrating the difference between giving and overgiving.
Generous Person– 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.
Over-Giver – 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 my boss will be impressed at my generosity (you will make sure she finds out about it).
So what to do next?
How can you stop over-giving? Sign up to our blog now to receive the next piece in our series, “How to Stop Over-Giving “. In the mean-time, enjoy our articles on “How to Say No” and “The Importance of Boundaries“.
Codependency can run deep, and can be connected to a relationship we had with a parent or caregiver. 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.