Giving can be a great thing, with things like volunteering now shown to improve mental health.
Giving too much in a relationship, on the other hand, is something else entirely.
From doing everything for your children, never charging what you are worth, being the go-to person at work, or the free shoulder for everyone to cry on, giving too much is linked to psychological issues.
These include low self-esteem, codependency, repressed anger, and feeling stuck in life.
[Not sure you are or are not giving too much? Read our connected article, “Generous Person, or Over-Giver?”.]
How to stop giving too much in a relationship
If the above sounds too familiar, what next?
1. Chart your giving.
Take a tip from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and its use of ‘activity charts’.
Spend three days (or better yet, a week) writing down each and every time you give your time and energy to other people. (It can help to set an alarm to go off every few hours and then to ‘check in’ in a notepad.)
Record how you felt when you agreed to give, how you felt after you gave, and how much time you spent giving to the other person.
Ask yourself the following when you have your record:
- Approximately how much time did you spend on doing things for others?
- What giving did you enjoy, and what giving left you feeling depleted?
- What sorts of environments did you tend to give too much in? Home? Work?
- What sorts of moods lead to overgiving for you?
- What could you have done instead of the activity you did for someone else?
2. Spot the need.
For each time you gave in your ‘giving chart’ above, what might the hidden need be?
For example, “I proofread my colleague’s report because I want her to like me,” or “I had sex with him/her because I wanted him/her to stop being mad at me.”
- What other way could you have used to get that need met?
The truth about giving too much in a relationship is that we are often actually manipulating the other person. We are over giving instead of having the courage to ask for our needs to be met, or engaging in healthy communication.
[Need helping getting your needs met? For professional support from a qualified therapist, you can visit our sister site harleytherapy.com to book via Skype, by phone or in person.]
3. Dig down to the core belief.
Negative core beliefs cause fear and anxiety around saying no. As assumptions you have mistaken as truth, core beliefs tend to look like, “If I don’t give I won’t be loved/ will be abandoned/ will be worthless”.
Can you see now why you feel so terrified at saying no to others?
Read our piece on finding your core beliefs. What is the core belief that drives you to over give instead of ask for your needs to be met? Is the belief real? What is a more realistic belief?
4. Practice the timeout rule.
Learning to say no takes time. The best ‘first step’ here is to always ask for time to think.
Start with the easiest situations possible, like asking your child for five minutes to think about their request to use your iPad. Then try it somewhere like the workplace. Ask how much time you have to think about your decision, and take the time offered.
5. Flip your reasoning.
CBT therapy uses thought charts designed to help your brain learn balanced thinking. And balanced thinking leads to setting better boundaries.
Try our annotated version:
- Write down the worst thing that can happen if you say no to this person/experience.
- Write down the exact opposite.
- Come up with three facts that prove both your original thought and then its opposite.
- Come up with a thought that is is exactly in the middle.
For example, “My boss will think I am lazy and fire me/ My boss will think I am assertive and promote me.He felt I didn’t do well on another project/my annual rating was average/three people were fired this year. He liked my last presentation/he didn’t fire anyone off our team/I can’t be fired for something not in my job description. Balanced thought in the middle? I might annoy my boss because he’ll have to find someone else but I won’t lose my job over this.”
How much better to you now feel about possibly saying no?
6. Practise being uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing with learning to say no and setting boundaries. It will feel very odd at first. You are breaking past old beliefs into new territory. Instead of giving up, learn to accept the discomfort as a sign of personal growth.
A great tool for handling discomfort is mindfulness. If you feel anxious and sick in your stomach that you are about to say no, take ten minutes to sit and fully experience your feelings. Notice where in your body you feel discomfort, what other thoughts rise up, and see how the feelings can shift if you just notice them.
[Read our free “Guide to Mindfulness” and you can start today.]
7. Build a support team.
Reach out to those you fully trust and ask them to be a port of call to check in with when you are about to over give. Or ask them to call and make sure you set a boundary when you said you would.
Nobody you trust that much? Or feel too much shame over your tendency to give too much in relationships? Do consider professional support.
A therapist creates a safe space for you to recognise the roots of your over giving, which can sometimes be childhood neglect or trauma. He or she will support you in trying new ways of relating to others, and recognising the hidden needs behind your over giving. How can you now get those needs met?
For affordable counselling worldwide, please visit our sister site harleytherapy.com. We have Skype and phone appointments available seven days a week, so whenever you’re ready, wherever you are, we’re here to help.
What to share you experience of giving too much in a relationship? Use our public comment box below.