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If there’s one line I’ve heard from just about every client I’ve coached over the years, it’s this:
“I really just want to help people.”
Look, I get it. It’s human nature (well, the good side of human nature, at least!) to want to help and support and lift up other people. Life would be pretty unfulfilling if you never felt like you were making a positive difference for other people.
Plus, it just feels good to help others. Who doesn’t enjoy the warm, satisfied feeling they get after doing something nice for someone?
But being a nice, helpful, giving person can very quickly go too far. And it’s not pretty when it does.
Over-giving is a fast road to burnout. And not feeling appreciated for all the things you do for others, or not receiving the same kind of support that you’re always giving, leads straight to resentment.
THE MADDENING LOOP DE LOOP OF OVER-GIVING
There’s a predictable cycle when it comes to over-giving, and you’re probably already very familiar with each stage. It looks something like this:
Stage 1: Abundant giving
This is the stage when you try to help ALL the people and be everything to everyone.
You’re constantly checking on whether everyone else — your coworkers, your spouse, your kids, your clients, your parents, your friends — is taken care of and happy. You’ll work more, sleep less, and put off taking care of yourself because other people need you more.
To someone who loves helping people, the abundant giving stage feels great … until it doesn’t.
Which leads to…
Stage 2: Burnout
After an extended period of abundant giving, you notice that you have less and less energy. It’s like there’s a slow energy leak in your body, and you don’t know how to plug the leak.
Most likely, you’ll try to keep being there for the people in your life, since your desire to give is still strong, but your energy level is seriously flagging and you can’t seem to keep up with all the demands.
You feel like you could take a nap for a week straight, if only people would stop emailing you, and asking you for things, and needing your constant attention.
When your exhaustion hits a breaking point, that’s when you nosedive straight into…
Stage 3: Resentment
This is when you get pissed. You’re overworked, exhausted, and underappreciated, and you feel the frustration threatening to bubble over.
Your resentment is often directed externally at people in your life, and looks something like, “He doesn’t appreciate everything I do for him!” or “She never gives ME any support. I have to do everything on my own.”
But it can also be directed inward, at yourself. As in, “I always do this. I pushed myself too hard again. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be more resilient? I’m just too sensitive.”
Once you vent out your frustrations and spend some time recuperating, you’ll start to feel guilty for your resentment and for not giving as much as usual … and the cycle starts all over again, on an endless loop.
ADDICTED TO BEING HELPFUL
So what causes someone to over-give in the first place?
I think it’s usually one of three reasons (and let’s be honest, it’s often a combination of all of them):
- People pleasing: The high that comes from helping other people can be addicting. Plus, being nice and helpful and supportive practically ensures that most people will like you, and likeability is one of the most potent drugs out there. Once you get addicted to people pleasing, you’ll twist yourself into a pretzel trying to be liked by everyone you encounter.
- Conflict avoiding: Nobody loves conflict, of course (unless you’re a sociopath who likes stirring up drama for amusement), but to a person who’s giving and empathic by nature, it’s petrifying. Which means your tendency to over-give might be your way of keeping the peace so no one ever has a reason to get angry with you. If you’re always doing nice things, then no one can ever get mad at you, right??
- Misunderstanding your self-worth: This one breaks my heart most of all. Too many of us — especially those of us who have been repeatedly called “nice,” “kind,” “and caring” throughout our lives — have mistakenly come to associate our very worth as a human being with how much we can give. Which means you have to constantly keep proving your worth by over-giving to everyone in your life, or else you’re “not a good person.”
IT’S TIME TO BREAK THE CYCLE
The first, and most important way to stop over-giving in the first place is to remember that your worth is not tied to how much you can give.
Let me repeat that: Your worth has absolutely nothing to do with how much you give to others.
You are worthy simply by being a living, breathing human with hopes and desires and preferences and a unique personality. Your worthiness has no relation to what you do and everything to do with your mere beingness.
When you wholeheartedly believe that fact, you actually get to be of MORE service to others because you’re giving from a full tank, not a desperate need to prove yourself.
I also want you to shift your perspective on what it means to be a giving person in the first place.
When you think about how you can help others, I want you to include yourself in that. As in, if it doesn’t help other people AND you, then it doesn’t count as a truly giving act because it’s only one-sided.
It’s about looking for the win-win. If it doesn’t serve you and other people, that’s not a win-win, and ultimately everyone loses.
So that means saying “no” to any opportunity to be of service that’s going to seriously deplete you. There will be plenty of other ways to help others that will feel energizing and refueling to you — save your energy for those things.
For more strategies on how to break this cycle, make sure to listen to our next podcast episode coming out this Friday, which is all about how to cure your people pleasing habit.
So tell me, have you ever found yourself caught in the middle of the giving-burnout-resentment cycle? (Or are you there right now?) How ready are you to break this cycle? Share with me, in the comments!
FOR MORE SUPPORT WITH THIS…
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Kristen (& Rachel)