Being a giver is a mixed blessing

Being called a “giver” may be seen as a noble title. Some people pride
themselves in their ability to care for others, serve people, and be
helpful, sensitive and loving. Though these attributes are great, they
may come at a high price for the giver.

Givers are people who are dedicated to helping and supporting others.
They are nurturing, generous with their time and energy, warm-hearted,

attentive, eager to please and truly loving individuals. They are always
at the side of a needy friend, the grieving or ill neighbor, the
depressed colleague, or the troubled relative. They also elect to give a
hand in celebrations and happy occasions. Whatever the need may be,
givers are able to identify it and use their energy and patience in
facilitating and improving other people’s lives.

Partners of givers admire and praise their mates for all that they do
for them. They often speak about how well cared for, loved and special
they are made to feel by their giving partners. Some mates of givers
begin to feel inadequate in their own ability to reciprocate the
attentive energy so freely offered by givers.

So where is the mixed blessing?

Issues of low self-esteem, not knowing their own needs, and
sometimes-accepting poor treatment from others beleaguer givers.

Self-esteem for givers is based on their ability to please others. Since
it requires the satisfaction and approval of other individuals,
pleasers_ self-regard is often in doubt. They become dependent on
praise, affirmation, appreciation and flattery to feel sufficiently
worthy. When these responses are not given, or are not effusive enough,
givers begin to doubt their worth and may even become angry and depressed.

Self-esteem needs to be established by the individual and then
reinforced by input from the outside. When one’s source of self- regard
is predominantly external, it becomes unsteady. People who look outside
themselves for validation of their worth, are at risk of not receiving
what they need and living with a low level of self-value.

Since givers_ happiness depends on fulfilling the needs of others, their
attention is focused outwardly and they lose sight of their own needs.

When asked about their desires, people-pleasers often say; “I don’t even
know what I need or want. I don’t have the time to think of myself- I am
too busy taking care of others”. This phrase is commonly said with
pride. Givers believe that they are good and kind people who are well
respected for their sacrificial ways. They fail to see that not knowing
what they need is self-abusive rather than saintly.

Since all people have needs which must be met, those who fail to care
for themselves often resort to collecting “merit points”. On rare
occasions a giver may become aware of an acute need and is ready to cash
in her “merit points”. If the help is not readily offered, the giver is
likely to become livid. ” After all I have done for her- now that I need
some help, how could she be unavailable? She is no longer my friend!”
This giver sees herself as a martyr who sacrificed herself to be helpful
without being credited for it in the least. This pattern of entitlement
and punishment is born out of the giver’s incapacity in identifying and
getting her own needs met directly and honestly.

Some givers become so zealous in their determination to take care of
others that they become controlling. They are intrusive, hover and
interfere, give unsolicited advice, make decisions for other people who
are perfectly competent to run their own lives. These behaviors are done
under the guise of being loving and helpful.

The mother in law who decided to rearrange the furniture while her adult
children were away “to help them have a nicer apartment”, was dismayed
when her children saw this behavior as offensive. “But, I was just
trying to help, how could you be so ungrateful, do you know how hard I
worked?” Or a “concerned” helper who decided that her friend should
change jobs and proceeded to apply on his behalf to various companies
without his awareness, was equally astonished not to be praised for her

These examples highlight the giver’s view that others are needy children
who could not manage without her “help”. She is unaware of the
aggressive, discounting nature of her conduct since she holds fast to
the view of herself as a loving, self-sacrificing martyr.

In romantic relationships, some givers are so intent on being pleasing
to their partners that they allow themselves to be controlled and
abused. It is not uncommon to see givers partnered with mates who feel
entitled to be cared for by the givers, while having no obligation to
reciprocate in kind. Since the giver wants to please to be loved,
doesn’t expresses his needs, seems joyous in accommodating his mate, the
partner may begin to take him for granted. With time, the pleasing
expectations of the partner may become demands. The giver’s mate may
begin to treat the giver with disrespect and may even become abusive.

Eleanor Roosevelt put it this way: “No one can make you feel inferior
without your permission”. Sadly, some givers give this very permission.

Though being a giver is a joy for many, those who experience some of the
above hardships may be advised to think about:

  • Being a healthy giver  is a true blessing.
  • Healthy givers are able to:
    Please others without sacrificing themselves.
    Have a self-acquired sense of self-esteem reinforced by others.
    Recognize their own needs and express them.
    Please others without needing their affirmations for self-worth.
    Know the difference between being helpful and controlling.
    Respect their own and other people’s boundaries.
    Expect and create a mutually respectful and loving relationship.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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