The season of giving is here, and you might be at risk of overdoing it. Learn three ways to save your sanity, reduce your resentment and feel good about giving again.
It’s the holidays. You’re hosting the whole family. You’ve cleaned the whole house, done the shopping, cooked the meal and washed the dishes. You think you should feel satisfied, fulfilled and needed. In reality, you’re running on empty, emotionally drained and resenting others for not helping. “Don’t they see how hard I’m working? Couldn’t someone bother to lift a finger?”
I have bad news: It’s not them. It’s you. You may be experiencing pathological altruism.
Pathological altruism is giving with the intention of telepathically relaying your needs and assuming they’ll get met. Your underlying mental pattern looks something like, “I’ll put myself in charge of making sure everyone feels great and nothing bad happens. The more I give, the better everyone will feel. And surely, if someone sees how hard I’m working, they’ll step in and help.”
What really happens? Something like this: no one meets your needs because they can’t read your mind. You become resentful and angry that you’ve done all the giving, causing you to lash out or withdraw, which most likely affects those you’re resenting.
Bottom line: you end up sabotaging your own goal — making everyone happy — by giving too much.
There’s only one way to break the cycle and it’s NOT by giving more. You need to give less (and stop punishing others for not reading your mind.)
Letting go of giving can take practice. Your patterns have become a habit and you may even believe bad things will happen if you don’t continue. The truth is you can’t continue to overgive and expect your resentment to go away. You need to make a change and giving less is the way.
Here are three ways to help you stop giving too much:
1) Identify past stressors and take them off your plate. What has caused you to feel resentful in the past? Figure that out and make a new plan. There’s usually some obvious, easier-to-eliminate behaviors.
Example: You usually send a gift to Aunt Verna but it hurts your feelings that she never gives one in return. STOP. Don’t send a gift this year. No, she won’t be upset. And even if she is, you can finally explain, “I understand how you feel because I also feel upset when I don’t get a gift from you.”
2) Notice when resentment arises and stop doing what you’re doing. It may be hard to anticipate when you’ll feel resentment, but that doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it. You can always stop and walk away from a task.
Example: You’ve cooked the whole Thanksgiving meal and now you’re stuck doing dishes while everyone watches TV. Your resentment grows with each dirty plate, even though no one asked you to do them. STOP. Put down the dishes and ask someone to finish up. The key is to trust he or she will say if they don’t want to pitch in and then you can ask someone else.
3) Communicate your new boundaries to others. A change in your behavior may catch people by surprise, but that doesn’t mean they don’t approve or that you should do the behavior anyway. Tell your loved ones what you don’t want to do in advance, and give them time to adjust.
Example: You’re usually the “on duty” parent on Thanksgiving while your spouse watches football. You know you’ll start feeling resentful after the second game, which may result in an argument later. STOP. Explain a few days in advance how, this year, you plan to take a long walk after dinner or go shopping on Friday without the kids. Be sure to follow through.
Even though giving less can be difficult, taking care of your own needs is often the best thing you can do for others. After all, everyone else is doing it. Why not you?
To your emotional health,
Dr. Laura Dabney