Is it even possible to give of yourself too much? Yes it is. But there’s no harm in that is there? Yes there is.
Do you know someone who has issues of their own they are working through, or should be working through, and yet they spend much of their time listening to and helping other people? I know more than just a few, I know a lot of people like this. And there is an irony that these same people being called on to listen and provide supportive advice and counselling are themselves dealing with issues of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, low-self image and self-esteem, financial hardship, mental health issues and parenting issues just to name some of the more common problems they face.
There is an inherent danger for these people which they sometimes realize but more often than not fail to do so. In their futures, there is likely to come a time when they become incapacitated from being able to not only help others, but their own lives and feelings of usefulness deteriorate and not understanding why, come to resent themselves and it can end very badly.
Allow me to explain. A simple analogy is a tall pitcher with liquid in it. If that full pitcher represents ones capacity to give, there’s enough there to give away. So yes it’s your pitcher but you are able to provide yourself and others with some of it quite happily. But now there is less in the pitcher and some of those people come back for more. Well this time not everybody is satisfied. First of all those that take some may get less than they’d like and the ones who get nothing are disappointed there isn’t anything for them. You? Unless you find a way to add more liquid to the pitcher, there isn’t any for you either, and you’re unable to draw from it yourself.
So in real life what does this look like? How about the single mother who is raising two teens, one of which is bitter, mad at the world, blames the parent for the driving the spouse away. The same single parent is trying to stave off the landlord from evicting them, somehow catch up with utility arrears, caring for aging parents that say she doesn’t visit enough, sees the cost of food rising beyond what she can afford. Now throw in unemployment and while attending some workshops to improve herself, one of the two kids at home isn’t going to school and the school is demanding attention to the matter and summoning her in for meetings.
So here we’ve got a person trying to appease school officials, meet her children’s needs, placate her own parents who are ill and aging, find money to pay utility arrears and landlord increases, and while keeping all these people happy by giving them her time and attention, is neglecting herself and her own desire and need for employment. That’s quite a juggling act. How many more stressors do you think such a person would be likely to add to this juggling routine before everything falls apart? Well let’s add the two or three friends who constantly come to her for advice because she’s so good at listening. Hmmm….
In such a situation, I can’t pretend to tell you there is one solution that would be right for everyone or even best for everyone. But generally speaking, I think it’s time – high time for this person to be given permission to become a little selfish and spend some time in self-care. In other words, if you give and give until there is nothing left to give, not only will you be of little or no use to anyone you care about, you’ll be paralyzed and unable to function which will make you not only unable to help others, but you’ll resent yourself for your inability to do so. You may come to see yourself as a failure; a failure as a parent, a provider, a good child to your own parents, a good listener for your friends, and at worse a person of value. Stop seeing yourself as a good person and you’re in trouble.
Being selfish in this respect might mean telling those friends you’re taking some time to get things in order and can’t give them the time they’d like for a while. It might mean exploring help in the community to get those arrears paid off and by swallowing some pride keep the lights and heat on. It might mean telling a rebellious angry teen that believes it’s all about him that it isn’t; and that some family counselling, better behaviour and school aren’t options anymore, they are mandatory and the alternative is the door.
Again, I’m not advocating the above as the only solutions, nor the best ones for everybody. Fail to take care of yourself and get your own life together however, and you’ll have less ability to help the very ones you love and want to be there for the most. Being selfish in this regard really has the long-term impact of continuing to be able to give of yourself, but much more effectively.
Share your load with someone in a professional capacity who may suggest help you don’t even know exists. You’re going to feel better, like yourself more, and ultimately juggle less things daily which makes it all the more manageable.