In our society we have started to see taking care of ourselves as selfish. Self-love is seen as a form of narcissism that is undesirable. I see generations of people that believe that they aren’t loved if their friends, partners, co-workers or employers don’t make sacrifices for them. My pet peeved statement of “If you loved me you’d….” We believe it is our duty to give of ourselves for other’s happiness.
But what happens when we give too much? I remember I was at a Business and You seminar. The lecture before lunch was “The more you give, the more you will get back in return”. There was a very strong energy in the air of giving, of self sacrifice and of love. The belief is that with self-sacrifice the energy you put out will be returned to you in spades. After this heart warming lecture the main facilitator asked each of us to take a bill out of our wallets. This was about 20 years ago, before cash cards and credit cards were in common use, and in my walled I had a $5 and my drivers license. I knew that we were about to break for lunch, an dI was skeptical as that $5 was my lunch money, with no other possibility for food in sight. The assistant facilitators then started clapping their hands and shouting the words “Pass, Pass, Pass, Pass”. The energy was taken up by the group, and everyone was passing the money back and forth throughout the group of about 30 people and 10 facilitators. I notice that most of the money that is being passed is a $1. I struggled with wanting to be part of the group with the energy of “give to get”, all while the other attendee’s that at times were angry and aggressive that I was not participating. I held on to my $5, knowing that it is going to be a long afternoon if I lose it and don’t get to eat. The co-facilitators are making noise while yelling “PASS! PASS! PASS!” and encouraging me to pass my money, the other people in the group are getting visibly agitated that I won’t, and I am becoming increasingly anxious as I don’t want to part with my $5 as I feel as though I’m a bad person for my selfishness. All of a sudden the primary facilitator claps his hands and states “All right everyone, lunch! See you in an hour!”. I hear someone call out “I had a $20 out there, and that is my lunch money!” The response was “see you in an hour”. I believe I went to Subway with my $5, and was incredibly grateful that I didn’t give it away in the energy and frenzy of the moment.
Afterwards we were reminded that while it does help you to give, giving away all you have doesn’t help anyone. When you only have $5 for lunch, it isn’t very smart to let go of that $5 just on the hope that it will come back to you. There is balance in all things, and giving too much is just as bad as giving too little.
Part of my job is to give of myself. I give my love, my effort, and my energy to my clients. And I know more than most the struggle of wanting to give more than I have. I have worked with kids that have asked me to drop them off at the church to see if the church is giving out food, so their family can eat for the day. I have worked with families that don’t have shoes for the kids. I know that I have the resources to buy these families what they need, if only for a moment. And there is a part of me that feels selfish that I have what I need and don’t give of my abundance to help others. I have also sacrificed my own desires, wants, and at times personality for my clients and my relationships. All of this has come at a price though. I find myself giving more and more of myself until I am unable to sustain even myself, let alone others.
In life-guarding there is a saying: “Don’t make two victims”. If it is going to create a situation where it is likely that someone else will have to jump in to save you and the other person then isn’t it better to keep from sacrificing of yourself? I have seen this happen financially and emotionally to clients and friends. I hear the words “I felt guilty that I didn’t….” fill in the blank. I didn’t call my dying father, that I didn’t help my destitute sister, that I didn’t….. I have also seen the results of not setting boundaries and recognizing what one is capable of. Yes, your father is dying, but you haven’t created enough strength in and of yourself to be able to handle the fact that he molested you as a child and hasn’t taken accountability for his actions. Yes, your sister is destitute, and if you give her the money to buy a new air conditioner for her house you drain your own resources so you don’t have them for your family.
There is balance to giving of yourself, and taking care of yourself. It is a delicate swords edge to walk, and I fall on either side more often than I would like to admit. And I know for a fact, that if I don’t set boundaries with the world around me and allow myself to take care of me, I will be sucked dry quicker than I can snap my fingers.