“We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving…Accepting another person’s gift is allowing him to express his feelings for you.” ~Alexander McCall Smith
We all know the importance of giving. In fact, it feels rather nice to give to others; we have all experienced that warm glow in the stomach when we do something thoughtful for another person or exchange kind words. To make someone smile is one of the best feelings in the world.
But sometimes, do we get so caught up in the giving that we forget to receive? And in doing so, do we give too much?
I have always been a people pleaser.
My parents were divorced when I was five years old. It was a complicated situation, one that I didn’t fully understand as a child.
My sister and I grew up with our grandparents, having contact with our dad during holidays, while the contact with our mum dwindled down to nothing.
I hadn’t realized until recently that my five-year-old self felt completely abandoned by my parents. We never talked about the situation as a family; feelings were not something you shared, so they stayed bottled up.
I grew up with the belief, deep down, that my parents left me because I wasn’t good enough.
As a consequence, I tried my best to be as agreeable as I could to everyone around me. This meant having no opinion, going along with what others wanted all the time, not communicating my needs, and trying my best not to upset anyone.
Then maybe, I would be good enough to love. This was pretty exhausting.
I developed OCD for a period of time, frequently staying in the bathroom for hours, performing hand-washing rituals until my hands were raw and brushing my teeth until my gums bled.
If I performed these rituals, bad things wouldn’t happen anymore. My granddad, who developed terminal cancer, eventually gave up his battle to the disease after a long period of suffering, and the rituals stopped.
Instead, I sunk further into depression.
As a result of my negative thinking patterns and my deeply held beliefs, I fell into a series of damaging relationships.
Just wanting to be loved, by them, by anyone, I desperately tried to make things work with guys who were either not right for me or, more often than not, emotionally unavailable. I was replicating the relationships that I had known from my childhood.
Relationships are equal give and take, not the constant giving that I had developed in the hope of making people love me back. Instead, ironically, this pushed people away.
The thing was, I was desperately looking for love, when deep down, I didn’t like let alone love myself. Secretly, I believed I didn’t deserve to be loved. I wasn’t good enough for anyone; what could I offer to anyone?
I would sleep with men early on in the relationship, figuring that giving my body was the only thing of worth that I could offer.
It all came to a head when yet another relationship failed. Each time, the other person ended the relationship, which dealt a blow to my already fragile sense of self-esteem.
I’d slide into depressive episodes with scary frequency, when I would cry constantly, finding it a mammoth task to even just get out of bed, having no interest in life and isolating myself from people.
Then one day, I had serious thoughts of ending my life. It was then that I knew it was time to change.
Reaching out and receiving the help I needed was the best decision of my life. I spoke to my GP who referred me on to a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy counsellor.
This time, I was completely honest about what I was feeling; I told them about the suicidal thoughts, about not wanting to be here anymore so I wouldn’t feel the constant pain.
It felt like a weight had been lifted. I was able to tell them everything. I have had counselling before, but it hadn’t been right for me. Like most things, you need to keep trying until you find what speaks to you.
CBT, which challenges negative thoughts, helped me to realize that I was automatically thinking negatively. It showed me that my thoughts were not fact. I started to understand about my deeply held beliefs, which colored everything I thought.
Above all, it showed me that I actually had needs and wants; there were things that I wanted to do with my time and not just go along passively with other peoples’ decisions.
In giving all my time and attention to others and not taking the time to receive back from them, I was hiding from the fact that I didn’t feel I was worth other peoples’ efforts.
I was hiding from myself that I had deep-rooted issues that needed to be dealt with—and that I needed people to help me to do this.
There are a few things that I have learned through therapy:
1. Show yourself that you are worth caring for by starting to care for yourself.
A tendency of people pleasers is to give relentlessly without a thought for themselves. Take time for yourself, pamper yourself—do something kind for yourself each day.
2. Allow others to help you when it is needed, and don’t be scared to reach out.
You can start with small things, like asking a friend to pick up a parcel for you when they are passing the shop.
3. Surround yourself with people who help make you feel good about yourself.
I’m so lucky to have an incredibly supportive and loving sister who listens to me and helps when times are tough as well as good. Spend as much time as possible with people who reinforce your self-worth, not bring it down.
4. Say “no” occasionally.
It’s important to assess what your needs and wants are and communicate these with people. Saying “no” sometimes does not make you selfish; it means you are taking care of yourself, and you will attract more respect from others as a result.
5. Keep a positive journal.
Note anything that happens that makes you feel good—positive feedback from a boss, a kind word from your friend, a compliment from a stranger—and remember to accept these, not dismiss them.
6. Think about what you want from life.
Think about what makes you tick and therefore a more contented person, able to receive from others.
I’ve discovered my passion for photography, which has built up my confidence and therefore lessened my need to please people all the time.
7. Don’t be scared to have an opinion.
Occasionally, we really don’t mind either way. But if you do genuinely have an opinion on something, don’t be scared to speak up. People want to know the real you, not someone you think they want.
I am working through this journey of self-discovery, and no doubt, always will be.
I am learning to accept the good things that people do for me and the kind words they say. I’ve realized that you don’t have to be perfect for people to love you. You don’t have to constantly give for people to want to spend time with you.
I am enough.
For the first time in my life, I’m devoting the time and attention I normally would reserve solely for other people to myself. You don’t want to forget about others, but you also don’t want to forget about yourself.
In doing so, I’m building up my sense of self-worth and becoming more able to accept love from others. And just maybe, I’m also letting that other person feel a warm glow in their stomach too.
Woman with open arms image via Shutterstock