Authentic giving is heartfelt and comes from our sense of knowing and acting upon what is needed. Unfortunately, many of us give out of a sense of obligation or guilt—and later resent it. Or we give because we expect something in return. Here are three forms of inauthentic giving, and advice on how to turn them around and start giving honestly.
Giving to get. This is a manipulative way of getting people to respond as you would like. When you give, there are stings attached, and your kindness and assistance are conditional. If you give in this way, you may have trouble receiving from others, because you will feel indebted to them.
Example: Maria is a successful executive. But if she does something for someone else, that person has to quickly return the favor. Otherwise, they are subject to her silent scorn. Deep down, she is insecure and doesn’t believe anyone can accept her simply for being herself.
Turn it around: Notice how others reach out to you, even if it’s only holding a door. Do you accept their gestures or self-protectively decline? Resist the urge to immediately give back in order to maintain control.
Giving on empty. You share yourself even when you are depleted and have “nothing” left to give. You feel obligated to show up for everyone else, and do not make your own needs and self-care priorities. You may have been taught that it is your “duty” to give to others, or that putting them before yourself is admirable. But this often leads to burnout.
Example: Bernice is a divorced, working mother raising a young son. When a friend wants or needs something done, she is the first to volunteer. She tries to meet her emotional needs by treating herself to her favorite foods, but that only makes her feel worse.
Turn it around: One day a week, don’t sacrifice your own needs. Think of something self-nurturing you wouldn’t usually make time for, like a massage, and carve out a portion of your day to do it. You’ll feel regenerated and be more able to give in a balanced way.
Giving without boundaries. The separation between you and others becomes unclear. You give because it feels like your sense of personhood depends on it. You don’t have a sense of what is yours to claim—like your time, energy and privacy—and give too much of yourself to everyone else. It is sometimes rooted in a desire for approval.
Example: Terri was taught to share everything with her younger sister. Today, she lives with two roommates and feels compelled to please them, doing more than her share of the household chores. When she closes her door, they open it, and talk to her when she’s on the phone with someone else. She is developing an ulcer and, at the suggestion of her doctor, is taking an assertiveness training course.
Turn it around: Bring to mind a friend’s request—something you agreed to do, even though you really wanted to say, “No.” Stand in front of a mirror and speak out loud the response you would have liked to give. Write a note to the person who made the request about your true feelings—you don’t have to send it.
Here are some of the differences between authentic and inauthentic giving.
- Giving leads to resentment.
- Giving contains no joy.
- Gifts are given with strings attached.
- You hope to control the outcome.
- You feel obligated to say “Yes” to requests.
- You have a hard time loving yourself and others.
- Giving leads to inner contentment.
- Giving is filled with joy.
- You seek no control over anything or anyone.
- You can say “No” or “Yes,” depending on what you feel like doing.
- You know how to nurture yourself and others.