The holiday season is officially underway here in the States. Beneath the tinsel-tinged mirage of peace on Earth and good will toward our fellow human, the holidays are often a mixed-bag of emotions and experiences.
Maybe you feel a need to be alone at this time of year. Maybe you need to feel connection and be surrounded by warm company. Maybe you live in the tension between the two and feel out of sorts no matter what. Whatever your experience, I hope you’re able to honor your needs as best you can and connect with the environments and activities that bring you true comfort and joy.
With Winter’s medicine of slowing down and tending to the most mundane aspects of our human form - staying warm, seeking shelter from harsh elements, keeping our bodies fed and active in ways that align with what’s available to us in Nature - it can be a time when we are confronted, perhaps uncomfortably so, with how much support we and others actually need.
Where do your needs fall on the list of things to be taken care of?
Are you quicker to sacrifice your time, energy, rest, or pleasure than you are to decline a request or expectation?
Do you tell yourself you’ll get to what you need just as soon as everything else is squared away?
How often are you met with someone in your circle saying, “I’ll take care of this, you go enjoy yourself”?
If your answers were Yes, Yes, and Rarely/Never, welcome to the Official Order of Over-Givers.
Dear member, for myriad reasons systemic, cultural, and individual, you’ve adopted the practice of denying your needs while ensuring that everyone around you is comfortable and as carefree as possible.
On the outside, you look like some of the most competent, capable, got-it-all-together, nothing-you-can’t-handle people. On the inside, you are exhausted, your patience is paper thin, and you wonder if anyone sees you as anything more than the doer of things.
I was once a chronic and compulsive over-giver; I’m well familiar with the ways over-giving wears you down and seems to erase you from your own life.
One wild realization that was pivotal in my own healing and that has proven useful in my work with clients who want to establish their values as the center of their lives and build reciprocally supportive relationships, is this:
Over-giving is a way we compensate for the discomfort we have with our own needs.
Somewhere along the path of life, in a way that’s personal and pertinent to you, you experienced your needs as being burdensome, disruptive, excessive, or something similar that either threatened or resulted in being painfully criticized, rejected, or abandoned.
So your clever, beautiful brain came up with a way to ensure your safety and ease your fear…no needs = no problems.
(Full disclosure: this is actually a multi-layered, deeply-rooted issue that is different for each person who experiences it so, if this sounds simplified, it is for the sake of this format.)
Over-giving keeps us busy, so we don’t have to think about or be connected to our needs, and we can lean on the fact that there just isn’t time.
Over-giving masks our inner feelings of emptiness, restriction, and lack with the externalized image of abundance and well-orchestrated competency.
Over-giving sounds like “just being nice.” It looks like accounting for all the outcomes, even the ones you can’t control. It feels like a simmering panic that, despite pain-staking attention to detail, you’ve forgotten something or gotten it wrong and there will be painful consequences.
Holidays can activate over-giving with the pressure to give copious, perfectly-picked presents and make sure everyone’s favorite recipes make it to the table in exactly the way they remember them. It can even present itself as spending holidays with people you don’t particularly care for and would otherwise choose to not be around - but rather than make waves, hurt feelings, risk conflict, you endure the discomfort.
To offer platitudes like, “Put yourself first! Enforce healthy boundaries! Let yourself receive!” and expect you to just know what to do would be setting you up for failure. Yes, those things are important! But you probably know that already, the ‘what’ isn’t the issue.
The real question is, “How? How do I do things differently when so much rests on my shoulders? What do I do instead of what I’ve always known?”
There’s no simple or singular answer to that. The truth is, it’s a process. It’s an experiment in self-awareness, self-advocacy, and self-actualization. It’s a deep dive into the unchartered and unknown, which genuinely can be a thrilling adventure if you have the safety, resourcing, and support to surrender to it.
I can’t give you a five-step framework for overcoming over-giving or a “secret sauce” to balancing your giving and receiving patterns, because that wouldn’t address the core issues that brought this coping mechanism into being.
Over-giving is a type of survival mode strategy, you rely on it to protect you from pain - it meets your need for safety. The healing doesn’t happen in stripping away the need, it happens in acknowledging and accepting the need and integrating new, more nourishing ways to meet it.
So here’s what I can give you in the context of working together, either in a single reading or a series of sessions:
…to feel the feelings that were “too intense/dramatic/sensitive/irrational” for the people you tried to express yourself to;
…to speak the needs you were told were “too much” or “unrealistic;”
…to spread out and be seen exactly as you are without qualification, justification, or expectation.
…to process your experiences - past and present - at your own pace, in the ways that feel safe and sustainable to you;
…to build a foundation of trust and stability before implementing change that triggers fear;
…to integrate awareness and celebrate successes before moving onto the next thing that needs “fixing.”
Relief from carrying the armor
…of pretending you’re fine when you’re falling apart inside;
…of giving everything in the hopes that you’ll be valued, accepted, and reciprocated;
…of being the one everybody assumes has the answers when really you’ve had to get very good at figuring things out on the fly.
…that what you’re going through is hard;
…that what you feel is real and not an overreaction or you being dramatic or too sensitive;
…that there are socio-cultural systems and familial patterns in place that contribute to the challenges you’re experiencing;
…and appreciation for the immense effort and energy you put into making life look easy so others don’t have to worry about you.
There’s no such thing as an overnight success, but that doesn’t mean all growth is arduous and exhausting! My clients laugh and shed tears, sometimes in the same session. As emotions like grief and anger are validated and processed, more space is made for joy and ease to be regularly experienced.
It’s OK to not be ready to take action just yet. It’s OK to be in the curious phase, and get familiar with the things that make you nervous and hold you back from booking a session. That’s a really useful step, don’t skip it!
When you are ready, I hope you’ll feel welcomed into and supported by the healing spaces that are available to you here.
Sending so much warmth your way. Cheers to peaceful endings and exciting new beginnings!