It’s great to help people in need, especially at Christmas. I loved the story where a group of rich men recently walked through stores and gave out hundred dollar bills to people who looked needy. This is truly the spirit of Christmas!
Most altruistic giving is good, like paying it forward at a fast food restaurant, or giving someone a few dollars when they run short at a grocery checkout stand. It’s also really good to take cookies to a neighbor or friend or help out a mother who’s babysitter didn’t show, or give a coat for a coat drive, or help a friend move, or give to charity or help a friend who is sick. These are all great things that we do out of the goodness of our hearts. We don’t really expect anything back.
Most of us believe that helping people makes us a really good person. But what happens when the people you give to want to keep taking? Do you need to keep giving to be a good person? It could be a friend who borrows money and doesn’t pay it back and wants to borrow more. Maybe it’s your own child who has been spoiled and now feels entitled. Maybe it’s your friend who never buys lunch. Maybe it’s your husband or wife who has let you take on all the responsibility. If you give too much, thinking this makes you a “good” person, you probably get taken advantage of.
One of Alan’s buddies was very wealthy most of his life and overgave. He “loaned” millions to his two sons, who not only never paid him back, but don’t even talk to him anymore. He’s given tons of money and gifts to friends and business associates over the years, and now that he’s lost everything himself, he never hears from them. No one has ever given to him. He sees himself as a “good” guy, and he is, of course, but he doesn’t realize that through his so-called goodness he has taught everyone in his life to be a taker.
You can be a good person and still not allow others to take advantage of you. Setting boundaries so that people don’t use you doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you a smart person.
I’ve recently had a female client who allowed her out-of-work boyfriend to move in with her, thinking that she was doing the right thing and being a “good” person. Her boyfriend expected her to not only pay all the bills, but also do all the housework. His thinking was that she did it before, so why can’t she do it now? Unbelievably, when the boyfriend finally got a job (8 months later), he felt entitled to keep his money and let her keep supporting him. After she finally kicked him out and told him why, he said, “But you never asked me for any rent money!” And he’s right, she’s partly to blame because she overgave to the point that he felt entitled.
Many of my marriage counseling clients become full of resentments and often consider divorce because their relationship has become out-of-balance. One person is overgiving and the other is taking, and no one is setting boundaries.
Because the overgiver, whether male or female, is too nice, they don’t usually get what they want from their mate. They don’t understand that “people will do to you whatever you let them get away with.” As children we’re taught “what goes around comes around.” So we believe that giving will make people love us and give back to us. But there is no justice. Giving (especially overgiving) to others does not cause them to want to give to you. Quite the opposite. The more you give, the more others will “take” and expect from you. It will get to the point that they don’t even think you are giving since this just seems to be the normal way things are. Then when you need something, they don’t think they owe you anything. After all, you are now in your roles: you’re the giver and they’re the taker.
It is your job to teach others how to treat you. You need to tell others what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the way they treat you. It is your job to let others know when they have overstepped their boundaries so they can learn how to treat you better.
What to Do:
- Watch out for “takers.” Test people. Early on in any relationship, don’t give without soon asking for something in return so that you can find out the character of this person before you get too invested.
- Money: When loaning money, always make a payment plan and/or ask for a post-dated check for when the money for repayment is supposed to be available. And put it in writing. And, of course, never loan money again to someone who hasn’t paid you back for the last loan. If you do, you are setting the relationship up to fail and teaching them to be a loser.
- Listening to Friends/Family Whine: Relationships need to be two-way. It’s very common for friends to whine to each other. But often, one becomes the whiner and the other the listener. This is unhealthy for both. It exhausts you the listener, and it enables the whiner to never solve their problems. Set a boundary by saying, “Let’s talk about something else today. I already know all about that and it seems to me that you aren’t fixing the problem. When you take some action to solve it, tell me about that.” Also, say, “I have some things I want to talk about regarding my life today. Can you be the listener this time?”
- Helping Others: When asked to help someone do something, ask yourself if this person would do the same thing for you. Often they wouldn’t. Don’t do things for others they would never do for you or you will end up resenting them.
So, go ahead and give to your favorite charity and take your old clothes to Goodwill, and take soup to a friend who’s sick. But don’t listen to friends whine or give to people who never reciprocate or loan money without a plan. Because if you do, you will probably not get what you want (for Christmas or any other time) since you’ll seldom find yourself on the receiving end.
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