The Giving Fix
Can you be addicted to giving? The answer may surprise you.
Here’s the biological take: There have been a number of studies that have shown that giving actually increases the level of oxytocin in our blood stream which makes us feel good. So, in essence, every time you give you get a little jolt of that good feeling. Here’s the challenge for givers:
It’s fairly easy to get hooked.
One of the common traits you’ll see among givers (myself included) is the desire to help as many people as possible and, in some cases, becoming seriously overcommitted. Naturally, we think that if it feels good when we give then giving more will help us feel even better but, just as someone becomes addicted to drugs for the feeling they get, givers can get to that same level of addiction.
Also, just as an addict gets to a point where they forget to take care of themselves and will forget basic necessities due to the need for the drug, a giver who is hooked may find themselves giving so much that they end up truly exhausted and have very little for themselves at the end of the day. Adam Grant addresses this concept is his book Give and Take when he discusses the different forms of giver burn out and if you yourself are a giver you may find that you tend to neglect your own needs from time to time. I personally have had instances where I was giving so much that I ended up forgetting about myself in much the same way someone addicted to a drug may forget to do basic things like eat.
So the question then becomes: if we are in fact hooked on giving, what can we do about it? Is there Giver’s Anonymous?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find anything like that, but I have found a few ways to avoid giving addiction:
- Do a daily check in - Ask yourself at the end of the day how much giving you did and then ask if you asked for any of the things that you need. If the answer to the asking question ends up being “No” ask yourself why that is and be honest. Try to find a balance between your giving and your asking every day.
- Be honest with yourself about what you can give – We’d all love to think we can handle everything that comes our way, but there is a point where we hit capacity. If you know that you are getting close to that point, be careful of saying yes to anything else.
- Manage expectations - If you are a giver then you will likely have friends who will tell their friends about what great things you did for them. Remind anyone new about your limits. The last thing you want is for someone to think that you are going to do something for them that you actually can’t do. Make sure the other party knows what you are and are not capable of.
Giving to others is a wonderful thing, but burning yourself out makes you a less effective giver. Take the time to check in with yourself about what you can and can’t do and be honest with others about your limits.
You’ll find you have more energy to help those you want to help and, most importantly, you’ll be living a balanced life.