It can start small. You are out at a restaurant and you and your friend agree to share a dish. You defer to your friend’s choice. You come home from work exhausted and your partner wants to go out. You mention how tired you are, but you ultimately agree to go. At work, a co-worker asks if you will take his place at a meet-and-greet that night. You hesitate, but when he doesn’t let you off the hook easily, you acquiesce.
Giving can subtly morph into giving in with the consequence that you become increasingly disconnected from yourself and your own needs. Giving in becomes a habit. It becomes a key ingredient in your relationships. Through the very best of intentions, you are now unintentionally co-creating a dynamic that doesn’t nourish you.
Why does this happen?
When giving becomes giving in
There are many reasons including societal, gender and cultural messages, but arguably the biggest is fear. We want the relationship or the validation from another person, and we tell ourselves that to keep what we have or get what we want, we need to say yes. Disappointing someone else may result in losing the relationship which would expose us to feelings of shame, rejection and loneliness. As we tend to define our sense of self through our relationships with others, losing a relationship damages our sense of self-worth.
What is the self-talk that fuels this fear? We aren’t enough. Our value is measured by what we do and not from who we are.
But what is the real cost of giving in? Disconnection from yourself. And, as you move away from what is important to you, you become a facilitator instead of an active participant in your relationship.
Giving versus giving in
Giving feels differently from giving in. It has its source in a powerful motivator – love. When love is present, you are of service from your free will and from a place of choice. You aren’t doing or giving to avoid a potential negative reaction. You want to do what you are doing.
Giving looks like going to the grocery store to pick up a specialty item for your partner when he or she is sick. You want to help, and so you go. They would do the same for you. You also know that if you didn’t go, they would understand and continue to value you.
Giving in looks like going to the store to avoid an expected angry reaction if you refuse. If your partner becomes angry with you, perhaps you will lose the relationship or at the very least, your partner may love you less. To avoid painful feelings of loneliness and rejection, you go to the store. Instead of being of service out of your free will, you are doing something to avoid an expected negative reaction. Avoidance motivators have their source in fear.
Over-giving in relationships
All of us have over-given to varying degrees and not always consistently across relationships. For instance, I was very good at work saying no when I needed to and asserting myself. But when I came home, I gave in to my former husband to avoid the sulking that would accompany my saying no. This quickly became part of our dynamic and once it is there, it is very hard to change. The more you give, the more is expected. Over-giving becomes the new baseline in your relationship.
What can you do?
Next time you are asked to do something (or before you offer) slow down. Instead of reactively saying yes, check in with yourself. Double check the motivation that is driving your response.
Ask yourself W.H.A.T. ?
Try this framework that I use with my clients. Ask yourself, “I am going to do W.H.A.T?”
W stands for what you are about to do. It is the tangible action that you are considering.
H is your hidden motivator; it is the why you are doing what you are about to do. Are you giving from choice or avoiding from fear?
A represents the audience. Who is there making the request or prompting your action?
T is your trigger – what is causing you to consider action? Did you receive a request or do you feel compelled to offer?
Slowing down to ask yourself W.H.A.T. not only will help you to be mindful about how you are deciding, but over time, you may notice patterns developing. Is the same person part of W.H.A.T. each time? What is truly at stake for you in these situations? Do new limits need to be established in a particular relationship?
This blog is the beginning of a series of posts focused on the topic of personal power. If there is a particular aspect of personal power you would like explored, please write to me. I’d love to hear your ideas.