How to Stop Overgiving in Relationships

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How to Stop Overgiving in Relationships

Are you an overgiver in relationships? The overgiver often finds themselves caught in a relentless cycle of giving to others without receiving much in return. It comes from a poignant place: People who overgive were often raised to be of service to their parents, emotionally or materially. As adults, they associate being generous with being loved. 

But this pattern has a dark side: Overgiving leads to unhealthy, imbalanced relationships that leave the over-giver feeling used, depleted, and resentful. So, how can you overcome over-giving, and start forming relationships that are balanced on mutual? Read on to find out. 

If you would prefer to listen to this one, I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it on this page, or on Apple Podcasts Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Why We Over-Give in Relationships

Overgivers are often very capable, competent people who genuinely enjoy being generous. They feel at home with the role of fixer, helper, or nurturer, sometimes to the point of sacrificing their own needs and wellbeing in order to support others.

Here are some common examples of overgiving in relationships that I’ve seen in my role as a couples therapist and individual counselor

  • Covering more than your fair share of expenses in a relationship — even when you’re not in a place where you can do so comfortably. 
  • Being available 24/7 for a friend who’s always having a crisis, taking the friend’s calls day and night while hardly even getting a “how are you?” in return. 
  • Doing more than your fair share at work, picking up slack for difficult coworkers, and answering work messages when you’re supposed to be off the clock. 

Unfortunately, when you don’t know how to hold your own in relationships, to stand up for yourself, have some boundaries, and require things from others every once in a while, you will get walked on. Over-givers often feel used, disrespected, uncared for and unloved. Often these feelings are rooted in reality, as overgivers may unwittingly attract people who feel entitled to take without giving much in return.

But truthfully, you can take a perfectly nice person and put them in a relationship with an overgiver, and they will become accustomed to receiving more than they give. Understanding how overgiving itself can make a relationship unhealthy can be the push you need to finally break the pattern.

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The Problem with Overgiving: From Kindness to Self-Sacrifice

While overgiving may initially seem selfless, it’s not synonymous with generosity. In fact, it’s quite self-serving. People who overgive are going to great lengths to avoid being vulnerable. It feels vulnerable to show up as your authentic self and share your true feelings and needs with the people close to you. It can feel safer to overfunction, hide behind perfectionism, or people please everyone to avoid the threat of rejection or abandonment. 

Overgivers often believe on a subconscious level that they can make themselves indispensable by being everything to everyone. But this is a transactional way of viewing relationships. Real intimacy is based on authenticity, not on earning credits. And when the over-giver doesn’t get whatever they’re expecting in return, they can feel quite resentful

Meanwhile, the person on the other end of this dynamic often has no clue why the over-giver has suddenly gone sour. They weren’t aware that there was an agenda behind the generosity, or that they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. 

Cultivating Boundaries and Balance

So how can you break the cycle of overgiving? Here are a few tips to get you started: 

  1. Explore your mindset 

Do you believe that “good people” don’t say no? Or that they always prioritize the needs of others? Or that taking care of yourself is selfish

Unconscious mindsets like these are often at the root of overgiving. Start recognizing them when you hear them rattling around in your head. This is your new narrative: Good people set boundaries, take care of themselves, and show up authentically in their relationships. In fact, you owe it to yourself and the people you care about to tell them the truth about how you feel and what you need. 

  1. Set limits.

Healthy relationships require healthy boundaries. If you have a habit of over-giving, reflect on some areas where you need to start setting limits with yourself and others. Maybe you need to commit to no longer responding to emails outside of work, or no longer picking up the tab on dates. Decide what you would like your limits to be and then practice sticking to them. 

  1. Learn what healthy giving feels like. 

You don’t want to completely quash your generous nature, just reign it in. You can find a balance by learning what it feels like to give in a healthy way. When you give from the heart with no expectation of getting something in return, it feels satisfying. When you overgive, you often have a little voice in your head keeping score, whispering things like, “after all I’ve done for him,” or “she should be more appreciative of me.” Healthy giving feels good, not frustrating or draining. 

  1. Prioritize the right relationships. 

As you begin to break your habit of overgiving, some of your relationships may start to wither. Maybe that friend stops calling when you are no longer willing to make every conversation about her. Or, maybe you fall out of favor with your boss once you start setting boundaries at work. Changing this dynamic has a way of laying bare what the relationship was actually based on in the first place. Rather than falling back into overgiving, choose to invest more in relationships where your boundaries are met with acceptance and respect. 

  1. Accept the disappointment of others.

Being able to tolerate the disappointment of others is an important part of building self-love. When you can allow people to have their feelings, without trying to control or change them, it’s easier to stop overgiving and start advocating for your own needs. 

Support for Healthy Relationships

If you have a pattern of overgiving in relationships, I’m glad you’re here. The couples counselors and individual therapists at Growing Self are healthy relationship specialists, skilled at helping you examine your patterns, unearth their origins, heal old wounds, build your internal resources, and create positive change. 

If you’re interested in doing this kind of transformative growth work with a therapist or a coach on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — I have a collection of articles and podcasts that you might be interested in on creating healthy relationships. I hope you’ll check it out — it’s all there for you!

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