Written by Corinne Garcia Tuesday, December 13 2011
It’s the season of giving, right?
If you are like many women, you naturally give much of yourself throughout the year, no matter the season. So much so that you may not realize how little you end up putting back into your own fuel tank. Helping others – friends, family, and community – makes you feel good, or at least it should. But what about giving too much of yourself?
“Women are born nurturers – we like to express our love by helping others,” explains Patricia Spadaro, author of Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving. “We’re taught to do that from a very early age. It’s what makes us sensitive, open, and caring.”
But by overdoing it, you run the risk of sabotaging your relationships, your career, your happiness, and even your health, without realizing it, she says.
Are you a “give-a-holic?”
For those who give and never receive, Spadaro warns you may be what she calls a “give-a-holic,” and there are signs pointing toward these characteristics. “Your body and emotions can react in a range of ways when you aren’t giving yourself the attention you need,” she says. Signs include things like tight shoulders, frequent sighing, headaches, a knot in your stomach, sleeplessness, a lack of focus at work, tears, outbursts of anger, overeating, or under eating.
“Those responses serve a function; they are speaking to us,” Spadaro explains. “Our job is to find out what they are saying.”And the sooner you can react to the symptoms, the faster you will be able to fix the situation and find the balance you and your body need."
Getting Rid of the Giving Myths
In her book, Spadaro refers to myths about giving that you have to dispel in order to find the path to real happiness. The two biggest myths include:
Myth No. 1: Giving is my duty and the right thing to do.
“The truth is that it is your duty to give to others as well as give to yourself,” Spadaro says. “In fact, by giving to yourself, you are ultimately giving to others.” She explains that by indulging in your own needs and refilling your tank, you are more willing and able to happily help others.
Myth No. 2: If I can’t do it, there must be something wrong with me.
“When we buy into that myth, we don’t ask for support,” Spadaro says. “We don’t even admit to others or to ourselves that we need any.”
When you find yourself complaining about your hefty to-do list, you are obviously buried and often just need help. “You should never feel guilty about giving yourself some compassion,” Spadaro says. “It will make your load lighter – and you’ll be a nicer person.”
Once you realize that these are only myths, you are ready to move on and recognize your needs.
Recognize the Signals & Take Action.
To understand what it is you need to give to yourself or honor yourself, Spadaro says you have to recognize the signals and follow some basic guidelines.
- Get in touch with how you feel. “You may not be stating your needs or taking steps to meet them because you just aren’t in touch with how you feel and what you want and need,” Spadaro says. "Throughout the day, ask yourself things like: How do I feel right now? What do I need most right now? What will make me feel more joyful and at peace?” Every action you take to honor yourself also sends a signal to others about what you believe you deserve and how you expect to be treated,” she says.
- Be proactive. “Take action before you get caught in a lopsided approach to giving and receiving,” Spadaro says. If you get regular backaches, for example, set an alarm reminding you to get up from your desk every hour to stretch. Get a regular massage or go to a yoga class. “Do something to show that you value yourself,” she says.
- Check in with your whole self. “We have needs on all four levels of our life – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual,” Spadaro explains. “So when you’re checking in with yourself, assess each of those areas and ask, ‘Which part of me needs attention right now?’” If you’re emotional, maybe you need a supportive friend or mentor. If you’re physically wiped out, it could be more rest or more exercise. If you aren’t feeling mentally challenged, you may need to seek out stimulation. “Figure out what part of you needs energizing and commit to doing one thing to nurture it back to health,” she says.
- Resist the temptation of automatically saying yes. “When someone asks you to do something, you don’t have to say yes or even answer right away,” Spadaro says. Instead, tell them that you will check your schedule and get back to them. This way, you can have time to weigh the situation and judge whether or not it’s something you can really fit in and something that you want to fit in.
- Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed. “We forget that there are always two sides to the picture of wholeness: To fulfill our potential in life, we must learn to both give and receive,” Spadaro says. Asking for help isn’t always easy, but she suggests talking through tough situations with someone you trust or even trading services with someone who may also be in need.
So, this holiday season, remember to put yourself at the top of your priority list instead of taking care of everyone else’s needs first. For some people it’s as simple as taking a short break during the day for a little walk outside or a enjoying a cup of tea and a book, and for others it may involve a plane ticket for an annual great escape.
“Recharging your inner batteries is not optional. It’s a bona fide part of your schedule,” Spadaro reminds. “Giving to others is always a beautiful virtue. So is giving to yourself.”
Click here to learn more about Patricia Spadaro and her book and get more tips for inspired living.
Corinne Garcia is a freelance writer and editor living with her husband and two young boys in Bozeman, Mont. She has also written for Women’s Adventure, Christian Science Monitor, Northwest Travel, Pregnancy, Fit Pregnancy, and Fit Parent.