When Giving Hurts: Extreme Giving

by Jamie Simmerman · 1 comment

Gift boat

The old adage, “it is better to give than receive” is one many Americans don’t readily embrace anymore, as our culture’s evolved to focus more on building our own wealth than investing in the financial well-being of others. But there are plenty of Americans who DO give, and give generously. I have a friend who makes quite a healthy salary. She also gives away more than any other person I know. Her giving doesn’t break her financially, and it enriches her life and the lives of those she helps.

But as a nurse, I’ve also seen many people who give out of a sense of compulsion. They simply can’t stop themselves from giving. These people give everything to anyone who has a need (either real or perceived), and some even go so far as to borrow money from friends, take out loans, or mortgage their homes to give to others. These people are often targeted by those who have no compunctions about taking what’s handed to them or made available, and these compulsive givers often fall prey to predators who feed off the kindness of others. For them, giving truly does hurt.

Can Giving Be an Addiction?

Giving can, in fact, be an addiction. Some people feel a rush after giving, while others give compulsively to try to meet basic needs like love, acceptance, and approval. Giving is a Love Language for many people, but like any other behavior pattern, we can take giving to extremes. When you view extreme giving as an addiction, you know that simply telling the giver, “Stop giving! This doesn’t make sense! You give too much!” doesn’t help. These types of statements only make the giver feel persecuted and helpless and can damage your relationship.

Giving can be a very positive experience, and should not be removed entirely from one’s lifestyle. One extreme is not better than the other (think Scrooge in The Ghost of Christmas Past). But a healthy balance is needed to remove the harmful effects of excessive giving. The giver can fall into a deep depression after a giving spree, and will often feel despondent and anxious when they find themselves without the resources to continue giving. For these reasons, Christmas can be an especially dangerous time for extreme givers.

How to Help Extreme Givers

If your beloved extreme giver is over the age of 65, you can ask Adult Protective Services to help deal with any “leeches” who come around to take what your giver has. If you know of an older adult who has had money, credit cards, groceries, medicines, or possessions stolen, “borrowed,” or given away when they’re necessary for the health and well-being of the giver, Adult Protective Services can help.

To truly help an extreme giver return to a healthy giving balance, he or she must examine their motivation behind giving. Once the need is identified, they can then work on finding healthy, constructive ways to meet that need, other than giving. This process may begin through the help of a trusted friend or a support group. Individual or family therapy sessions may also be necessary, but not in all cases.

If your giver switches from giving away material possessions to giving out their time, they may have problems with asserting themselves. Many Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoAs) find it difficult to say “no” when asked to volunteer or loan cash, even when they know they’re over-taxed and shouldn’t. This type of problem is a lifelong struggle and requires ongoing education, support, and caring.

Above all, extreme givers should be treated with compassion, which can be difficult when their compulsive giving adversely affects others. It’s hard to act in a loving manner when your father spends your college fund on a buddy’s new fishing boat, or when your spouse loans your mortgage payment to her dead-beat brother — again.

Just like gambling, drug addiction, or depression, extreme giving is a disorder that can be treated. Seek the help of a professional who deals with addiction and seek out a support group for yourself and your family members. Compulsive giving doesn’t have to ruin your relationships and your financial future.

Are there any extreme givers in your life? 

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  • Angela says:

    This is a good issue to discuss, in regards to money and life, in general. Giving to others should never outweigh the importance of taking care of your own needs first. Women are more inclined to be excessive givers, whether it is in the giving of time, energy, money or material things, and is a likely result of conditioning in childhood, low self-worth and role-modeling from others, eg a parent and/or the advertising media.

    Over-giving is behavior that needs constant awareness and should always be kept in check, particularly at gift-giving times, like the Christmas season. Many people lose control of their spending, whether with cash and/or credit cards, and end up buying things they completely cannot afford. There are usually deep emotional reasons for doing so.

    Giving too much damages a person’s well-being, financial or otherwise, and is not a healthy way of expressing or sharing abundance. Compulsive giving arises from emotional neediness, and is an unconscious desire for approval and acceptance from others. The only place you need, and can receive those things from, is inside yourself.

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