In my work as a Life Purpose Alchemist, I work with highly-creative and spiritually-minded women who desire a life filled with authenticity, passion, meaningful connection, and creative self-expression. When all of these dots are connected, women are capable of creating massive ripples of positive influence in the world that can show up in the most interesting of ways.
But what happens when a woman over-extends herself in the giving to others? Is the ripple as effective as it would be if she was prioritizing her own needs in the way she prioritizes the needs of others? Is it possible to over-provide?
I’ve asked author and self-care expert, Jennifer Loudon to join me on my blog today to share her thoughts about over-providing.
Jennifer Louden is a personal growth pioneer who helped launch the self-care movement. She is widely known as The Comfort Queen thanks to her first best-selling book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She has been interviewed by Oprah and has written a total of six books on well-being and whole living that have inspired women all over the world. Jennifer believes self-love + world-love = wholeness for all.
Her latest book, The Life Organizer recognizes that we all yearn to have time for personal needs and creative dreams — after all, this is our life to make the most of. And we all know how hard it is to remember what really matters. With distractions from jobs, aging parents, and children — not to mention a woman’s perennial fear of being labeled “selfish” — following our own desires and dreams can become ever more elusive. The Life Organizer aims to help women shift their focus, augmenting traditional goal setting with the ease that comes from steady inner listening and mindfulness.
Here’s what Jennifer had say about over-providing:
I define over-providing as giving more than is sustainable for you and often for the wrong reasons. Accurate but kind of bland. A better definition comes from my friend Jeanie, “Over-providing? That’s when you pouring everything into growing everybody else while withering yourself.”
Withering yourself. That’s what you do when, instead of bringing the requested two side dishes to the family holiday dinner, you show up with five sides, a salad, two pies, gravy and a ham. Withering yourself is hosting a fund-raiser, hand-crafting the food, the decorations and handling all the details, then ending up in bed with pneumonia. Withering yourself is inviting your elderly mom to move in with you, even though she has a support system and enough money for good care, and find yourself gaining weight, neglecting your creative passions, and cultivating a big ole’ grudge.
Obviously, over-providing is not in your best interests and yet we all do it, at least some of the time. Why oh why? Here are a few of our compelling reasons:
- You were raised in a culture that still proclaims good women give endlessly and good men provide.
- Your biology –humans are hard-wired to belong. Over-providing keeps you in the tribe.
- You’re empathetic. You want to help.
- You may believe what you want to give isn’t worthwhile enough so you gush like a broken fire hydrant lots of other things – money, advice, time – to make up for what you perceive you lack.
- You forget you’re a human with human limits of time and energy, easy to do in these uber speedy times.
- You haven’t learned (yet) to trust your self, to trust your body and heart when it says, “Enough.”
Also, over-providing can be very difficult to recognize. Look for signs like:
- A hollow feeling of never getting enough done
- A jittery compulsion to fix people’s pain, to do something to make it better
- Resentment – everybody else gets what they want but you
- Rarely focusing on your own dreams and desires
- Hearing yourself say things like “When I finish ____ then I will” and “I just had to do ____ for _____ who else would?” and “If I don’t do ______ I will be a big failure, get fired and end up homeless and…”
Clearly over-providing is not the best choice for your health, your career, or your sanity. Now what to do? Sample these simple balancing antidotes:
- Write down everything you do for others in a 24 hour period. Hard but so worthwhile.
- Start the day with five minutes of extravagant self-praise. Imagine this praise in the form of hummingbirds streaming into the back of your heart.
- Navigate by desire.
Make a practice of asking, “What do I want?” or “What would I really love to do here?”
Learning to know what you want, even if you can’t have it, is a life changing practice and one I teach in more depth in my book, The Life Organizer.
- Deputize a few beloveds to check in with before you say yes to something else. Hearing yourself trying to talk yourself into something can be very enlightening.
- Get used to saying, “Let me get back to you.” Make a list of all the reasons you must do this. Then go down the list asking, “Is that true?”
- Deepen your practice of self-trust. When faced with a decision or choice, ask yourself before you ask anyone else, “What do I think? What do I want?” We develop self-trust by checking in with ourselves (a key part of the Life Organizing practice from my book and app), taking action on our best guess, and then asking, “What do I know now?”
- Forget hard and fast rules.
Some situations call for over-giving for a period of time. When my dad was dying, it was important to over-provide for him. The guideline? Are you checking in with yourself? If you want to give more, are you capable of doing so without hurting yourself?
- Yes, avoiding over-providing is a privileged problem.
And that isn’t an argument for you to be a martyr. Instead, become a force of love and balance in the world in hopes that one day all people can choose an emotionally and physically sustainable life.
It’s tempting to get your kicks from being everything to everybody. It can be hard to believe there is another way and yet, once you see your pattern, you also see how over-providing is a less than truthful existence. It keeps you from giving birth to your truest life. Seeing that, painful as it can be, will motivate you to listen and choose the middle way – a little me, a little them – more often.
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Based on the new paperback edition of The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year © 2013 by Jennifer Louden. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
To learn more about the work of Jennifer Louden, please visit her website: http://www.jenniferlouden.