When generosity doesn’t work

Our DPSN theme for July is generosity.  To be generous is to be liberal in giving or sharing, to give freely to others without expectation of something in return.  We’ve asked our bloggers to reflect on what they think about generosity, both the positives and the negatives, whether this is a value in their own lives or something they’ve noticed in the world around them.  We’d like to hear your views too, so let us know in the comments below, or jump over to our Facebook page to join the conversation.

I have a strong value around generosity in my life.  I like to give to others, whether it be time, energy, or money/resources (when I can afford it).  I try to be a giving and generous friend, partner, family member and employee. I’ve based my whole career as a therapist around being generous – giving freely of my emotional energy and support to others.  This isn’t always a good thing.

I’ve had the odd experience in the past of a one-sided friendship.  When I was younger, and didn’t know any better, I think I let other people take advantage of my generosity.  I found it confusing that the values of other people didn’t match my own, and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting back what I was putting into the relationship.

Now I’m older and maybe slightly (only slightly) wiser, I don’t let this happen as much.  I still go into friendships – both new and old – with the same amount of giving. But I notice more what I am getting back, and if it’s not well matched, I’m able to withdraw and maintain more healthy boundaries.

Getting through a five year psychology training programme means that I’m no stranger to chronic stress!  I’m also a perfectionist and a bit of a control freak, so I put absolutely everything into my studies in order to pass well.  I think I definitely burnt out by the time I graduated and then launched myself full-time into a career in mental health – a sector which is hugely overworked and under-resourced (although one which I continue to be passionate about working in).  

It took a good year or two before I managed to unwind from that stress, and feel like myself again.  So then of course I decided to take on more work, and started a private practice! By the end of last year, I was working a 60 hour week between three jobs without even really noticing how I got there.

This year I made an honest effort to cut back.  I reduced my hours at DPSN as well as put limits on my client numbers, and was really pleased to have done so.

Unfortunately, this year I’ve also experienced a significant number of health issues.  It started with some stomach trouble, which turned out to be acute cholecystitis and ended with sudden surgery to have my gallbladder removed.  This then left me with a chronic pain problem – the leading hypothesis being that they nicked a nerve during surgery which will take an extended period of time to heal.  I then had a nasty flu – which lasted three full weeks – and have already had more colds than usual this winter. To top it all off, I then developed incredibly painful cellulitis in my face.  No surprises there, since my immune system is pretty much in the toilet at this point!

My partner has also been in hospital (he’s fine), as has my poor wee cat (at the pet hospital) who keeps getting into fights with a neighbour cat, the last of which resulted in stitches and a 10 day stay.

I’ve realised today that every week for the past three months I’ve either been at the hospital, the GP, or the vet!!

I feel bad complaining.  I realise that all of the above (other than surgery) are relatively minor complaints and so much more could be going wrong in life.   But being physically unwell or in pain does affect your mental health, and I have been really noticing the impact of all of this on my emotional wellbeing.

So I’ve had to be less generous.  I’ve cancelled on a number of social invites, even though I miss catching up with friends.  I’ve said no to being involved in extra projects, and no to new referrals to my private practice.  I’m trying hard to spend my weekends resting and recovering.

I’m hoping that it’s just a run of bad luck, with a lot of things happening all at once, and that the universe will even things out eventually.  I know through working with others that life can ebb and flow in this way. Meanwhile, I’m noticing how much energy and resilience I have at present, and making sure I allocate enough to myself, before I decide how much I have to give away to others.

So what do you think?  Have there ever been any times or situations where you’ve had to be less generous that you would like?

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