One particular topic has come up for me in my life recently — in an, “oh, sh*t!” hit-you-like-a-ton-of-bricks way — that has also been a theme in recent sessions with my clients. The aha moment in question? Living life as a giver or a taker.
As I’ve come to understand it, the definitions of each role are as follows: givers come from a place of love, and live with wholehearted generosity with no expectation of return. Takers, on the other hand, come from a place of fear and scarcity, and are concerned with getting something back in exchange for their actions—even if the payment is something less obvious like validation, attention, or approval. These default mindsets, although they’re generally not a conscious choice, impact how we move through our lives in relationship and with our health.
Two themes emerged when I started giving this topic some more thought. First of all, identifying as a giver or a taker has little to do with our actions and everything to do with our intentions. And assessing our true intentions can be hard! Initially, I thought: “I’m a mother, a nurse, a psychotherapist. My whole life is about helping other people. I’m SUCH a giver!”
Newsflash! While I do genuinely love all the roles I play in life, at times my motivations and intentions have been anything but wholehearted. Sometimes I get stuck in a victim mindset and think, “Well, surely if I give and give some more, my family will notice all I do for them and show their appreciation,” or “Ooh, if I can show this person how thoughtful I am, perhaps I can curry favor that way and they’ll like me more!” Giving without expectation of return? I don’t think so.
The second theme I discovered was one around boundaries: I learned that true, wholehearted givers have great boundaries, and that people who give and give and give with the expectation of return (aka Secret Takers) tend to have really poor boundaries. They deplete themselves in their quest for worthiness, and they become resentful. Healthy boundaries allow givers to share their gifts from a place of knowing what’s okay for them and what’s not.
This is especially poignant news for autoimmune sufferers. With everything we know about stress and anxiety and their impact on our bodies, it’s easy to see that truly living from a wholehearted place and having a giving mindset is more supportive of our health. A giver is filled up and energized through the love, attention, and care they give themselves and put into the world. (The ideal mindset for physical healing!) A taker depletes themselves physically and emotionally and takes from the world and loved ones near and dear, often times without even knowing it. (Setting themselves up for a mindset of anxiety and inflammation in the body.) In this article, I’ll discuss 5 “ways of being”—along with my unexpected lightbulb moments!— that can help you catch your Taker habits and live with a better frame of mind for healing.
5 Giving Ways of Being to Support Your Health
1. Coming from Love Versus Fear
In almost every decision you make in a given day, you can reflect and ask yourself whether you were making that choice from a place of love or from fear—even the little decisions! This is a particularly powerful point for those with autoimmune condition. When the body is struggling and we feel desperate to find our footing, we can often lean on fear as a motivator to heal and “find the solution.” Noticing the fear factor in food choices, medical decisions and interventions, as well as in why we do the things we do with the ones we love is a powerful step in shifting outcomes. Fear inherently takes and depletes. The antidote? Motivate and choose from love.
Givers come from LOVE: To come from a place of wholehearted generosity with no expectation of return is the ultimate way to move through one’s life with love. A true giver inherently has boundaries and doesn’t give to depletion—no self-sacrifice here.
Takers come from FEAR: We become consumed with worry about not having enough, not being enough, not being liked, waiting for approval, seeking validation, and on and on! Self-sacrifice. Depletion. Resentment. Any of those ring a bell? How exhausting!
Lightbulb moment: Realizing that while I thought I was a giver, I was actually not showing up in my life from a place of love and generosity. I was often waiting for someone to validate my work, to throw me a parade or something. I would often give my time, money, services out of fear of not being liked or a deep need to prove my worth through what I gave. The results? Depletion and resentment. “I give so much and what do I get in return…?” When I make decisions from a place of love, I am clearer about my boundaries and choose what actually fills me and serves me and what I give to people is genuine and heartfelt. When I motivate from love, I see the value of filling my own cup FIRST and giving from a place that actually has something to give.
2. “I Matter” vs. “I Don’t Matter”
Based on my work as a coach and my own personal experiences, it seems we are experiencing an unworthiness epidemic. I find this to be true whether dealing with disease or not, but the unworthiness problems can be compounded with autoimmune issues.
My clients tell me they constantly feel as though they have to prove their condition and justify their lifestyle choices—which leads to them feeling both unseen/unworthy and guilty and ashamed! But the truth is, when we don’t get our needs met, we continue the cycle of sickness. Constantly having to speak up for yourself but never feeling like what you say or do is enough? Talk about a recipe for, “I don’t matter!”
Givers believe “I MATTER.”: When we know our contributions matter and we automatically show up from that place, we can connect and take part authentically. We share what our needs and challenges are, and we allow ourselves to receive support.
Takers believe “I DON’T MATTER.”: Unworthiness can show up in many ways. Talking too much! Talking too little! Being invisible. Stealing the show. Proving and performing. Hiding and escaping. The results–feeling unseen, undervalued, overworked, underpaid, not heard or seen, invisible, resentful and victim. It is amazing when we expect to be seen and valued when we don’t allow ourselves the time, space, and freedom to be seen and valued.
Lightbulb moment: I had a client who wanted to request some time off for an important event, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She wanted to be a team player, and reasoned that she’d give more to the team by not being needy. Ultimately, by not stating her needs and getting them met, she was a drain on the system. She showed up grouchy and resentful. Who wants to be on a team with that person?!
I can totally relate with my client’s behavior. I often choose not being seen or heard with the idea I am benefiting the greater good. What does it get me? Martyrdom and resentment. Wah wah! Taker! My voice, my needs, and my contributions matter, and when I own what I have to offer and what my needs are, I am clear, responsible, and a powerful team player.
3. Oneness vs. Separateness
The notion that we are all connected is a clear delineator between givers and takers—and it’s really easy for folks suffering from autoimmune symptoms to think they have to “lone wolf” it in this world, and that no one gets it or is going to be there for them. The flip side of this limiting thinking is that it lets us off the hook for truly showing up for others. If we believe we’re only responsible for ourselves, we go through life disconnected and alone, adopting a victim mentality and thinking other people need to change.
Givers come from ONENESS: There is a beautiful freedom in knowing we’re all connected and that I am well when you are well and you are well when I am well. The world doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders, while at the same time no one’s needs are more important than yours.
Takers come from SEPARATENESS: Sometimes this person shows up as only concerned about their own needs. Or they might go to great lengths to meet the needs of others while completely denying their own and resenting others for not meeting their needs.
Lightbulb moment: I witnessed the connectedness of my family in a huge way recently. I used to deny my needs. As a mom, I gave myself all kinds of excuses not to practice self care. It felt selfish, and there was always so much to be done. But when I am a healthy, vibrant, whole person, I can give more to those around me. When my happiness is alive in me, those around me feel it. The ripple effects of my self care were reflected back to me in my husband and my sons in powerful ways–like better listening from the kids, a connected and unified family, peace and calm in the house! WHAT?! I was blown away to see how care of myself and focusing on “I” in transformative ways impacts and serves the whole.
4. Empowerment vs. Victim
When we go through life seeing our days as a series of obligations to be fulfilled, things to get done, and items to check off a list, it can be shockingly easy to disconnect from joy. Think about it: how many things on your calendar in a given day are things you’re actually choosing from an empowered place, versus things you feel like you have to do or are being done to you? In reality, there is almost always an opportunity to take personal responsibility for how we respond to our circumstances and to feel empowered, trusting and even joyful about what life hands us. This is a big mindshift shift for many folks with autoimmune conditions who can often fall victim to the messages and pangs of their body and not feeling “well enough” to live, give, and love. (Read more here.)
Givers are EMPOWERED: When we can see the impact of our life, we can take ownership for what we bring to it in every action we take. This is true for all the great things we contribute AND when we F-up.
Takers are VICTIMS: When we take no responsibility for contributing to how we feel, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of “woe is me.” We feel sorry for ourselves rather than powerfully taking ownership of our lives.
Lightbulb moment: I thought victim mentality was a personality some people were born with. “Not I,” I thought. When I realized how much of my day I see out of obligation and forces I had to overcome, I realized that I oh-so-subtly slip into victim mindset pretty regularly. When I give from a place of obligation and “have to,” everybody suffers. I notice when I shift the phrases “have to” and “need to” to “get to” or “choose to” I see the way that life is supporting me and working for me. I can give and live out of a place of choice, which catapults me out of a victim crush hold.
5. Abundance vs. Scarcity
How many times have you given, or not given, (your time, money, a gift) and felt resentment or stress for doing so because you were coming from a place of fear, scarcity and stinginess as opposed to generosity and love? I know I personally catch myself doing it all the time. Yuck!
Givers come from ABUNDANCE: There is a feeling of trust and belief that there is enough—whatever it is, enough of it already exists in the universe and I can share what I have. I can experience the joy of watching someone receive what I’ve shared. And, if I don’t have enough in the moment, I am inspired and driven to create it.
Takers come from SCARCITY: There’s not enough food that I can eat, there’s not enough time for me to feel rested or to do something for someone, or listen to someone’s problems. I’m a prisoner of all the scarcity I see around me.
Lightbulb moment: Sometimes I can get caught up in a rigid mindset around time, expecting everything to happen in my day according to my schedule. Then when something unexpected drops into my life I can feel stressed, overwhelmed, and out of control due to my scarcity mindset around time. This results in me not being present with people, resenting them for impacting my schedule, and feeling out of control. But if I don’t let myself get caught in the scarcity trap (in this case, around time) then I get to really be present with the people around me and enjoy the connection, rather than thinking about my to do list.
At the end of day, living life from a place of giving fills us up and supports healing. I’m curious: do you identify with any of these stories? Are there ways you’ve been telling yourself you’re a giver in life but you’re actually living as a taker? It takes some work to do this level of self reflection, but I find it to be really juicy and worthwhile, and one of the key paths to wellness.