Givers and Takers: Which one are you?


Here are some thoughts on moving out of self-absorption and expressing appreciation through word and deed to those who give to us.

We all have someone in our life who falls into the self-absorbed category. These people typically fall on the spectrum of selfishness.

On one end of the spectrum, they appear to be involved and interested, but at their core they are fair weather friends going where the fun and action is, or taking what they need and moving on.

On the other side of the spectrum are the hardcore takers: Self-absorbed people who believe that they deserve to be the focus of everyone's attention. These are the folks who talk endlessly about their dreams, goals, life, relationships, kids, hobbies, and so forth.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are those who may be quiet, but will not inconvenience themselves or their schedules to be flexible or giving, yet expect that you flex for them. At their core, they will take and take and take and still feel they deserve more and more and more.

Sadly, no matter where a taker falls on the self-absorbed spectrum, they are often so busy focusing on their own worries and worlds that they take the people in their life who give from the heart for granted. They often do not notice all of the little acts of loving deeds that happen as if by magic around them. They may even construct an internal belief system that blames the giver (often motivated by shame, guilt, or resentment) when the giver requires something in return.

Eventually, when the giver tires of this and expresses exhaustion and frustration, or when the self-absorbed are called on their behaviors, the response if often reactive. How dare we, the giver, reflect back their self-absorption! Don't we realize how busy their lives are, how important their tasks are and how busy, busy, busy they are? These folks will respond with a bristle, a pout, a stomp, a sneer, an eye roll, a cool "Sorry you feel that way", a nasty text, or simply fold up their hearts and close the door. Often, the taker will rush to everyone around them spouting about how misunderstood they feel and how awful the giver was to call them on their behavior in an attempt to validate their selfishness. They may stubbornly hold on to their petty reality and, sadly, those they go to will often collude with the delusion in an effort to stay off the radar of the taker.

Self-absorbed individuals cannot tolerate their reflection in the mirror so they run, shut down, or attempt to control through anger or silence. The outcome is that these individuals miss an opportunity to grow. They lose valuable relationships. They push folks away. They block their own blessings. Givers will eventually take the gift of their support elsewhere.

Here is an example from my own life:

A few months ago, I picked out a surprise for a friend's birthday. This friend falls about in the middle of the self-absorbed spectrum. The gift I chose was a decor item that she had really been wanting. I ordered it weeks before her birthday. My happy thought was to hang it for her in her office with a bow in order to surprise her for her birthday. Part of the gift was to save her the chore of having to hang the décor item because I knew her life was busy and that she was juggling the rigors of child care and work.

About a week before her birthday, she complained about a very special person in my life who was hired to perform a duty. This other person went above and beyond, and was the person I had asked to install my birthday gift for her. This was also the same person that had helped her move furniture, and took care of many small details above and beyond the scope of hire.

In that moment, listening to her petty complaint, after nearly a year of supporting her, my eyes were finally opened. I saw myself in the mirror and realized that I had been overcompensating in this relationship with her. When I attempted to communicate my hurt with her, I was shut down as she responded defensively.

Though I loved her (and still do), I decided that I would simply leave the gift in the office in the box with the bow on top. I was happy to give her the gift but after years of supporting her and making excuses for her actions, I finally realized a couple of things: she was unable to see herself clearly, and I was aiding and abetting her behavior by overextending myself.

In the end, she was happy with the gift, and none the wiser that she had blocked her blessing of having it installed. While she focused on a tiny insignificant complaint, she missed the bigger picture and an opportunity to express gratitude. It is only recently that she realized that I am no longer willing to tolerate her selfishness.

Lesson learned. I have since moved my blessings elsewhere.

Note to the Self-Absorbed:

If you have someone in your life who gives to you, supports your dreams, shows up for you in good and bad times, and goes above and beyond, maybe now is a good time to make amends, or send a sincere thank you and then demonstrate (key word here: demonstrate) to that person you are thankful for them by showing up for them and extending out of your own busy self-focused world. If your giver has called you on your behavior, expressed frustration in a reasonable, appropriate and direct manner and you have reacted with hurtful words, thrown it back at them, gas lighted them, not owned your choices, or responded unkindly, I encourage you to consider what this person has done for you in your life. Maybe, just maybe, you can peek out from your navel and look through their lens. Maybe you can show up for that giver.

Note to the Givers of the World:

Givers have a propensity to take on too much responsibility for tasks and goals that belong to the taker. This is often referred to as “co-dependence.” At its core, it is usually related to trauma. "If I give and give and give, this person will see my value and love me." It is okay to let the taker know that while you are happy to be a reliable support, you have needs and wants, too.  If you are one who gives from an open heart, extends with pure excitement just to see a loved one succeed and grow, or if you are a person who is generous with your heart, information, support, encouragement, and friendship and the person on the receiving end begins to take this for granted, or demonstrates a lack of appreciation or consideration, or simply feels entitled to your generous spirit—you may want to consider allowing that person to experience life at a distance from you for a while, or, if need be, forever.  

Remember, dear giver, it is okay to put yourself at the top of the list too.

This saying sums it up nicely: Do not throw your pearls before swine.