Giving Enough and Getting Enough

Truth Byte #66

“Not everyone is as nice as you.”


I was raised to be nice. I did not yell at people, I did not swear, I did not gain any pleasure from other people’s pain.  Jealousy, rudeness, and stinginess were frowned upon in my family, and generosity, care, and selfless giving were our pillars. I took on the eldest sister role and learned very quickly to put my wants aside so the littler ones could be happy. We would hunt out the strays during the holidays and bring them home, because my mom felt no one should be alone at Christmas. We always made extra loot bags at birthday parties, because, as my mom used to say, “You never know who’s going to show up!”

And we did not have a lot.  I remember fishing inside the couch cushions to come up with the final dollar for the pizza we ordered every few months when my mom was just way too wiped from her three jobs to cook. We wore second-hand clothing, and got the knock-off versions of Barbie and Lego.  But no matter how little we had, my mom instilled deep in our bones that we always had enough to share. I remember that food used to stretch magically when we had guests at home, because my grandfather taught his children that the more you give to others, the more Life gives to you.  I remember giving things away to cousins that had so much more than me simply to see them light up and shriek with delight.


Nice was just who I was, who we were, as a family.


These were my values growing up, and were shared by most of my neighborhood friends. As I got older, this sharing went beyond sharing things to sharing of myself, my time, my knowledge, my advice, my listening ear.


And so when I entered the big bad world of high school in a community much more affluent than mine, I felt very out of place. No one here seemed to wear other people’s old clothes, or if they did, it was “chic” and “vintage”, nothing like the black garbage bags full of stale-smelling-mix-and-match donations we got from our social worker. Very few of my friends brought peanut butter banana sandwiches from home, but would instead spend (what I assumed was) their parent’s-hard-earned-money on warm and gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, spicy cafeteria burritos, and ample cans of Coke. The kids in my school didn’t think twice about the cost of joining the school band or signing up for the debate team or going out to the movies on a Friday instead of the much cheaper Tuesdays I favoured. Money wasn’t a thing for them.  And they also didn’t go out of their way with their time.  They protected their time fiercely and only spent it on people they really liked.  And they never volunteered for anything.


And I think it was in high school that I started to see my nice-ness was not something everybody shared. High school was where, for the first time, I got duped. It was here that people used me for my smarts while pretending to befriend me.  It was here that my own giving and receiving scales dangerously tipped the wrong way.


And at the time it was fine because I hardly noticed.


But two decades later, I can see how that seemingly harmless seed has grown in to a mighty tree of self-doubt.


WARNING: What I am about to say may piss you off if you have put me on a pedestal because no one likes to see their hero exposed.


Here it is: I have self-worth issues.


And they are complicated and old.


And though I have unravelled them and re-woven the threads into a new tapestry, sometimes, I still find myself feeling small, feeling like I don’t fit.


My life is a mirror, reflecting back to me what still needs healing, and the people who seek me out for counselling tend to be nice people too.  By the time they get to me though, their kind hearts are buried under a lifetime of numbness and/or rage.  They have been giving and giving and giving, truly from the bottom of their hearts, but at some point in their giving they stopped noticing who the receiver was, and whether he/she even deserved all this giving.


I have been in that quicksand. I know what it’s like to be so deeply identified with the role of “good girl” that I would go against my own better judgement and let people use me rather than upset anyone.


And when I finally did stand up for myself, I actually lost a lot of people.  These people had been part of my inner circle. I had been loving them and listening to them and giving to them for months and even years.


And suddenly, they were just gone.


And boy, was I heart-broken.


Suddenly, I had no one left.


Except myself.


So I used that time to get to know myself again.


I realized that rather than be nice and make sure everybody liked me, it was time to be genuine. I reminded myself of Oprah’s idea of “I teach you how to treat me”, and the people who were too hard to teach, I walked away from.  The girlfriends who needed me to be there for them but couldn’t return the favour stopped getting invited out for coffee. The moms whose kids I watched but never had time for mine got deleted from my Facebook page. The family members who only gathered with me at big functions just to make small talk stopped getting the details of my private life over the phone.


This was a very lonely and painful time for me, and what got me through is the unwavering love and support of two people: my husband and my sister.  They simply wouldn’t let me convince myself that I was not worth loving. They helped me to steer my beautiful and incredible ship of self-doubt through the nastiest waters, and come out more grounded and wise.


Extroverts need people.  But we don’t need just any people, we need the right people around us. The worse thing for an extrovert is a party that we threw where someone is not having fun.  But here’s the thing: when you are responsible for everyone else’s fun all the time, with no breaks, you will start to wither…and then you will start to resent the very people you say you want to be around.


In this process of letting go, I released the internal pressure to make sure everyone else was having fun. I returned to the small, loving group that really got my clothing-from-a-garbage-bag childhood, even if they weren’t part of it. I returned to the women who understood my simultaneous love and drowning sensations when it comes to my kids. I joined other people in my field of work who were in it to bring hope and healing, not just a reputation and a paycheque.


I stopped giving myself away to everyone, and reserved myself for people who had the capacity to give back to me, not just take from me all the time.


As you look at your own balance scale, is it time to learn to receive again? Can you let someone be the person for you that you have been for so many? If not now, when?


It’s your life, and only you can live it.