3 Signs it's time to stop giving

3 Signs it's time to stop giving

Photo by Millo Lin on Unsplash

What seems to be generosity is often no more than disguised ambition, which overlooks a small interest in order to secure a great one. — Francois de La Rochefoucauld ¹

What seems to be generosity is often no more than disguised ambition, which overlooks a small interest in order to secure a great one. — Francois de La Rochefoucauld ¹

A generous spirit is one of the most significant human traits. A healthy relationship isn’t built with a stingy nature. But there is a time to STOP. Because sometimes our ‘giving’ isn’t generosity.

We don’t realise it, but sometimes our gifts are a way to ‘get’. This may not apply to you. And if it does, it may hit a sore spot. Stay with me. Because like it was for me, it may be a turnaround moment for you.

My friends tell me I’m one of the most generous people they know. But, sometimes, unconsciously, some of my good deeds were not freely given.

I wanted something- a peg for attention, approval and intimacy.

It was how I knew I meant something in this world.

Those situations didn’t have a good ending. Because, not only did I end up depleted, I didn’t get what I wanted.

I learned some valuable self-love and relationship lessons along the way. And these are the three signs I now use as an indicator to check myself in a relationship.

Sign #1: Whenever I notice the thoughts: "This person is taking me for granted or using me", there is a reasonable probability I'm making unnecessary sacrifices. 

It’s 10 pm; I’m nearly asleep when the phone rings.

“I’m at Wish. Can I sleep over?” Sara* knows she can. She’s one of my best friends. “Would you fetch me?”

Within 5 minutes, I’m in my car. Wish is a restaurant and drinking spot across town from where I live in Johannesburg. Despite my early morning and the 90 minutes it takes to get there, find her and get back, I don’t hesitate.

This has been a regular occurrence lately. And I’m ever ready. Until one night, when I don’t feel like it. I’m annoyed. I don’t say anything. I faithfully jump in the car once again to fetch her.

On arrival, she says to me, “Just one more drink?” And one hour later, another. She doesn’t notice where I am or what I’m doing. We fight, and I leave without her.

I said yes to her because I wanted to spend time with her. But, outside of the lifts and needing a place to sleep, we didn’t hang out anymore. We’d grown in different directions.

You might argue she DID take advantage of me. But, what you don’t know are all the ways she loved me. She was my shoulder to cry on. Day or night.

And I didn’t have any sense of boundaries with her. I said yes to my bestie, no matter where I was or what I was doing. I made her needs matter more than mine.

This experience taught me not to drop what I’m doing just because someone shouts. I learned my time mattered. And I, too, stopped expecting people to be available for me whenever I wanted them to be.

So now, when I hear a whisper of the phrase ‘using me’, it’s a sign I’m prioritising someone else’s needs at the expense of my own.

Before we got married, I repeated this pattern with my partner. And oh what a drama. So now, if I have plans, I don’t drop them just because my partner is suddenly available. And neither does he.

We prioritise ourselves as much as we do each other. And it works. It makes us better partners. Loving each other comes easy.

Sign #2: When I feel resentment, it's a warning to assess my motives and lines of communication. 

There were people to whom I gave, and didn’t look back.

But with the people where I felt resentment, there was a common factor. I was disappointed because they didn’t do what I’d expected or hoped for.

I only feel resentment with my partner when I ignore signpost #1. It usually means I’m unnecessarily sacrificing myself to do things for him. In other words, I resent it when he is living his life while I am not living mine. Except …. he never asked me to sacrifice myself. I did it all on my own.

That’s why I value resentment. It snaps me back to myself.

Over the years, there were two other situations where I was prone to feeling resentment.

The first is was when I wanted more time and attention from certain people.I admired them for their talent, charisma, intelligence and beauty. In their presence, I believed in myself. They energised and inspired me.

And when they didn’t give me the time, attention and love I longed for, I not only got mad, I felt wounded. I wanted them to see me. It was only after many rejections that I realised my generosity was not always altruistic. Moreover, the people involved didn’t always want what I gave.

So now I ask myself some questions: What do I want from this situation? Do I have the right intentions for this relationship? Am I trying too hard to be liked?

The second was with people who were in need. Real need.

If I helped, I expected them to live a certain way. But I didn’t tell them the cost of my helping. I wasn’t clear about the conditions. So they’d find out later when I got frustrated with them.

I’m still learning in situations like this to be more explicit about the exchange. And to communicate upfront.

Resentment in these situations tells me I’ve created unrealistic expectations or haven’t communicated my boundaries.

It is also a sign that I may be giving what I don’t have to offer.

Sign #3: Giving resources, time and energy when we don't have enough of it to give. 

The summer heat is heavy. My friend Eric and I are in his garden preparing for everyone to come over. I can’t wait to swim.

The phone rings. It’s Pam.* Sam* needs money for bail. Could we help?

I don’t have the money. So I would have to borrow the money from someone. And I’m not feeling right about doing so. But the guilt.

So I deliberate with Eric over what I should do.

Eric is blunt. 

"Jo, so if you borrow this money, can you pay it back?

Me: "No, not any time soon."

"So, you borrow money you know you cannot pay back from one person in order to look good to another person. Jo, you cannot be generous at other people's expense. You cannot give what you do not have. Just tell the guy you don't have the money."

His words hit me hard.

For years, I’d helped others with someone else’s resources. Their money, their home, their skills, their time. And I got to look good.

For these family and friends, although they appreciated my heart, I was a taker.

It was a defining moment for me.

My friend got his bail by the end of the day without my help. He didn’t NEED me.

I learned it’s one thing to share my last slice of bread. It’s another to offer what isn’t mine to give.

With my partner, it isn’t about money but energy. I cannot give when I’m tired or unwell. When I do, I become irritable. So now I don’t. Instead, I give to me. I focus on regenerating my spiritual, physical and emotional resources. This way, I love freely without demanding anything in return.

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

The greatest lessons for me in each of the three scenarios is you cannot genuinely give emotionally or physically without:

  • Honest communication about your intentions and expectations (especially with yourself);
  • Filling your spiritual and love wellspring first;
  • Strengthening your body and mind, so you have the energy to be a loving partner;
  • And when you need to stop, stop.

Not doing so will chew you up and spit you out. It will stir inside you anger, resentment and disappointment. It will leave you empty and desperate.

That’s why people look for love in all the wrong places.

Keep this in mind the next time you’re giving and, inside, you’re not happy.

Just because you’ve given your time, money, and love, it doesn’t mean people have it within them to give it back. If you give, give because you have it to spare, and you know how to renew your own resources.

I’m not encouraging you to limit your love or generosity. Instead, I want to inspire you to expand it.

This is how to experience love. It’s inside you ……because not only do you owe it to yourself, you owe it to every being with whom we share this beautiful corner of the Universe.

Loving others selflessly is a beautiful thing. The planet cries for greater compassion, generosity and love. The earth needs a world where service and giving energy is not all about exchange.

This is our birthright!

I’ll leave you with the words of Shakyamuni Buddha,

“wuxiang bushi” (無相布施), “give without notions”²

In other words, when we give without attachment, with a pure heart, it is to

‘give without giving’.³ 

 We don’t even know we’re doing it.

I’m off to fill myself up so that when I give, my heart is full.

So much love, Jo

PS. Share with me below, where in your life could you make changes in the way that you give?


*indicates where names are changed to protect privacy.

¹ Forbes Book of Quotations, 10,000 Thoughts on the Business of Life, (edited by Ted Goodman), carries the exact quote I’ve used which is easier to understand.You can find the first translation from French to English, “What seems generosity is often disguised ambition, that despises small to run after greater interest.” here:

Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims, reflection 246, By Francois Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marsillac. Translated from the Editions of 1678 and 1827, the line is:

² The Diamond Sutra, Burton Watson The Eastern Buddhist NEW SERIES, Vol. 41, №1 (2010), pp. 67–100 Published by: Eastern Buddhist Society

³ DVD-871. Practice with Selflessness: Sila Paramita and Dhyana Paramita; International Gathering in Europe, December 29, 2008 and January 09, 2009. Summary: How should we practice perfect charity and true meditation? During an international gathering in Europe, Supreme Master Ching Hai revealed the answer through the Diamond Sutra, a scripture that recorded the wisdom of the great Shakyamuni Buddha: “A perfect gift, a perfect charity, it is when you give without giving.” Listen to the audio here

Jo Ntsebeza is a qualified professional coach, facilitator, trainer and lay counsellor.

All works are copyrighted. You may quote me or use no more than a paragraph with a link to the article on my website. 

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Hi, I'm Jo, a qualified coach and facilitator. Host of the Dare To Love Club. Creator of The FreshStart Love Journey. I'm lover of love, a relationship explorer. You can find out more about my story and my professional qualifications and experience here.  xo, Jo

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