When Selfless Giving Involves Self-Forgetting - Giving When It Stings

Just the other day, I was involved in a situation that reminded me of the amount of courage it takes to give selflessly.  

I was acutely aware that few of us know the kind of love that’s willing to offer this sort of giving, particularly if it means experiencing personal suffering in the process of that giving. 

We might attribute this extraordinary ability to those who we believe are more emotionally or spiritually evolved than the rest of us.  But, from my own experience, both personally and as a psychotherapist, that isn’t necessarily true. 

In fact, many examples of this unique gift of love come from those who struggle with the same kinds of insecurities and fears that the rest of us do. 

PersonSo why, then, is this love so rare? 

There are probably several correct answers to this question, but one of them is, most certainly, that selfless giving involves a degree of self-forgetting that most of us find difficult to attain.

One of the hallmarks of selfless giving is that it’s ultimately a gift to both the giver and the receiver, which is unlike so many other forms of giving that we either witness or engage in on a daily basis – some of which render the entire exchange unhealthy due to the cost absorbed by either the giver or the receiver.  

Giving when it costs the receiver could look something like this: an individual finds themselves personally challenged to put another person’s needs ahead of their own, and, unfortunately, these needs are a direct counter to what the person actually wants for themselves.  

So, in order to find a way around this situation, the person gives, while at the same time, ensuring that the ‘receiver’ understands a) how much they’re getting; b) how fortunate they are to be the recipient of this gift; and c) how much it ‘cost’ the giver to provide it in the first place. 

In other words, the giver may not be able to get what they originally hoped for themselves by putting their needs aside but, in the end, they don’t go away ‘empty-handed’: they get to bask in the praise, gratitude, and appreciation (either subtly or not so subtly exacted from the receiver), which they likely feel is sufficient reward for their sacrifice. 

However, the cost of this gift to the receiver is, more often than not, far greater than the ‘gift’ was ever worth in the first place.  So, consequently, this form of martyrdom is not the rare act of selfless giving that I’m referring to.

Another example of giving, but this time when it costs the giver might look like this: a person, who as a child learned directly or indirectly, the message that attending to the needs of others is far more important than giving to oneself. 

Over time, this message is absorbed into the very fabric of their being, and as a result, these adults often let the ‘giving pendulum’ swing so far over to one side that they inevitably feel uncomfortable, even selfish, attending to any of their own personal needs or desires. 

So, yes, these people automatically give to others, and not always to gain ‘points’ from the receiver (or others), but rather to comply to a strict internal, and moralistic system that was set up many years before. 

Consequently, this form of sacrificial giving, particularly when it results in significant physical and/or emotional costs to the giver over time, is also not the rare act of selfless giving that I’m referring to.

The ability to offer selfless giving resides within each of us, but it challenges us to tap into the very best of who we are.  It requires a degree of consciousness whereby we  observe the world, and its inhabitants, beyond the context of self. 

And, in doing so, we raise the probability of finding both the opportunity, as well as the courage, to give at times when this giving will undoubtedly create pain for us. 

Parenting our children, letting them grow up, and make decisions for themselves, regardless of whether or not we agree with those decisions is a form of selfless giving, as is making the heart-breaking decision to end the life of our much-loved family pet when it’s their time to leave us. 

And, when particular circumstances call for it, letting a partner go when you know that it’s healthier for them to leave you rather than to stay, despite the fact that it’s the very last thing on earth you want to do, is yet another example of selfless giving.

All we need to do is remain aware and willing to let the very best in us show up when necessary.  

If we do, we’re likely in store for some pain, perhaps, but we’re also opening ourselves up to receiving one of life’s most precious gifts: the experience of love in it’s truest form.

Do you have a story to share about selfless giving?

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