1_Giving That Depletes_c7

Finding permission to give to our own selves the exquisite devotional caring we all too often give away to others (who also need to learn to give this kind of caring to
their own selves). 

Giving That Depletes You

Giving that depletes you can never truly be nourishing to another…
When you give more than you can, you come to need more than you
can find anywhere outside of your now depleted self…
Practice taking better care of you!

Growing up in a Judeo-Christian tradition, I've been subject to the pervading notion that it's nobler to give than to receive. Growing up female, I've also been subject to our culture's cell-deep indoctrination that a woman's role is, as writer Anne Lamott would call it, emotional Sherpa – primary nurturer to others, trained to serve her self last and only with what is left after everyone else in need is replete.

A very damaged woman who needed much more mothering than she could ever provide to a child, my mother didn't fit this mold. My early survival depended on being attuned to the nuances of this disturbed woman's generally unpredictable psychic state. My safety depended on sensing and accommodating to her needs. To need anything from her was to seriously endanger my self. My job was to do whatever I could to lighten her load without ever appearing to be doing any such thing. Failing in either aspect of this assignment brought her rage, shaming verbal abuse and/or disparagement of anything I'd done for her.

Trained, as I was, to deny or ignore her needs, my inner child languished, an unnourished starveling. Still alertly sensitive to those around me, she/I resonated with the unexpressed needs of similarly denied inner starvelings in anyone and everyone else. I was, by my culture and personal history, encouraged and permitted to try to nourish these starvelings in others (even as I continued to feel the imperative to do that covertly).

This awareness of others' unacknowledged neediness carried with it a grave sense of responsibility. If I could perceive someone's unexpressed hunger, I felt compelled to do something for or about it. It never mattered if I was spent or at the edge of my own endurance. My responsibility was to covertly tend to those or any other needs that were, however indirectly, revealed to me. And, it was essential that my help be given in ways that did not force the person to become conscious either of their need for help or of my ministrations to that need.

I was forever being psychically grabbed-by-the-collar by the unacknowledged waifs inside others. Most often these others were people like me. They were outwardly highly functional. They appeared (and had a stake in appearing) self-sufficient. As I involved my self in covertly responding to the waif inside of these other people, my own starveling would sort of jump into the person I was tending. By vicariously identifying with that person she could feel as if she, too, were receiving some of my caring bounty.

My attempts to help others move toward their own wholeness usually proved insufficient and never-ending. After devoting some considerable time to this thankless and ineffective giving, I (and my inner starveling) would feel depleted, frustrated and despairing.

Sometimes, I'd secretly be furious with the recipient of my bounty: "if someone gave me what I was giving you I would have done so much more with it. I would have appreciated it, used it to help heal my self." I'd feel angry that nothing I did ever seemed to fill them up or to be enough to heal them. If I had slipped and they'd noticed my giving at all, I'd feel angry that they were disparaging or dismissing the value of whatever I was giving to them.

These cycles were a continuing, though less than conscious, replay of my early unsuccessful attempts to covertly nourish my own mother into enough wholeness that she might then mother me. I repeatedly and automatically gave away that for which I longed.

What I didn't understand then was that, had someone actually offered me what I was longing for, I would have felt threatened by it. Given my early training, it would have been very hard to allow it in. I would have felt bad and wrong. I would have felt both shamed and indignantly offended at being seen as needing anything at all.

In those years of my life, I also didn't understand that feeding the little starveling is for every one of us always an inside job.  When others are trying to nourish her directly it doesn't work: nothing can reach across the time warp to her. She feels badly. What is given doesn't get inside of her to the empty place. She may see this as hateful evidence of her own insatiability. Or, she may see it as infuriating evidence either of the giver's incompetence at giving or of the giver's malevolent manipulation of her neediness.

Only we our selves can re-mother the self that wasn't properly nourished in the time that she was a physical child. Only when we our selves have opened a conscious connection with that little one within can others' gifts work to help support our own loving ministrations to her.

In my early forties I gradually understood these truths. I began to give my self permission to recognize and to care for the needy child inside of me. Not having that permission had set me up for the awful, fruitless subterfuge of trying secretly and vicariously to get for her some of the nourishment I was always offering to others (whether they wanted it or not). Till then, I'd felt shamed by being a vulnerable human being, by having any needs at all.

As I began to focus on giving to my self, to my Little One inside, I saw how much my giving to others had been freighted with hidden expectations and agendas. I expected people to use what I offered to make them selves better. I expected them, once better, to be able to give back to me what I had given to them. Much of my supposedly selfless giving to others was convoluted, a less than conscious (and doomed to failure) attempt to get nourishment for my self.

When we give because we believe that everyone else's needs are more compelling or important than our own, when we give to get, when we give to others what we really (often less than consciously) need and want for our selves, we are depleting our selves.  Because we are giving with secret agendas, what we give is tainted, therefore toxic for its recipient. All too often, what we are giving is what both that person and we our selves each need to be giving to our own selves.

When we do the work to develop and then act on the permission to give that devoted caring to our own selves, we are doing the work of nourishing our inner starvelings. When we deepen our practice and hone our skills at loving and nurturing our needful selves, we become at last capable of filling the emptiness inside of our long abandoned little inner selves. We become less vulnerable to being grabbed-by-the-collar by disowned neediness in others.

Becoming adept at feeding and filling our selves, we also become able to truly gift others out of our inner abundance. This kind of giving often feels the same as just being our selves: no effort, no agendas, no needing anything in return. The joy we feel in sharing our selves, our overflow is complete in itself. We offer our love, our energy, our caring and our being as giveaway rather than as give-to-get or give-to-fix. In this offering, it is possible for all of us to be nourished in appropriate, effective ways.

Releasing my self from my convoluted giving, I learned that the hardest piece of the work was giving up the belief/hope that anyone other than I could or would ever be the Mommy for whom my starveling ached and yearned. So much of my Mommy-ing of others had been my way of creating and sustaining the illusion that it might really be possible for one person to Mommy another person into wholeness. Sustaining that illusion allowed me to keep on hoping and believing that one day someone would at last appear to Mommy me into wholeness.

 Giving up that hope/belief was for me and is for each of us extraordinarily challenging. We are forced to come to terms with the fact that if we didn't get the mothering we needed when it would have been age appropriate, we can never get it from anyone outside of our selves. We are filled with inconsolable grief and intense rage. Yet, it's only when we can give up the hope that we reach the threshold from which we can at last begin to do the work to grow an inner Mommy who can finally provide us with what we've so been longing for.

Consider giving your self permission to take exquisitely loving care of your very own self.