When people talk about those that help, or put others needs ahead of their own, they use words like nurturer, kind hearted, altruistic, selfless, or giver. They might say that he or she has the ‘caring gene’ and that giving just comes naturally to some people. While there might be some truth to this, I would argue that the real reason behind why some people over-give isn’t so divine and is in fact, quite disturbing.
What people don’t understand is that this over-giving gene is not a gene at all. It’s more likely a behavior that was learned in childhood. We’ve talked a lot, in other blogs, about how our childhoods shape our adult behavior and how concepts, beliefs and coping mechanisms are all skills we learned to survive to adulthood. But sometimes these beliefs, concepts and coping mechanisms, which were necessary then, aren’t healthy now that we’re full grown. We find ourselves acting out as we would when we were children, but now we have adult bodies and we’re in adult situations and these behaviors, that we’ve cultivated, throughout our lifetime, are no longer appropriate.
The need to fix others stems from an environment where a child was put in situations where they had to be the parent, the one in control of themselves, their siblings, or even their parents. This was the result of either parental substance abuse, or neglect. Fixer children take control because well…someone has to.
These children will often have to get themselves ready for school, make their own breakfast and lunch and head out the door, while their parent is absent (physically or emotionally) and or is sleeping off a night of excess.
These children learn to suppress their own needs, because expressing them either gets them nothing, or, if they do it at the wrong time, could mean punishment in one form or another. The constant repression of a child’s needs, in favor of someone else’s, teaches the child that the needs of other people outweigh and carry more importance than their own. They learn that other people cannot be trusted or depended upon and they internalize the belief that they deserve to be neglected and that their parents behavior is somehow a reflection of them.
If there is already a codependent parent in the home, a child is going to model that codependent behavior and call it normal. If mom is tip toeing around daddy, while he is drunk, trying not to give him any reason to act out, a child will copy this behavior.
When they reach adulthood this fixer behavior manifests itself by the type of romantic partners they choose. They will look for partners that mimic their abusive caregivers in some way. A child of alcoholics might subconsciously choose an alcoholic partner, or one who needs to be taken care of. They feel comfortable around partners who exhibit unstable behavior, which then requires them to always have to be the stable one. The end result is that fixer adults take on the role of always having to be in control, choosing partners who are unpredictable and who cannot meet their needs.
People throw around the word empath a lot. I’ve seen tons of articles on social media entitled, ‘Are You An Empath?’ I get it – empathy, it’s a sexy word. Who doesn’t want to be called an empath? What it means is that you can pick up on other people’s feelings, that you have extra sensory powers.
I’ll admit it, I’m a Star Trek nerd. I loved the character of Deanna Troi, the empath that could sense other people’s emotions. She was invaluable to her captain, letting him know when people were being deceitful. Who doesn’t want that superpower?
But Star Trek is fiction. The reality is, the ability to sense other people’s feelings, just like the need to over-give, please, help, and fix others, is part of codependency. It’s not a superpower, it’s not an extra sensory ability and it’s not the common mode of communication from inhabitants from the planet Betazoid – It’s a skill learned in childhood, where one had to learn how to read the behavior of their caregiver, because a wrong interpretation could mean physical harm, verbal abuse, withholding of affection….or any number of other harsh punishments that a parent should never visit upon a child. It’s the picking up of subtle and sometimes not so subtle physical and emotional cues and vibrations that let the child know when it’s safe to approach, or when it’s best to be invisible.
The ability to sense other people’s emotions is an important skill and codependent adults inadvertently use this skill to hook up with others that match the emotional vibration they are accustomed to. Empath’s, due to their sensitive nature, are also easily detected by Narcissists and Psychopaths, who are also experts at reading people. Empaths are extremely empathetic and sympathetic and are a sucker for a sob story.
People over-give because they have a deep seeded belief that alone, just by themselves, they are not enough. They believe that in order to be chosen, get attention, or get affection, that they have to be more, have more and give more than everyone else. They believe they have to sweeten the deal, so to speak, just to be on a level playing field with everyone else.
Over-Givers come from toxic environments where they received the message that there was something wrong with them, that just being you was something to be ashamed about. They were taught to feel guilt, or shame for being human and having human needs.
The partner of the Over-Giver is often a user, a parasite and a lost boy or girl. The over-giver is prone to self-flagellation, but is more than willing to let someone else step in to inflict their personal method of pain. Over-Givers stay in relationships way too long, enduring horrific relationship behavior, because endurance is the M.O. of the over-giver.
This is because Over-Givers are taught that there is no way out in childhood, you just have to bear it, which is why they adapt well to most types of treatment. The over-givers try their best to please others and usually find themselves with partners, who show them by word or deed that their best will never be good enough.
Over-Givers are too willing to part with their resources to save their drowning partner, even to the point of their own ruination. This isn’t to say that they are doing so blindly. Many give begrudgingly,while fully knowing that they will face hardship or some adversity, but do so because of their over developed skill of endurance, over-responsibility and their belief that the needs of others trump their own.
These behaviors were born of necessity in childhood. They were are coping mechanism and how we learned how to survive, but in adulthood they perpetuate toxic relationships. It is in breaking these behaviors that one breaks free of the abuse. To do that through one utilizes the skill of mindfulness. These destructive behaviors are programmed into us and are our automatic response to the behaviors of others. What you must do is recognize when you are engaging in it. Once you get used to recognizing it, you must:
- Stop what you are doing and take a step back.
- Think about what you are doing and why you are doing it.
- Ask the questions: Is this good for me? Are my needs being met? Am I practicing self-care?
When you repeat an action enough times it becomes a habit. Taking these steps are necessary to ending toxic behaviors that lead to and perpetuate toxic relationships. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that practicing self-care makes you selfish. Normal, healthy people make sure they are not being taken advantage of and they make sure that their needs are being met. Having a toxic partner that uses and abuses you is not self-care and it will never make you happy. The biggest hurdle in reaching this step is realizing that you are worth it. You are worthy of being treated better and having a happy life.
Just having someone does not make you worthy of love. It doesn’t show the world, ‘hey look someone loves me, so I must be ok.’ Too many people are so desperate to be loved that just anyone will do and too often they seek out the same abusive patterns in their partners that they experienced in their childhood. Breaking these patterns is the key to self-care. It’s the key to creating new habits and it’s the key to creating a happy and healthy lifestyle. It takes work and it takes a commitment to yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be committed to myself and self-care and be alone, than having someone, who was just out to use me and take all my stuff. You’re better than that – it’s time now for you to believe it.
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