Giving or giving in?

‘Love is a sacrifice’. Give everything of yourself to those you love and if there is anything left, give that too! Most of our popular movies, songs and books imply that to love someone is to be so unselfish that we should not say no to anything they ask of us. A 13 yr old girl in counselling, when asked why she accepted so much ill treatment and disrespect from her friends, told me ‘If you love someone, you should try to make them happy. So, I will do anything I can to make my friends happy.’ It seems like we sometimes confuse being generous with becoming total pushovers, unable to refuse any demand, no matter how unreasonable. We feel guilty to say ‘no’ because we might ‘hurt’ the other person or come across as selfish. We don’t seem to pay as much attention to how much we are hurting ourselves trying to keep everyone happy.

Where do such ideas come from? Our culture has a large role to play in how we view love and giving. This applies to love not only in romantic relationships but also in how we interact with friends and family. Girls, especially, seem to believe that love equals sacrifice. They might often do things for others which they don’t enjoy or would not think of doing for themselves because they love them. Often, they might let their opinions, wishes and desires take second place to those of the ones they love. Is it because giving or giving in (surrender) is considered to be an essentially feminine quality? Perhaps. Of course, this is not to say that many men don’t face the same problem in relationships as well.

Shobana,35, is very well-liked. Her friends and colleagues think of her as someone who is helpful and generous. She can definitely be depended upon in a crisis. Many people often go up to her to ask for her help with various things: work they couldn’t complete, problems they have been having in relationships or just someone to vent to when they are in a bad mood. They know that she will complete their work, will listen sympathetically and will help them out when they are in a crunch. Even at home, she will do everything to keep her husband happy. She seems to be the perfect wife and friend. However, neither her husband nor her friends realize the pressure Shobana is under. In an attempt to keep everybody happy, Shobana is overextending herself. She takes on too much work and has too little time to do it all. She spends so much time focused on others that she has no time for herself. Also, she might not always want to or like to do what others want her to but feels she cannot say no. We might wonder why someone would put themselves in a position like hers. Maybe it is because Shobana feels that in order for others to love her or want her around, she has to make herself invaluable to those she loves. If they feel they cannot manage without her, then they will have to keep her around. If not, they might not love her or appreciate her. This kind of belief comes from a deep rooted feeling that you are not worthy of being loved just for being yourself. You constantly need to work at it by showing others how much you deserve their love. We might all have felt this way at some time or the other to some degree. We might have tried to appear a certain way to be accepted by friends or colleagues, tried to come across as a ‘good’ person whom everyone likes and so on. Another reason might be that these are the values our family, community and culture have inculcated in us. To assert one’s own opinion, to say ‘no’ to someone’s request might be labeled ‘selfish’ or ‘thoughtless’ or ‘rude’. So, we continue to give and give without realizing that we are actually giving in.

However, we cannot underestimate the power of giving. Learning to ‘give’ in a relationship involves letting the other person truly see you with your strengths and flaws. It involves giving the other person not only your love and respect but giving them their own space, without attempting to involve yourself in each and every facet of their lives. Giving might involve giving the other person your understanding and forgiveness when they make mistakes. Giving need not be unconditional.

On the bright side, it is possible for us to learn to set boundaries in our relationships within which there is a healthy give-and-take. We can learn to give love and get love, that is, learn to give to those we love and also receive equally from them so that the relationship maintains a balance where each partner has equal power. Sometimes, learning to receive might be harder than learning to give as giving comes naturally to most of us.

If you can identify with the struggles described in this article and would like to seek counselling, you can contact us at TalkItOver for professional individual, couple and family counselling.

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About Sarayu Chandrashekar

Sarayu Chandrashekar is a qualified Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). She has an M.S in Marriage and Family Therapy from Purdue University, USA, an M.S in Psychological Counselling from Montfort College, and a B.A in Psychology from Christ University, Bangalore. She has worked in a de-addiction centre and a family therapy clinic in the US as well as with the Association for the Mentally Challenged, Bangalore in the past. She has also completed a research study for her MFT degree on Indian couples living in the US and their marital satisfaction. She has nearly 1000 hours of counselling experience. She incorporates a combination of systemic family therapies and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in her work. She has a passion for couple and family therapy and group work.