Within my work as a therapist, I’ve had the privilege of meeting countless incredibly selfless and generous individuals – Givers, all of them. Perhaps it’s because I specialize in treating Anxiety, which tends to align closely Shame and Guilt. Those guys don’t make it easy to invest in one’s self-interest very well (or really, at all).
Of course, loving-kindness towards others isn’t just a trait of the Anxious. In my personal life, I am closely tied to loads of Givers. My father-in-law is probably the most honorable and service-oriented person I’ve ever met, always available to support people in his community (and beyond) in whatever ways he can offer, many of them physical, even as he gets up into his retirement years. (To illustrate, he’s helping to paint my house as I write this).
I am deeply grateful for and inspired by the Givers. They maintain my faith in the inherent goodness of people.
Because it is my job to walk with and support my clients, and because I respect their giving nature, and because I am at my core a Giver myself, I frequently ponder how best to be sure that the Givers among us are recognized to be what they are first and foremost – humans, with their own needs, desires, and dreams. It is my observation that, amongst Givers, these human needs are often forgotten as the needs of others take top priority. It is also clear that Givers wrestle mightily with the fear of being selfish (or being perceived by others as selfish), and with the guilt that accompanies any inkling that we might be making choices out of our own self-interest. This makes it very difficult to prioritize our own wants and needs. When we neglect them for long enough, we sometimes forget what they are altogether. This leaves us out of touch with ourselves, and unable to answer the question at the heart of our decision-making:
How much do we actually deserve?
I don’t think that there’s a clear answer to this question. When we attempt to answer it in therapy sessions, Shame and Guilt (the dynamic duo) often make an appearance, answering quickly, before anyone else can jump in, “Nothing! We don’t deserve anything!”. I don’t make it my business to argue with Shame and Guilt – I’ve never found that to be a very effective practice.
Instead, I use a different little trick that seems to work for the Givers among us, which I will gift to you, should you also be built with a lens facing outward: Think about your hopes for your best friend. What level of happiness, contentment, health, success, and fulfillment do you wish for them? How do you want them to feel when they wake up in the morning, when they get home at night, when they reflect back on their lives and their achievements? How do you hope that they take care of themselves, and recognize their own value in the world? How much love do you hope that surrounds them as they walk through life?
Let’s say that you deserve at least that much.