Put Your Mask on First — When Giving Can Be Destructive

Growing up in a Protestant family, we were taught all about how giving was meant to bring you fulfillment and joy.  Giving made us feel like we were helping.  But, when the giving no longer brought us fulfillment and joy, but only caused us pain and frustration… maybe it was a sign that it was time to stop.

I fell madly in love when I was 25. We were extremely compatible and had the same goals. At the time I didn’t think it mattered much that he was not in any way spiritual.  He didn’t believe in God or anything spiritual really.  I thought that it didn’t matter because I did.  I always had a place to turn.  13 years later I woke up and realized that it wasn’t enough.  That I had slowly put my spirituality on the back burner because it wasn’t a part of his world, so it left a gigantic (ginormous these days) hole in my world.  I became a hardened person who didn’t practice grace and understanding to the degree I had before. I did it all in the name of love.  Well, I thought that was it anyway.

I woke up 13 years later and realized I didnt like myself very much.  I was selfish, ungrateful, and sometimes downright mean to people because I saw them as inferior and just “not getting it”.  That I deserved more than they did because I worked harder and I gave more of myself than I saw other people giving.  Of course I deserved more (duh).  Life was a “give and take” and I gave more, so I deserved to have more.  Whether people wanted to give it to me or not, and when they decided not to give it to me, I got angry and vindictive. 

I totally missed the reason for giving, but I had been “re-programmed” by someone who was always taking.  Taking from me.  I also lost what it meant to receive with a feeling of gratefulness and not entitlement. I know now that we are given everything we need when our focus is in the right place, but that’s another topic for another day.  

One of my biggest problems in those 13 years was that I gave my entire self (soul) away, to the point where there was NOTHING left for me.  It happened gradually.  Small things first like types of food I liked, but he didn’t.  Big things later like connecting with other spiritually-minded people. My life goals didnt even really feel like mine anymore.  Dreams of being a Chief Marketing Officer just did not even appeal to me at all, even though I had carefully designed each step in my career path to get exactly there.  I woke up thinking “who is this person, what the hell am I doing, and where am I going with all this?”

Lots of big questions.  I realized that I was putting all my energy in trying to keep my partner happy, and not paying attention to anything else including myself.  I realized this the day my son was born. His dad showed up at the hospital sick.  He told me that I picked a bad time for this baby to be born because he was sick and he had all kinds of work he needed to be doing at the office.  MAJOR LIGHTBULB FLASHING ABOVE MY HEAD.  Wow.  And, in typical fashion… I honestly felt bad.  I felt guilty for about 30 seconds.  Then, I put my energy into my son (still not into me, but eventually I figured it out).

My friend always reminds me that we have to take care of ourselves first, or there won’t be anything left for the people we love.  She always follows that up with “there’s a reason they tell you to put the oxygen mask on your face first, then help those next to you.” when you are on the airplane.  Because if the stuff hits the fan, and you don’t put yours on first, everyone else will be dead including you because you died due to a lack of oxygen trying to help them. 

Some things to think about:

  • When you give so much that you give up on yourself and your dreams… you are giving too much. 
  • When you sacrifice the core of who you are to make someone else feel more comfortable… you are giving too much.
  • When you are giving to someone who responds in a negative way because it’s never enough, or it’s the wrong thing… you are giving too much. 
  • When you find yourself mistreating or neglecting others you care for because you have no more left to give to the people who care about you… you are giving too much. 
  • When the rest of your life starts to fall apart because you are so focused on giving to someone else… you are giving too much. 

In therapy this need to give until it hurts is called “codepency”.  Google it.  There are all kinds of books, articles, whatever way you like to absorb material… there is plenty out there.  My one take away from all my “codependency” exploration through therapy was something called “healthy detachment”.  You can Google that too.  Basically, what you will find is the importance of healthy boundaries in any and all relationships. And when you give everything to someone else, you are robbing them of the experiences they are meant to have in this lifetime.  Not only are you cheating yourself, you are cheating them too. 

In the name of love… put your mask on first, then help the ones next to you.  Don’t risk the entire plane going down because you are “reacting” to a situation rather than “directing” it down a healthy path where everyone is responsible for themselves first.

Love and Light,

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