Giving and helping others are noble acts that we rarely think will result in something other than goodness. Some people say that it helps lighten their burden or makes them happy. Others say it helps build character or makes them feel grateful for what they have. Helping others obviously has its benefits.
We are even counseled in the scriptures to lose ourselves in the service of our fellowmen. This counsel is of course open to a lot of interpretation, but it certainly doesn’t mean throwing ourselves into service until we’ve got nothing else left to give.
Here are some signs that you might be giving too much.
Your help fosters dependence and isn’t helping the person grow. When your help becomes an expectation of continued support, you should take a step back and reassess the situation. Did the person actually make an effort to improve his/her situation? If you had an agreement that they would work on things and progress, did he/she get from Point A to Point B? Or was there no improvement because that person knew you would be there willing to help?
When your help becomes the safety net and an excuse for people not to acquire needed life or professional skills to improve themselves, your help is actually producing unhealthy unintended consequences, both for you and them.
The solution is not to stop helping altogether but to set boundaries and expectations if you are going to provide additional support. Even the Lord sets boundaries in the form of commandments to bless us. And even if He has everything to give us, He doesn’t just pour out every blessing for us, because if He did we wouldn’t have to work for it and grow.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. This metaphor perfectly sums up a lesson some learn the hard way. One tangible example is going into debt to help others financially. It might be tempting to dip into your emergency fund or use money you’ve set aside for your mortgage to help out, but if they weren’t able to uphold their end of the bargain and you ended up in debt, the results wouldn’t help you or them.
A woman once questioned a flight attendant’s instruction to place the mask over your mouth and nose first before assisting others. What could possibly be wrong with helping others first, right?
The fact is, when oxygen masks drop inside an airplane, it means that the oxygen level has dropped so dangerously low that one can lose consciousness quickly. If you don’t make putting on your mask a priority, you’ll very likely not able to help anyone.
There’s a reason why Latter-day Saints are taught that people are better able to serve and care for others when they are self-reliant temporally and spiritually. It’s because people can’t really pour from an empty cup. You can’t really give what you do not have.
You don’t feel at peace when you give. When giving leaves you up all night worrying and feeling exhausted or emotionally depleted, you should pause and start taking care of yourself. Take your feelings seriously as these feelings can be a precursor to depression, which is harder to recover from.
It may feel wrong to give priority to your peace of mind over the needs of others but doing so is critical. If you don’t, you can spiral into an unhealthy mental, emotional, and even physical state. This does not mean that you’re selfish or uncaring in any way. It means recalibrating, refortifying, and restoring yourself so you can get back to a state where you can help again.
Giving or helping others, whatever that may mean in your situation, is noble but you also owe it to yourself to set personal parameters to protect yourself from “generosity burnout”. God sent us here to Earth to thrive and reach our full potential and we can’t do that if we spread ourselves too thin. The good news is that when that happens, we can count on the Savior’s promise, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. He is aware of our burdens and the compassion we feel towards others. He will strengthen us so we are better able to lift others in such a way that won’t require us to “run more than [we have] strength.”