Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
October 2007 - Volume 07, No. 7
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Givers and Takers in Relationships Part 1 of 4 - Introduction

This month’s newsletter comes in four parts - published weekly through this month. The overall topic is
Givers and Takers in Relationships

Recently, I’ve been hearing these words, givers and takers, more frequently than usual. A divorced client characterized her previous marriage by saying: “I’m a nurse, he was a doctor - I’m a giver, he’s a taker. At first I thought there could be a ‘balance’ - but then I realized it was ‘abuse.’ So I finally had to leave.”

Another client (also female) told me her mother’s warning at the time of her marriage - “It will never last - you’re a giver, he’s a taker.”

A third female client, coming from a severely dysfunctional family, told me of babysitting for a good couple - and asking the woman how they got along so well with each other. The woman said to her simply - “Well, we’re both givers, that’s the only way it can work.”

Each of these examples are from a female. However, once I began to explore this subject, I found numerous couplings where the male is a giver and the female a taker.

So why do givers often feel like they’re “going crazy”? It’s frequent that a new client will complain - “I give and I give - and when I want or need something back (from that person, or from ‘anybody’), nothing comes, there’s nothing there.” The common outcome, at least eventually, is anger and depression - which is why they’re in my office in the first place.

A standard therapeutic response is “You must stop giving away so much of yourself.” It seems so simple to us on the outside - if what you are doing is hurting you, then stop doing it! And yet I’ve often felt I’m doing some sort of subtle violence to my client by advising him or her in that direction - even though in the immediate situation it’s necessary advice.

Giving - and the purpose behind it

One of the developmental tasks for children is that we teach them to share. The purpose of this lesson is the ability to functionally exist in community with others - where giving and taking is a necessary social balancing. When I have, and someone else is in need, we come to learn that it makes sense to share - if for no reason other than when the tables are turned, others will share with us. As Lucy would say in Peanuts, “it’s basic fourth grade economic theory.” And it’s evident that children who are not taught to share, lack the capacity to interact well in social situations. Home Schooled children are frequent examples of this lack. So apparently it is not natural for a person to share, it’s the task of the culture to instill it. But then again, once it’s taught, it seems to become natural (like toilet training).

But there’s a poison that easily creeps in. Deep inside each of us is as an insistent belief (false, but powerful) that we aren’t good enough. So, if I give enough to others, then hopefully they’ll see me as good, and then I can see myself as good (self-justification). As some psychological language says it - if I can get enough conditional strokes from others (i.e. strokes for doing), then I can make up for a felt impoverishment of unconditional strokes (such as strokes for being - from really good parents). So we learn to give in order to get - approval, validation, to get at least something for which we feel needy. When the preacher quotes Acts 20 before the offering, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” it can be little more than a soft way to say “pay your dues” and therefore become “blessed.” The IRS is more blunt although the “dues payment” pattern has similarities.

Psychological research tells us that those who give are generally happier people. It satisfies a sense of caring compassion inherent in the human heart. Yet strangely enough, it’s the churches that panic most whenever there is discussion of eliminating the charitable giving tax deduction. So we are taught to give and get a deduction, so we “win both ways.” It’s faulty logic, but it seems to work. And it works better than the same faulty logic that tells us if we give enough, we’ll be able to justify ourselves into being good people. Do we give because we feel good about ourselves, or do we feel good about ourselves because we give? When we don’t feel good enough about ourselves to begin with, the broader formula doesn’t work. I’ll be nice to you, so you’ll feel nice about me, even if I can’t feel nice about myself. Which is my answer to the original question up above in the 5th paragraph.

In the next weeks, I’ll continue, speaking about

    - The Taker - what’s going on inside
    - How to recognize a taker (before the wedding)
    - The differences between givers and over-givers.
    - Possible resolutions or ‘fixes’ for these relationship imbalance problems.

So until then, Pay Attention!

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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