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!

Comments (3)

  • Please rethink your comment about homeschooled kids!

    I take offense to you citing that homeschooled children are examples of people who don’t know how to interact socially or share! Unless these homeschooled children are completely hidden from the world and homeschooled by bad parents, your statement sounds ridiculous! If homeschooled kids learn to share if the parents teach them (and especially if they have other siblings to share and interact with which is often the case with homeschooling families) - the exact same as public school kids! Also, many homeschoolers are very actively involved in social outlets and interaction with their community – moreso than public school kids. Independent research has shown on studies of college aged kids that the homeschooled kids were SUPERIOR in social skills and altruistic endeavors! Maybe as a therapist you have seen the homeschooled kids that weren’t homeschooled correctly but I’m guessing you also saw some public school kids that were not ‘schooled’ correctly. I went to public school and I NEVER interacted well socially because my home life was such a mess. I have no doubt I would have fared better in a loving homeschool environment instead of being bullied in public school.
    I have read a few other articles on your site – like the one on narcissism – and think so far most of your writing is great. I hope you will rethink this one predjudiced remark!
    Thank you.

    — LD, 12/29/2011
  • Response to LD
    I appreciate your response in defense of home schooled kids. However you respond as if I had made a blanket condemnation, which is not my style, my intention or my truth. My comment was made in response to some situations with which I had specific personal and professional connection. That was four years ago, and I am pleased to report that in intervening years I have also experienced the positive side of homeschooling such as what you have reported.
    I stand by my larger topic of whether it is “natural” for children to share. My mistake was to not have taken greater care to have it not sound like a prejudice or a condemnation to such as yourself who carry a particular sensitivity to this issue. For that I apologize.

    — Bill McDonald, 1/1/2012
  • Food for thought

    Very honest and informing article. Thanks so much

    — Kiran, 6/22/2015

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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