I have learned a lot about generosity over the last few months. Generosity is something I now realise I have made difficult for others at times and I have not always felt comfortable, when in receipt of it. Generosity can be a strange thing. It can feel like receiving a compliment: pleasant, appreciated yet also sometimes awkward. Awkwardness can depend on how often or intensely delivered the compliment is, and how much I believe it is well intentioned, genuine or even believable. Most often, generosity, offers for help, people taking the initiative to think about someone’s needs and meet them without asking, is very much appreciated and immensely supportive and loving.
Other times though, over-generosity is experienced. This is generosity where what I might be saying about my desire or needs isn’t heard, or is heard but ignored in some way. It can feel disrespectful and invalidating, and take away my independence. I can then be left with conflicted feelings of guilt for not being appreciative enough and annoyance at not being listened to, or believed, about knowing my own needs better than another. It occurs to me that older adults or people living with learning or physical disabilities may feel like this on a frequent basis. This feeling hasn’t often happened to me yet, though has occurred often enough to finally make me stop and think, about how I might impact others when trying to give or be generous. It has especially made me think about my relationship with my parents and extended family regarding giving. It hasn’t always been easy to work out how to give in a way that meets everyone’s preferences or budgets (so people are not left feeling embarrassed or like they need to match the budget when being generous themselves) and still leave a lovely sense of giving, and an appropriate sense of pleasure and gratitude in the receiver.
My logic about it making sense for me to pay for something, during times when I have earnt more or been on a favourable exchange rate or simply wish to be generous as a way of showing love (like feeding people), doesn’t always fit with others desires to pay their own way, use the monies they have put aside for exactly this type of expenditure and retain control over the product, service, experience and spending for themselves. Ironically too, these are preferences I also value and wish to exert when someone is being overly generous with me. Of course, talking about it honestly is a good remedy and preventative measure; one that will be put to the test in upcoming months as Mum and Dad visit. The last thing I wish them to feel is undermined or disrespected in any way.
Generosity is not all about money or gifts, it can also become too much when it involves doing things for others. Doing things that another person doesn’t want or need, or doing something that only partly fits a person needs, can be difficult to receive. The receiver can find themselves having to manage the other person’s feelings; how to be grateful and appreciative while considering whether anything is said about ‘please don’t do that again’ or ‘that’s so generous and unfortunately I can’t use/eat/keep it’. Instead of feeling helped and supported, the very person the giver wished to support, can be left feeling with ‘another thing to do’, ‘anxious’ or ‘overwhelmed’ and at worse wanting to withdraw from and push away a person or others’ offers of help.
Studies show that there appear to be many motivational, cognitive, and situational factors that influence helping behaviour and altruism1. Giving and receiving is not as simple as we might think; arousal and emotions are involved. Both givers and receivers don’t always get what they hope for.
Whereas giving a gift out of guilt is linked to the giver feeling more of a connected relationship, receiving a gift, given out of gratitude, is linked to feeling a more connected relationship. Giver and receiver experiences can be very lopsided in each generosity interaction.2
Similarly, to selfishness, too much selflessness may lead to rejection. It can be viewed by receiving others as undesirable, causing discomfort by highlighting gaps in their own virtues or be deemed to be socially rule breaking.3
Generosity is a curious beast, worthy of reflection and application of open communication to ensure it doesn’t slip over from loving support to being unhelpful and disrespectful. Hopefully my understanding evolves over time and becomes easier, more balanced and my levels of giving become appropriate and intuitive.
1 Dovidio, J. F. (1984). Helping behavior and altruism: An empirical and conceptual overview. Advances in experimental social psychology, 17, 361-427.
2 Chan, C., Mogilner, C., & Van Boven, L. (2014). Gratitude, Guilt, and Gift Giving. NA-Advances in Consumer Research Volume 42.
3 Parks, C. D., & Stone, A. B. (2010). The desire to expel unselfish members from the group. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99(2), 303.
Editorial Support: Stephanie Kemp
Illustration: Sapphire Weerakone
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.