How to Stop The Cycle of Over-Providing

My definition of over-providing is giving more than is sustainable for the wrong reasons.

You might also call it over-giving, over-delivering, or being the world’s breast. Or as Jeanne Witcraft said on Facebook when I asked for examples of over-providing,

“Nourishing all from your own body, pouring everything extra into growing potential for others while withering yourself.” Exactly.

Over-providing might look like:

  • Reading your friend’s entire blog when the request was for writing feedback on one post
  • Walking deeper into a relationship that starts with discombobulation, unprofessional approach and devaluation (Thanks Dyana Valentine for that one)
  • Underpricing your services
  • Doing everything for your kids/partner/mother/father/brother/sister first
  • Bankrupting yourself to rescue someone else
  • Always giving advice
  • Saying yes when you have no ability to deliver what you just promised
  • Not napping when your baby naps and working instead, even though you haven’t had more than 3 hours of sleep in two years (Thanks Randi Buckley)
  •  Add your own.


The generative spiral we walk toward wholeness

However it shows up, the effects are the same:

  • A hollow feeling of not being enough
  • A jittery compulsion to fix people’s pain
  • Eroded intimacy (“They only love me because I do so much.”)
  • Nails on the chalkboard irritability
  • Lack of mojo and motivation and general refrain of “What difference does it make?”
  • Spacey loneliness
  • Jaw clenching exhaustion
  • Feeling “unclean” about why you give
  • A lot of hand wringing about the state of _____
  • Never really getting to your true desire, never getting to your work, to your life

Now I imagine some of you are saying,

“You can’t over-provide in this world. You have to always be giving 110% percent to be the best. What about leaving it all on the table, pushing yourself to give it all?”

That, my wonderful friend, is about choosing to show up, fully resourced and ready to do your work, to open your heart, to be in relationship. And that can never be done when you are trying to do everything for everyone with no regard for yourself.

Showing up and giving it all can be an exhilarating choice and the only way to do that is to choose yourself first.

Over-delivering is not choosing anybody or anything. It’s indiscriminate, a bit like a Ramada Inn lounge singer hoping to find creative meaning by performing endless Paul Anka covers.

Why do we over-deliver and over-give?

  • We believe we aren’t smart enough or talented enough to give what we really want to give (our creative work for only one example) so we settle for gushing like a broken fire hydrant what we can give – advice, money, meals, attention.
  • We are afraid to claim what we desire so we distract ourselves with over-giving.
  • We were raised in a culture that says women should give until it hurts, give before they take anything for themselves, etc.
  • Our biology – women are hardwired to be in relationship, and all humans are hard-wired to belong. Over-providing keeps you in the tribe.
  • We’re empathetic, we see that people need and we want to help.
  • We want to have an impact, we want our lives to matter.
  • We’ve gotten confused about where giving our best crosses into over-providing.
  • We forget we are human with humans bodies and human limits.
  • We want to be loved, feted, needed.
  • Survival – we have known times when over- providing kept us safe from harm.
  • We don’t yet belong to ourselves. 

If this is hitting home, right now, back away from shame. You are hardwired to give and you are a deeply empathetic person (just guessing). That is a lovely thing that the world benefits from. It’s not about changing your giving nature but about balancing things out a bit. Okay?


Gate to belonging to yourself

Here a few balancing antidotes:

Write down everything you do for others in a 24 hour period. This is far harder than it seems. If you have a lot of resistance, you may be deeply identified with over-providing as in “This is what makes me me, dammit” or you just may be so exhausted by over-doing that you need a nap. Either way, pay attention.

Start the day with five minutes of extravagant self-praise. Read emails that make you light up, recall compliments, shower gratitude on yourself. Imagine this praise in the form of hummingbirds streaming into the back of your heart. This will change your very cells.

Deputize a few beloveds to check in with before you say yes to something else. I have told Deb, my trusty VA of ten years, that I will fire her if she lets me say yes to any partnerships or big projects without first checking in with Bob and my Brain Trust. Double fire wall.

Test reality – is is true that if you don’t read your friend’s entire blog, he will drop you as a friend? Is it true that if you stop trading your services for admin help that doesn’t actually help you will go broke? Take one simple clear instant and do something different and then check in, what actually happened?

Get used to saying, “Let me get back to you.” Then make a list of all the reasons you must do this. Then go down the list asking, “Is that true” then check in with your deputized beloveds.

Deepen your practice of belong to yourself. Let that be your focus for a few months – or if you are like me, lifetimes!

Whatever you do, please don’t shame yourself about providing more than is sustainable. There are bountiful and legitimate reasons as well as a massive cultural and historical legacy why we do this. The goal is never blame but only evolution toward wholeness.

P.S. If this post resonates, please consider joining me for either of my Kripalu retreats in October. We’ll dig deep in innovative pleasurable ways into how to belong to ourselves and gently detach from patterns that no longer serve. If you stay in a dorm, it’s an amazing self-care deal.




Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Kim Mailhot - August 15, 2012

This is me.
Going to start working towards my own wholeness today. Thank you and the Universe for putting this message in my path.
Light and Love !

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    thank you for all the wholeness you bring the world now Kim!

Alison - August 15, 2012

Jen, thanks for Naming It. I realized a couple of months ago that I give so much to others, I have NO time to ask myself, Alison, what do YOU want? So, this summer I took a sabbatical. I actually told my friends, I love you and, I’m not scheduling any time with you, you may not hear from me. I figured my good friends would understand and luckily they have. It was time to turn in, listen deeply and figure out how to give to me. It’s a work in progress but I do feel more aligned, rested and connected. Thanks for your wisdom, great confirmation and encouragement for me! 

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    POWER=FULL! gal pal you got this, wow do I need that too… coming up for me soon too, finishing a few projects, launching the daughter into the college experience and then going in, going in. thank you for being here and trusting yourself to take the time.

Aubrey R - August 15, 2012

Hmmm…have you been spying on me? This post describes such a core issue/problem/taking over my life for me, and explains it in ways I haven’t been able to articulate. Thank you, thank you, thank you, both for writing on this and giving me some steps to take from here. 

Marianne Cantwell - August 15, 2012

This is wonderful Jennifer, thank you for sharing. 

Kate M. George - August 15, 2012

Ho boy, do I ever over provide. I’ve been cutting back, spending time with friends and working hard at what makes me happy, but the resistance I’m getting from my family is mind numbing and calculated to make me feel guilt.  A small example: My oldest daughter told me I don’t love her and that all I care about is getting attention from being an author. Notice she didn’t say all I care about is the writing… she’s 18 and going off to college so there’s that , but  the resistance is huge in all the kids, and my husband as well.

Will I let that stop me from drawing back from over giving? No. If I don’t save my life no one else will.

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    it’s hard when we start Kate but it does get easier. Telling the kids “You’ve got this.” in other words, you are fully capable of handling whatever, helps. Keep strong!

Jeffrey Davis - August 15, 2012

Brilliant, brilliant, and generous, generous. Me thinks I know of what she speaks. Thank you, heart sage.

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    thanks for being so brilliant yourself curious sage

Ronni Ann Hall - August 15, 2012

Fabulous post. REALLY good for empaths. 🙂

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    yeah thanks for saying so and being a healthy empath.

Karly Pitman - August 15, 2012

Dear, dear Jen,

This was just what I needed to hear today. Yes, I have a strong tendency to overprovide. Yes, I am deeply empathetic and compassionate. And yes, stronger boundaries are my sweet, sweet friend.

So much of what keeps me trapped in overgiving is fear – the fear of
being rejected, of not belonging, of being the target of anger, etc., of
not making money, and on and on and on…..

The biggest fear is spiritual. The “should” in my mind says things like, “You can’t outgive god.” And so then I feel like I’m falling short of my spiritual measuring stick when I say no. Just writing that down makes me realize how ridiculous this belief is, and yet it’s been a powerful refrain in my life!

I especially appreciate two ideas from this post –

1. to let others help with boundaries. I love the idea of checking in with beloveds before saying yes to big projects.

2. the reminder that our precious human bodies have limits. I help no one when I regularly go beyond my limits to help another. In fact, I set a very painful example for my children when I do so! Ouch.

You’ve given me much to chew on. I appreciate your vulnerability in writing this post, because it softens the shame to know I’m not alone…and that, yes, we are walking our way to wholeness together.

In gratitude, Karly

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    we are, as always, separated at birth. your wisdom is so great I always always learn from your notes and comments Karly!

Carmelo - August 15, 2012

My best friend’s mother passed away last week. She was the perfect example of service to others without over delivering. I mean, without overdoing it but STILL over delivering. Here’s what I think set her apart from the average – those of us who try to be everything to everyone.

Most of the time we think it’s about us … that it’s about our help and work and intelligence and insight that helps others. But, is it? I don’t think so. The only “us” involved is our presence as a “full well” that our friends and clients and family can dip from at will. 

My friend’s mom was centered. She was that full well. She couldn’t help but replenish people who were thirsty. 

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    Carmelo I have read your story of your best friend’s mother many times, and experience each time a transmission of deep balance and centering. So lovely for my heart. thank you so much for writing this here. Blessings to you both as you grieve and celebrate her life.

      Carmelo - August 19, 2012

      Hi Jen, I’m touched that you found value in my comment. Of course I realize it wasn’t my comment but the beautiful woman I described.

      Ya know? She’s going to continue providing value due to the legacy she’s left behind. Jen, you’re taking a more visible path and I applaud you. Look at the people you’re connecting with and the opportunity you’re providing for someone like my friend’s mom. How? Well, now, even after her life is over, she’s touching more people. I find this incredible.

      Thank you.

Sara View - August 15, 2012

I deeply resonate with over-providing! In fact, about a year ago, I finally came to terms with how deeply this was impacting not just my emotional health, but also my physical health. I was working as a full time social worker and spent at least three hours a day in my car traveling to clients homes. I got a herniated disk and my doctor wanted me to consider going out on disability. I was only 32!!! No way!  I decided to “retire” as a full time social worker and began my own practice specializing in… Compassion Fatigue!! 🙂 I still have a tendency to over give in my personal life, but have learned it is a process in terms of healing that aspect of my life, too.   Thank you Jen – for your wisdom and insight!

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    Sara Compassion Fatigue – so needed what you are doing. And it requires you to practice what you preach – genius! LOVE!

Cristy Coates - August 15, 2012

Thank you, dear Jen, for your sharing on this important topic.

This is something I’ve contemplated for a while now. I come from a family of ‘rescuing over-givers’. And, it’s something I actually really like and eternally grateful for. We all need something to work with, and this is my lot.

Currently, we are preparing for our spiritual teacher’s visit to our yoga centre/ home. I was involved in this process just over two years ago, too. It involves a lot of cleaning, scrubbing, polishing, revamping, decorating, fund-raising, gardening, painting, administrative processes…it’s a wonderful things to do as a community and it asks us to give more than we think we have. It asks us to go beyond our normal limiting beliefs- basically, that we are not magnificent Beings with unlimited energy and resources. Because truly, our essence knows no bounds. 

In preparing for our teacher’s visit, we are asked to joyfully participate. To go beyond what we think we can. To create joy in ourselves where there seems to be hardship. So that we begin to ascertain the absolute wonder and fullness we truly are and move into giving from this space. And it doesn’t seem like giving anymore.

All of that other ‘stuff’ that surrounds giving- the thinking, the psyche, the mentality, the physical reality- seems to be no longer important. Is it still there? Yes. Does it still affect how & why I do things? Yes. Does it matter? No. Because I’m doing my best to come from a place of joy, lightness, fun and true service in this giving. This in itself seems to shift my focus away from analysing all the stuff my psyche carries around about ‘giving’, so I can just give and be as lovingly present as possible, no matter what. For me, this involves breaking down, shattering, obliterating the beliefs I have shrouded true presence with. And I have to give more than I think I have in order to actually meet those beliefs and see what I’m truly made of.

This is probably a long way of saying I think we can use whatever traits we have garnered in this life to consciously move beyond them. We just need the means, purpose and understanding to do this. Over-giving is not the problem, the reasons why tend to be. And the whys come from a limited place of fables we’ve created to get by in the world. So, as I scrub and polish and sweep and decorate, I know these whys are dissolving themselves slowly and surely into the magnificence of our innate essence. Practicing boundlessness through giving is a tried and tested path, one I am happy to partake in.

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    I love reading and experiencing the balance and sweetness of your preparation. Yo so well capture the joy and wonder that can be found in right relationship. Thank you!

joychristin - August 17, 2012

I used to be an “over-provider” until I became physically ill with stage 3 cancer..the mind/body connection is huge for me and that was my wake-up call that I was literally giving my self away. A few years later, now healed, I understand and practice full presence…I share from an overflowing well of abundance, and I graciously receive into my life enriching and enlivening…thank you for the wonderful affirmation with this message!

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    Joy so healing to read your words, thanks for writing them for all of us.

Leah - August 18, 2012

Thank you thank you thank you! Really needed this today. AND heading out on a 2-week vacation so I can love myself back into balance. Perfect timing!

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    balance happening! thanks for being here!

Sandi Amorim - August 18, 2012

Oh my God, how this resonates and the impact it’s had on my well being the past year can no longer be ignored. Printing this delicious call to action to remind me over and over till it sinks in.

    jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

    remind me from time to time too, okay? 🙂

jenniferlouden - August 19, 2012

i’m really trying Tara to do my best writing here. don’t always make it but i’m a trying. 🙂

Sherold Barr - August 21, 2012

Jen this is what I need to read today. I am starting to block off coaching and making boundaries around me time so that I can do what lights me up. Yes I am guilty of under pricing although others would think I have high rates – demand and less time = higher rates right now. So thank you for writing this beautiful piece. I’ve taken it to heart.

Laura Palmer - August 25, 2012

Love this! Just wrote about the same issue. But, it was hitting the angle of how our bodies manifest physical chronic illness, such as gluten intolerances, as wake up calls to highlight this same imbalance.

In Case You Missed It Edition! Volume 40 « Teacher Goes Back to School - August 27, 2012

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Lucy - May 14, 2019

Overgiving is actually a very selfish act and not really about the other person. I have overgived in the past and done stuff for people that are more than capable of doing it for themselves and likewise know a friend who overgives to me despite my saying no. As a result of this it feels like a drain because I ultimately feel that I am in a way being used for their self worth, and that is an internal role, not an external role.

I know on the internet there are plenty of people bemoaning the fact that they give give give and get nothing in return. That is not giving, that is a transaction which isn’t fair on the other person. When you stop overgiving, or really check your motivations as to why you agreed to help someone, people will find that a majority of adults can stand on their own two feet, it does them good to work through pain and issues in life (in order to grow) and that the relationship becomes healthier.

Myself personally, I rarely give unless I want to and check to see if there are underlying motivations i.e. am I trying to influence how I am perceived by this other person. When I do give now, it is very rare but it is genuine and I am not expecting anything in return.

Sharon - September 18, 2019

Thank you for writing this!
It’s beautiful & amazing how an article that you coined seven years ago, has been such a cathartic for me. I welled up, relating so much to it, as it instantly triggered my memories of toxic patterns from the past, that i chose to tuck away in a corner of my heart. And the statement that hit the bulls eye, was where you wrote – “Feeling “unclean” about why you give”. I have always been an over-provider in my past relationships, fearful of rejection & pro-actively addressing that fear with the hope that I would the ‘earn’ more love, adulation & acceptance. Hence being the more forthcoming partner, over affectionate, over loving, the over enthusiastic one, the one willing to bend (and break) her back at all costs to keep the relationship intact. But I ended up feeling terrible about myself, & trapped in a never ending cycle. I felt dirty inside out, taken for granted, used and hated myself for overdoing things that was not required of me.
I now know better and will refer to this read more often to align to my true being! Much love!


Linda - December 25, 2019

Jennifer, I’m so glad to have found you on the internet! I have your book, ‘The Woman’s Comfort Book’ and have used it many times as a guide for self care. My question today is what to say or do when on the ‘receiving end’ of an over-giver. My sister spends WAY MORE on Christmas gifts than I do each year. After opening her numerous expensive gifts this year and having given small gifts to everyone like I normally do, I feel at a loss of what to say or do. Many thanks, Linda

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