How to Stop The Cycle of Over-Providing

Aug 15, 2012

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.




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