Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Are You an Over-Giver?

People who give till it hurts often end up hurt.

Giving for the wrong reasons can be detrimental to both your relationship and your self-esteem. Women, in particular, often report that they feel as though they give and give and receive little in return.

Generous giving comes from a generous place, which implies that you have taken care of your own needs and can put forth energy toward others. It comes from a full heart. Over-giving, on the other hand, is not the ultimate form of selflessness. Instead, it essentially comes from an inability to receive. That means you give, give, give because you think (or hope) it will be appreciated, or because it makes you feel good about yourself, or because you feel morally obligated to.

The truth is, if you are unable to take in love, attention, or help from others and accept it completely, you are giving from an empty heart. Think about some of your relationships and try to be honest about whether your giving is from a generous place or a depleted one. Generous giving feels light and joyful. Over-giving feels burdensome because it is a one-way flow of energy.

Consider the following points to help you determine whether you might be giving too much:

  1. It feels so good and important for you to be the giver in almost every relationship.
  2. You feel guilty when someone gives something to you.
  3. You put the needs of others before your own.
  4. You apologize excessively if you are not able to “give” the way you would like to.
  5. You avoid or are uncomfortable at the thought of asking for something.
  6. You have considered the possibility that your giving could be the result of some insecurity.
  7. You find that you give because you want to feel loved, liked, or admired.

If you have identified yourself as an over-giver, or can relate to any of these examples of over-giving, you are probably feeling exhausted—sacrificing your needs on behalf of others is an unsustainable state.

If you are not sure whether you give for the right reasons, it's likely that your giving is based in negativity of some sort. Do you know that feeling when someone gives you an inappropriately intimate or generous gift? Do you know how uncomfortable it feels when a gift is unjustified or just plain awkward? It feels, at that moment, that this is way more about them than it is you, right? Keep that in mind if you are tempted to give from a place of need, rather than generosity of spirit.

Consider the ways that over-giving can take the form of self-sabotage:

  • Isn’t it funny how you seem to attract the wrong people? Do you find that you are surrounded by people seeking to exploit you in some way, or take advantage of your good nature?
  • You are working too hard. The balance is off. Most people can tell—they can feel—when you are giving from a place of pressured desire for something in return, rather than an open and kind heart.
  • It can lead to a detrimental sense of entitlement: I gave this to you, so now, you owe me.
  • If you are giving to get something, it will backfire. If you are giving to prove something, you will wind up on the losing end. If you are not sure if this is what you are doing, take a closer look at your motivation.
  • In a worst-case scenario, you end up not extending your best effort to your partner or your relationship either because you can’t (i.e., you are exhausted) or you don’t want to (i.e., you are angry and resentful). It will increase the likelihood that you will feel disappointed, taken advantage of, and constantly frustrated.

Finally, it’s important to see how the tendency toward over giving can result from depressive thinking and, if so, could keep you feeling depressed longer. The distorted thought can be something like, I will be a better person and you will love me more if I give this to you. This is not the same as, I love you and feel loved by you, and therefore, I will give this to you. Do you see the difference? Giving in the hopes of getting something back can boomerang and leave you feeling uncared for.

Sometimes, overdoing it can be a futile attempt to overload the other side in the hopes of reciprocated attention. If I give and give again, surely I will get something back for this. If it backfires, though, you will feel undervalued and unappreciated.

Warning Signs: When Over-Giving Becomes a Problem

  • You continue to give in situations that leave you feeling emotionally empty.
  • You are feeling alone in your relationship and barely able to take care of your own emotional needs.
  • You are afraid that if you stop excessive giving, your partner may be unhappy, or admit that they are more interested in something other than you.
  • You are afraid that if you stop giving your partner will leave.
  • If you are giving to your partner instead of communicating what you need and how you feel, you are giving too much.

If you identify with any of these warning signs, your over-giving is not helping. It is keeping you in a relationship that, whether you know it or not, is not feeling good to you. It is time to call this to the attention of your partner, either through serious conversation or with the help of a therapist.

To offset this inclination to over-give, start thinking in terms of what you are actually doing. A bit of honest introspection is called for. Most over-givers have exceptionally kind hearts and are incredibly caring by nature. That’s the good part. The trouble comes when you have difficulty setting limits and attain ego-satisfaction or personal gratification from others seeing how gracious you are.

Think about it: If this is something you find yourself wrapped up in across the board—at work, in your neighborhood, with your friends—you might want to practice delegating as an attempt to release yourself from this tendency to over-give.

Adapted from "Tokens of Affection: Reclaiming Your Marriage After Postpartum Depression" (Routledge, 2014) by Karen Kleiman with Amy Wenzel

More from Karen Kleiman MSW, LCSW
More from Psychology Today