You feel good when you can help others. As social creatures, humans are meant to work together.
But what happens when all that helping and serving becomes too much and you start resenting the people you’re serving or the act of serving?
Whether you’re helping a family member, co-worker, friend or volunteering for an organization you care about, you start off giving of yourself because it feels good.
We’re taught that it’s good to help others. It’s what we’re supposed to do. So we seek out people to serve or places to volunteer.
Some people are fed by the work they do and would do it 24/7 while others feel like the serving is sucking the life out of them and begin to resent it.
What’s the difference between these people and the types of serving they do?
How can you serve others in ways that support you and spread happiness instead of resentment?
Look at why you’re doing it.
What’s Your ‘Why?’
If you don’t understand why you’re doing something, it’s hard to feel good about it, and chances are you won’t do it for very long.
You can also feel not-so-warm-and-fuzzy if you’re doing something because you think you’re supposed to.
If you’re serving from a sense of obligation, you’re acting to please someone else. You’re doing it for a perceived level of acceptance you’ll receive if you do something that you think another person will appreciate. You’re doing it for you, not them.
There are a few problems with this situation. You’re assuming that:
- Your actions can make someone else happy.
- The other person will accept you if you do things you think they approve of.
- Their acceptance will make you happy.
- You can control someone else’s thoughts and feelings.
None of these assumptions are true.
You can’t make other people happy and other people can’t make you happy. A person has to decide to be happy regardless of their circumstances or the actions of others.
No one can control someone else’s thoughts and feelings. These are based on each individual’s history, personality and interpretations of their surroundings.
“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.” ~ Charles de Lint
I’ve had the experience quite often where I do something for someone else that I think they’ll appreciate. Then it doesn’t register for them that I’ve done something for them. They seem to take it for granted or don’t even notice what I’ve done.
My interpretation of their response used to be that they were selfish jerks.
I’ve learned that this has nothing to do with them being mean, selfish or any other negative.
It has everything to do with me not understanding them well enough to know what will register for them. The things I did for them were things that I would appreciate someone doing for me.
I wasn’t really serving them. I was simply showing them the kind of thing I wish they would do for me.
Because of people’s different life histories, experiences and interpretations of those experiences, everyone appreciates very different things.
If I want someone to appreciate something I do for them, I have to take responsibility for understanding the other person well enough to discover what they appreciate. What I think of the “thoughtful action” is irrelevant.
Here is a direct path to resentment for people who help or serve others:
- Person A does something he/she sees as “nice” for Person B.
- Person B doesn’t respond in the appreciative way that Person A expected.
- Person A’s unmet expectations result in anger and resentment and an unwillingness to do something “nice” for Person B again.
- Person B doesn’t understand why Person A is angry at them.
Only when Person A can 1) truly understand Person B’s needs and desires and how they need those needs to be met and 2) drop all expectations of how Person B should respond can Person A serve in way that’s valued by Person B without creating resentment in Person A.
Feeling Like You’re Doing Too Much
Another source of resentment comes when you teach others that you’ll always be there to do whatever they need.
If you’re the person that everyone at home or in the office goes to in order to get things done because they know you’ll get the job done (i.e. always say ‘yes’), then they’ll continue to drop things in your lap with the expectation that you’ll accept the project and complete it for them.
You feel like you can’t say ‘no’ because you’ll let them down (back to that whole ‘lack of acceptance’ issue we talked about earlier).
As you take on all the extra work, you become exhausted and resentful. You feel like you can’t change anything because people are relying on you, or that’s just the way it is, or if you don’t do it no one else will.
Guess what – Those are all simply stories you’ve made up in your own mind. They’re not fact. I challenge you to test those assumptions.
When you start saying ‘no’ in a thoughtful way, people may initially be surprised or upset, or not.
“I’d love to take on Project X but I’m currently bogged down with Projects A and B. The soonest I can get to Project X is (sometime past their deadline).”
This is how you begin to train others to dump their projects on someone else.
This is how you train others to respect you and your time which is of equal value to theirs, regardless of everyone’s titles.
This is how you create boundaries and respect yourself.
Say ‘yes’ to things you love, are interested in or can serve a higher purpose for you. Say ‘no’ to things that don’t.
Simple Steps to Feeling Good About Serving
1. Know why you’re serving.
Why do you feel connected to the people or cause you’re serving? Who benefits from your serving and how? Why is this important to you?
Are you truly serving to help the other person or cause or are you serving with the expectation of recognition, appreciation, reciprocation or acceptance (that may or may not come)?
2. Give up any expectations.
Give to give. Give simply because it feels good to you.
Don’t set up expectations of how others should react to your actions. You can’t control them. They aren’t you and they won’t respond the way you would respond. Let it go.
3. Take the time to more fully understand the person or people you’re serving.
Ask them what they want. Ask them how you can help. Don’t judge. Give them what they want in the way they want it, without expectations.
4. Know where to draw the line.
You’re always teaching others how to treat you.
If you’re feeling like a martyr it’s probably because you’re acting like one and people are taking advantage of that.
Change your actions to change the outcome. Don’t wait for others to realize what they’re doing and change their ways. That will never happen.
Respect yourself. If you can’t love and respect yourself, no one else can do that for you.
There’s no one out there watching and judging you for how much or in what ways you serve. How and how much you serve is completely up to you.
Giving and serving others can be a wonderful thing that fills your heart and makes the world a better place.
Reaching out to people you would never have interacted with can help you to stretch your comfort zone.
Serving can turn around feelings of anxiety and depression because you’re shifting your focus from your own problems to the (probably bigger) problems of those you’re serving.
“Those who believe in the importance of serving others should lead the way by fighting against the temptation we all have, and maybe especially as we age, to close in upon ourselves.” ~Marvin Olasky
Before you begin, check your motives and expectations and know where to draw the line.
What have been your positive and not-so-positive experiences with giving and serving and what made them so?
Do you find it natural to show kindness and compassion towards others but struggle when it comes to yourself? Do you devote time and energy to your relationships with other people but forget to nurture your relationship with you? Would you like to feel compassionate, confident and accepting towards yourself?
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