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When Giving Feels Depleting and Receiving Feels Like Obligation

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Relational Problems » Featured Article

By: Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Your boss tells you that you did a good job on a project, but it doesn’t please you. It makes you feel that he or she will expect more of you, and you will have to do even better to match those expectations. The praise and recognition was translated into more demands, extra effort and anxiety that you may fail to reach the new goals. Your partner offers to pay for a joint vacation. You feel irritated and react in a hostile manner. What you take in is that there are strings attached and hate being placed in a position of obligation.

It is as if there is no template or emotional receptor site that can recognize and welcome nurturing experiences at face value. The signals that fire your emotional receptors are activated by one part of the entire experience. It is called your internal armor. This protector talks loudly and warns you that what may appear pleasant and innocuous probably has a sting in the tail. It comes to guard you from being taken in, manipulated and made a fool of. It tells you not to trust anything that may look and feel good at first sight. How did this happen? How come others can serve themselves from the buffet of praise and complements and enjoy their meal, going back for more, while you get food poisoning, diarrhea, bloating or constipation?

Sally’s experience can illuminate this phenomena. She grew up feeling that she was not good enough for her parents. The only way she could begin to get their attention let alone any responses was to try to do things for them. It began by cleaning in the kitchen, taking care of her father when he was sick, and doing well at school. The reaction she got was barely perceptible. Far from appreciation or gratitude, she felt ignored and unrecognized. She gave and gave, believing that if only she did enough of the right things she would make herself visible and indispensable. That seemed to be the only way to her parents hearts. But they showed little feeling for her and were either self-absorbed in their own unhappy lives, or putting their efforts into their middle child who became the carrier of their vanquished hopes and dreams.

Sally was heartbroken, disappointed and emotionally empty. She became angry and resented all the efforts she had put in to no avail. The more she did the more was expected. She never got a smile of thanks, a positive word of encouragement or permission to get on with her life.   Despite her anger and sense of futility, her hope that she would eventually get recognition and be taken care of never died. Her way of interacting with people was to offer to serve them, quietly demanding that they would then reciprocate. They did, but she couldn’t recognize it. What she saw was that they just wanted more from her.

Many people in Sally’s life responded to her need to be loved and taken care of. But the receptors for receiving genuine love and care had long since atrophied and Sally had no idea what real caring was like. Relationships become onerous, and potentially positive interactions get turned into demanding, selfish and unfair encounters. She would draw away from people if they wanted to go out with her. When friends lent her things, Sally felt there were hidden obligations and expectations. The gifts became   burdens.

Sally’s receptors for authentic giving had never been planted, watered and fed, so they never developed. As a result she was unable to feel any of the available love, caring and concern that was there for the asking. The only receptors that had been fed were the protectors and guards. They grew so big that they shut out the light and took up all the space. There was no room for the receptors for love and caring to live. It made Sally feel envious of others who were cared for, furious that she had to take care of herself without any support and bitter that no one was there for her.

Since Sally couldn’t feel the love and caring offered to her, she always felt empty. Her emotional stomach growled with hunger. It made her irritable and tired. Trying to live on an empty stomach is virtually impossible. Her envy and rage became her fuel and that is what she existed on.

Wanting unconditional love is natural, allowing yourself to experience it is difficult if your emotional receptors only respond to it as if it were dangerous. It can turn you into a withholding, untouchable and unreachable person. But it is never too late to begin to nurse the receptors for accepting genuine love, and allowing them to guide you as to what is trustworthy. That process has to begin with you giving yourself some of the caring you yearn for. When you revive those dormant receptors you will learn to feel love and empathy for yourself. Only after that will you be able to recognize when others are loving and caring for you - and bask in it.

About the Author...

Dr. Jeanette Raymond is a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology and a masters degree in child, adolescent and educational psychology. She has 20 years experience working with adults, couples, adolescents, children and families. She is the author of 2 books for teachers in the UK.

Dr. Raymond believes that the most important relationship you have is with yourself. She sets the stage for you to begin taking care of your most precious gift and ally - yourself. When you can do that, all else falls into place.

Her specialties include distress that shows itself in the body, feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled, fear of intimacy and loss, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-sabotage. If you mask your unhappiness with food, alcohol, drugs, or sex you abandon yourself. If you try to control it by working all hours, with excessive exercise, being busy, cleaning, and over-achieving you are ignoring yourself. Dr. Raymond helps you speak the turmoil that makes you want to go numb, and helps you find the fertile soil to plant your true seeds and flourish.

Dr. Raymond helps parents and children understand one another, and provides adult couples with a platform for having their conversations out loud rather than silently in their individual heads.

Dr. Raymond runs groups and conducts workshops on dream interpretation. She enables individuals to find their voice so that their bodies don't have to speak with back pain, gastric complaints, hair loss, skin breakouts, panic attacks and sleep disturbances. While emotional wounds can debilitate and prevent you from living a full life, Dr. Raymond collaborates with couples, family members and individuals to gain strength from it. She offers the opportunity to rewrite the internal dialogue that may be self-sabotaging and putting obstacles in the way of having meaningful relationships. She honors you and teaches you to honor yourself in a non-threatening environment, allowing you to unfold.

Click here to contact or learn more about Jeanette Raymond

Last Update: 5/3/2008



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