Over the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with several different friends who feel that they constantly give without being filled back up. And I feel it. Throughout my life, I have quietly treaded the line between a heart for giving and a self-destructive nature of giving to the point of breaking. I remember a conversation I had with one of my closest friends a few years back, when I was in one of these situations where I felt like I was giving every ounce of energy I had to give. Rather than feeling fulfilled, I was left feeling utterly empty. She told me to imagine a cup of water inside of me. When you give out energy, advice, or support to others, you’re distributing water out of your cup. In healthy friendships, the water that you give out is being replenished almost as often as it is being distributed. Sometimes you may be giving more, and sometimes you may be receiving more. Some days the cup has more water in it than others. But ideally, it never becomes empty. In some friendships and relationships, however, we become the sole giver. We give and give and give out of our cup, until suddenly we’re out of water. We can’t survive for very long without water.
We are a generation of empaths. Of givers. Of persisters. So when someone we love needs us, we go all in. We put our needs aside, and we do whatever it is we need to do to make sure that the people around us feel loved. Even when someone makes us feel drained, when it feels like they’ve accepted our energy while offering no means of filling us back up: we just keep giving. We think that maybe, if we just give a little more, we’ll feel worthy. Maybe it’ll be enough this time.
The truth is that no matter how much we give to others, it will never be enough until we ensure that we are being filled back up. It’s only when we start to set healthy boundaries in our friendships that we realize that we can’t be everyone’s savior until we are our own. Sometimes we find ourselves in friendships where we continue to let ourselves be taken advantage of, knowing that we are not receiving the same kind of intentionality that we offer. Friendships that do make us feel full (which I am fortunate to have many of) can remind us of the importance of surrounding yourself with people who fill your cup just as often as they take from it. Knowing when we need to take time for ourselves and when we are not in the state to give out any more energy ensures that we can keep our cup full and continue to give out of it in the future.
The quality of giving is by no means a bad one to have. Selflessness is the key to meaningful connections, to fostering an empathetic world where we constantly work to see things from another’s perspective. But when we continue to give to others without ensuring that we are being filled back up, we are left with a feeling of emptiness that is not only unbearable but also entirely unproductive. If we fail to be intentional about filling our cup, we will eventually have nothing left to give. Our cup will be empty, we will be burnt out, and we will not have the capacity to be the givers that we aspire to be.
My professor once shared with me a mantra about helping others that she keeps above her desk and reads every day to remember to live by it. It says: “Aware of suffering and injustice, I am working to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. I promise, for the benefit of all, to practice self-care, mindfulness, healing, and joy. I vow to not burn out.” Let us all vow to not burn out. Let us recognize that when we take care of ourselves and set healthy boundaries, we have a greater capacity to care for others. Let us practice self-care, mindfulness, healing, and joy, so that we can be the givers that we were made to be.