Don’t you remember being told as a child that if you were a kind and giving person, then people would respond by being being kind and giving back to you? Give and ye shall receive, right? Of course, to a certain extent that is true, but if you look a little bit more closely at the concept, you will see that you might actually be setting yourself up for disappointment. Every time you give to a person, you are hoping to receive the same kindness in return. You are thinking that you are teaching how to give by setting an example. But that is actually not the case. In truth, givers train takers. If you are the giver in your family, and many women are, then you are actually training your family to receive, not give back.
Think about it. If you made breakfast every morning for your family, and one day stopped, no one would be thanking you for all the previous breakfasts you have made for them. They would be asking you where their breakfast is right now! This is because they have been conditioned to expect. It doesn’t mean they are selfish, it just means that an expectation has been established for them. It’s Pavlovian; it’s called classical conditioning. By being the kind and consistent problem-solver in your home – the giver, you are training them to expect and receive. That is why givers train takers. But don’t worry. You can learn how to undo the damage and introduce a new level of expectation, but this time it will be what you expect from them. Read more about Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning.
So how can you become a better receiver and surround yourself with more thoughtful and giving family members? Here are a few suggestions which will curb the Givers Train Takers Syndrome, and make you feel like a more valued human being. End sentences with periods instead of question marks. For example, “I’d love to go out for dinner tonight; let’s try the new French restaurant at 7:00ish.” Do not say, “One night do you think you could take me to that new French restaurant?” It will never happen.
Get comfortable receiving without giving anything back in return. I know it’s hard, you were raised to give. I know it’s hard because you were raised to give; remember “Never arrive empty-handed?” But think about this: being a poor gift receiver, or favor accepter, takes away some of the joy experienced by the giver. So if you can’t do it for yourself at first, do it for them. Let them experience, fully, how great it feels to give something back to you.
Tell people what you want and need. No one is a mind-reader. Perhaps your husband “should” know that lavender is your favorite color, and has been for twenty years, but tell him anyway. Start training givers. It will feel good to them when they see they are pleasing you.
Understand that self-advocacy is not selfishness.
Don’t worry about sounding like a dictator. There is a good way to let people know what you expect of them and from them, and there is also a bad way. So launch that information gently and firmly. Say it once, end your sentence with a period, and set a timeline of your expectation.
You might want to set a consequence as well by letting them know they will disappoint you if they drop the ball. You will notice that after a while, your family will become aware of your needs and expectations of them, and they will also learn that giving feels pretty good inside. It is altruistic, and it earns your approval for them which is a good thing. Lastly, there will be no more martyrdom for them because you are no longer suffering, you are stating what you need and expect.
A lot of women express concern that their husbands and children won’t love them as much if they reign back on the giving. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that you will definitely get their attention, and you may even hear some grumbling in the next room for a a while. But it is also true that you will gain their respect, feel more appreciated, and feel less like a professional giving machine. You won’t feel invisible anymore.
So stop being everyone else’s backup singer. Grab your own mic. Take the lead. It is not your job to make everyone else look good and feel good every minute of every day. Your job is to take care of you, to teach other how take care of themselves, and lead by example of how how to give, and how to get back.