Are You an Over-Giver? When Generosity Is Bad for Your Friendships

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If You Know an Over-Giver:

I have a friend I’ll call Rachel who loves to give her friends gifts: big, lavish gifts, like a $100 gift certificate to the spa for your half-birthday, or a beautiful box of hand-milled soaps, just because you happened to meet for brunch. While I, and all of our friends, love to receive what she gives us, at a certain point it becomes uncomfortable. It starts to feel imbalanced, and there’s only so many thank-you notes one person can write.

Why Over-Giving Happens

In her essay, Gilbert describes her over-giving as a way to be ”petted and feted and praised and loved unconditionally for the rest of time.” That’s the reason she mainly gave to her nearest and dearest instead of to faceless causes. “I could see (and feel!) the gratitude so personally; it was a druglike pleasure,” she writes. She confesses that her giving made her feel like she was “leveling off the apparent imbalance of my own crazy success—an imbalance that had left me feeling profoundly uncomfortable.” Giving benefited her friends, but it benefited her too.

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How It Can Hurt

And what’s the problem, exactly? Farley acknowledges how tricky it is to address the situation if you’re the one being doted on. “It can make you feel like a kept friend,” he admits. In the case of Rachel, my friends and I don’t know why we’re getting all this stuff and we can’t afford (and don’t necessarily feel the need) to reciprocate. But should we?

“The person who receives can feel indebted or inferior,” says Morgan. “And the person who gives could hold that over the other person’s head. If I go to you and ask for money, it may help me out, but it could also make me feel irresponsible, reckless or inferior because I had to ask.” Money isn’t the only issue—in the case of a friend who constantly picks up the tab or presents you with tokens, ask yourself: Would you still be friends with them were that to change? If you feel like you owe them friendship in return for their gifts, it’s a problem.

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What You Can Do

Here’s a question: Are you encouraging the over-giver? Are you putting yourself in situations where it’s easier for her to spot you than not? For instance, she might feel the need to cover your dinner bill if you’re picking it apart. “If you’re someone who does that,” says Farley, “it means either that you’re not enjoying yourself, or that you probably can’t afford to be out at that time—so you shouldn’t be.”

If you haven’t been encouraging her generosity and you’re an unwilling recipient, Farley advises sitting down with the friend or family member in question, in private, and approaching the conversation with gratitude. Often, he says, the giver has no idea just how offensive her social miscues have been, and having it brought to her attention can feel like a shock.

“You could say something like, ‘I’m so appreciative of your kind gestures—thank you—but I really can’t accept your gifts anymore,’” Farley suggests. It’s simple, to the point, and can prevent hurt feelings.

Like anything else: If it’s making you uncomfortable, it’s up to you to change it.

  • Amelia J

    Over-givers don’t just use financial gifts; I see this also where a someone will constantly offer up small things that they have to please others around them. I think while we all want to be helpful and for those around us to appreciate us, this article explains how it can negatively impact finances and the relationship.

  • Christina

    When you put money in a birthday card it’s considered a gift; one that doesn’t have to be repayed. That sounds like a pretty sneaky way to cover two bases.

  • Shannon

    This is why I don’t loan money to my friends or family members. Or if I do I take some kind of collateral. If they don’t pay you back it turns into this huge thing that damages your relationship. But if someone I love is truly in need of money for something, like my brother’s summer school tuition or when my mom’s water pump at her house broke, I just give it to them if I can afford it. No repayment needed. That’s called loving your family and looking out for them and there’s nothing wrong with it. Friends, well yeah, that’s a little different. If it’s their birthday I get them a present or take them out, but otherwise no gifts unless it’s something like a keychain or whatever from when I went on vacation.

  • A. S. Mathew

    Love and friendship must be a two way road. When our relatives or friends are smiling at us and hugging us to bleed our wallet or purse, that is simply feeding the tricky and self-centered people through our gullibility. I have been fooled by many due to my extreme generous giving nature.