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The Dark Side of Generosity: Analyzing the Effects and Reasons Behind Over-Gifting

G enerosity is about giving freely and giving abundantly. Practicing generosity can enhance self-esteem and is an important indicator of a lasting relationship. Being generous also makes us feel better about ourselves. Generosity is both a self-confidence builder which helps you to focus on the positives and it takes your attention away from any negativities. When it comes to relationships, selflessness and giving are often seen as good things. Sometimes, we prefer to give than receive because generosity can be its own reward. There are two goals that people give gifts: they want to the recipient be happy and to strengthen the interpersonal between the giver and the recipient. Generosity giving is achieved by giving gifts that we do not hope for a return while we have a surplus to offer (time, money, and energy). This behaviour enables us to feel good about ourselves and energized. Essentially gifts are mood and social boosters that can be powerful and demonstrate your feelings to the recipients. But what if we give too much or what if we are "too generous"? Are you a generous partner or an over-giver?

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Healthy relationships are built on giving and getting in return. Although even in perfect relationships, there is no 100% guarantee that both partners give and receive equally. Some are willing to give more because they want to show their affection and care for their partner. However, a relationship would become imbalanced and problematic when there is a gulf in reciprocity. When giving doesn't come from a place of love, care and affection, it fuels a pattern of a harmful relationship. Let's explore the several underlying reasons that people over-give. Firstly, over-givers are often associated with low self-confidence and self-esteem. They have a deep-seated belief that they "should" or "ought to" give more and offer more to get the affection and attention they deserved. Over-giving is also a sign of co-dependency, excessively emotional or psychological reliance on their partner. An NBC news article cited these co-dependent relationships as "an imbalance of power that favor the needs of the taker, leaving the giver to keep on giving". People over-give because they wanted some form of control in a relationship. They felt insecure in their relationships as they are afraid that their partner may feel unhappy or leave if they stop excessive giving. Therefore, gifts here act as a form of manipulation. Over-givers give because they expect to receive something in return, either material or non-material gifts, such as loyalty, reassurance, and love. Thirdly, another subtle reason that people manipulate through giving gifts is that they want to improve their self-images and the need to feel better about themselves about what they have done wrong. They give from a place of shame and guilt and which gifts are substitutions for their feelings. For example, a busy father or husband might buy extravagant gifts to his children and wife because they feel guilty and he should make amend for not spending more time with his family. However, it is important to note that gifts are not the solution to assuage the guilty feelings and they often will not mend the problem. Generosity giving is joy and appreciation, whilst over-giving is burdensome and toxicant.

Narcissists and Gift Giving

Narcissism is characterized by an overinflated sense of self-importance and entitlement. (Grapsas, Brummelman, Back, & Denissen, 2020). Narcissists are associated with common traits involved in manipulative and aggressive behavior. They tend to lack empathy and consideration for other people. According to a study mentioned in Psychology Today, narcissists give gifts to gain control in a relationship and as a means to fulfill their desires. Here are various hidden needs narcissists seek to gain from gift-giving: Narcissists give gifts to show off and be the centre of attention. They may choose a lavish gift to show off their wealth and knowledge. Their desire to show off allows them to self-promote and gain approval from others. Narcissists also give to control. Gift-giving with strings attached is a manipulation tactic used by narcissists in order to gain something important to them.

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An article on gift-giving with strings attached suggested there are two underlying messages: the surface statement and the ulterior statement. The surface statement is a representation or simply the form of a sentence that's seen or heard; The ulterior statement refers to the deeper aspects of the speech, such as thoughts, ideas, and feelings. For example: "Here's my gift for you" (surface statement), its underlying motives is "Now you must praise me and we must stay in touch for each other" (ulterior statement). Lastly, during my research for this article, I came across a website where people shared relationship experiences with their narcissistic partners, making readers aware of these red flags and avoiding falling victims of narcissists. A recovering narcissist abuse victim, Tracy, talked about narcissists and the gift-giving patterns that they have. She claimed that her narcissistic partner won the love of people by insisting on buying dinner and using gifts to buy friendships. Her partner gave from a place of insecurity where he showered people with luxury gifts and overcompensated so that he could earn validation from others. Fortunately, she was able to come out of this relationship and live a happy life


Concluding Thoughts

Ultimately, being truly generous is to show affection and appreciation towards others with thoughtful gifts, or to treat our friends to a nice meal. However, we do not offer these gifts to control, carry obligations, and cultivate obedience in our loved ones. Generosity giving is an act of kindness but also an act of intention. The purpose of gift-giving is to love not to hurt. No one loves the feeling of receiving strings-attached gifts with threats included. As a recipient, he or she may experience confusion and anxiety as they perceive that something is going wrong beneath the "surface", but are unable to discern the actual message the over-giver is trying to convey. This will eventually lead to negative emotions and developing perpetuate toxic relationships.

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If you are seeing yourselves in the tendency of involving a strings-attached gift-giving pattern, be aware and be assertive of what you are receiving and follow your instincts. Observe carefully and conclude the important messages behind the gifts. Always prioritize your feelings and own needs by politely saying no to the gifts. Permitting yourself to decline these gifts can help you establish healthy boundaries and enables others to have clarity about what gifts are being given to you, as well as relationship expectations. On the other hand, as a giver, it is important to determine your motive and intentions. Is this "truly" a gift or are you expecting something in return? If there's indeed a string attached, be sure to tell your receiver and make it clear about your intentions (what you expected in return). Being able to fully express yourselves and finding out your true feelings is the greatest gift you can give.

Megan Lee
Psychology Blogger,
The Shared Secrets Lab,
GiftAFeeling Inc.

Read The Official Research Paper On - Why It’s Better to Give Than Receive


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