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updated 1/17/2008 5:05:33 PM ET 2008-01-17T22:05:33

Let me ask you a question: Are you a giver or a taker?

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My hunch is, if you hesitated more than ten seconds, you are a taker — because we givers know right away what category we fall into. In case you are still clueless, think about your own lives. If you exhaust yourself daily, cleaning, cooking, working, and then organizing your household without any family support or assistance (and they are all fully capable), then you are a giver. I am not talking about what you have to do for a special occasion like a holiday. I am referring to the day-in and day-out dance of doing for others and leaving yourself totally out of the mix. The end result is that you are dog-tired, sleep-deprived and pissed off because no one recognizes just how hard you are working.

The roots of our giver tendencies come from our childhood. We all have a need to be loved. You may have found that most people, especially parents, don’t respond well to spoiled or demanding children. Avoiding the wrath of your mom, or an extremely mean teacher, meant sharing nicely, speaking softly and never, ever talking back. Can you see where I am going with this? Or maybe you were one of many in a large family or a dysfunctional family or a large, dysfunctional family where survival mode required staying under the radar. The end result was that you learned that it was better to be a pleaser than a demanding taker, with no guarantee of your needs being met. Being a giver enabled you to make friends, be invited over to visit for play dates with a seemingly endless stream of birthday invitations. How many of us grew up hearing “It is better to give than to receive”? Yup, believed it then; now it’s like, Yeah, right. 

As women, not only are our brains wired for “giving,” we are socialized into relationship patterns of self-sacrifice and self-silence. In her book, "The Female Brain," Dr. Louann Brizendine writes about the female brain being wired to connect deeply in friendship, read voices and faces for emotion and defuse conflict. It is no wonder that when we are stressed, we pull our loved ones closer, taking care of their needs and neglecting our own. In my own household, where both myself and my husband work, my children never ask my husband what is for dinner. It is always, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” One time, I was on a business trip across on the West Coast, he was home and they called me to ask me what they were going to eat. I told them to ask their father and hung up.

Men can be givers as well. All it takes to be a giver is someone (taker) who is willing to receive. Takers may get a bad rap. I mean, how nice it would be to be self-centered, entitled, and narcissistic and still get what you want handed to you on a silver platter. The main description that comes to mind is that takers are selfish. News flash: Givers can be selfish, too. When one gives as a means of controlling another one, that is selfish.

The bottom line is this: The process of giving and taking is a dynamic of every relationship. Giving, receiving and sacrificing are how our relationships are tested and hopefully grow. If you are a taker and know it, flip the script and give a little bit. Givers, relax, instead of doing — speak up and ask for what you want or need. Take for a while, it really is OK. Ask yourself: How is my giving or taking serving me now?

Here are some tips:

  • Pay attention to your feelings and motives when giving or receiving.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate your own needs.
  • Be aware of the signals that you give off.
  • Realize that you can change your behavioral patterns and responses.

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