Almost all of us know someone who is generous to the extreme. These people will give what they have, even when it means that they will have left – next to nothing for themselves. For many, this emotion is genuine kindness; for others, it’s a way to punish themselves.
Is there a thin line between selflessness and self-denial? The difference can be readily seen in the resulting feeling which the person receives from giving, and in the particular lifestyle of the person who’s giving – not in the actual act itself. For instance, let’s say that you have lunch at work with a co-worker. As you sit down to eat and begin talking about some new career opportunities, she realises that her lunch is back at home on the kitchen counter. You decide to offer to share your lunch so you’re co-worker doesn’t have to go hungry.
Here is another situation. A friend asks if they can borrow a dress because they are going out on a date. As she looks through your closet, she finds the one she likes, but it also happens to be the new dress you just purchased. With a half-hearted smile, you hand her the dress and say, “It’ll look good on you. I don’t know when I’ll ever get to wear it on a date.”
The difference here is not in the action. In both instances, the giver shared without hesitation. However, the individual who shared their lunch is left with a feeling of pleasant satisfaction, while the individual who was lending the dress was reinforcing negative feelings about herself through her sacrifice. Obviously, each instance is quite different from the other.
Selflessness in our character comes from a place of security. In essence, this gesture means that we’re comfortable ‘in our own skin’. Self-denial wells up as an answer to insecurity. We don’t deserve to be happy, so we give away things as a form of self-imposed punishment.
Giving our time and our talents are also forms of selflessness. Our character is not diminished by the gift, but we are uplifted because someone else will benefit from our generosity. We don’t have to put ourselves lower in order for someone else to feel better.
Self-denial is the opposite. With everything that is sacrificed, the person feels worse. It’s an increasing debt in which punishment never ends. If this is the case for you, it’s time to seek advice. There is a reason that you feel less than deserving of the good things in your life, and it’s certainly not a mistake or an accident – which is what you may be thinking.
Denying yourself the right to live your life is a serious problem, which usually stems from past experiences where you were possibly made to feel that way. In the absence of anything else to the contrary, you carried that character flaw throughout your life. What could be more wrong than to continue to view yourself in such a negative light?
Are you giving out of your generous nature, or are you punishing yourself for past mistakes? If you feel that your behaviour stems from self-denial, take control and talk it out with someone you trust – for as long as it takes, until you come to a real solution.
Alan Gillies is the CEO of Learning 2 Live, a comprehensive online Lifestyles resource which delves deeply into business and pleasure, covering a wide variety of Lifestyle subjects such as Relationships, Health, Wellbeing, Career, Travel & Coaching, and many more. Alan has considerable personal experience throughout a number of business fields including Coaching and Mentoring, Change Management and Neuro Linguistic Programming.