The Childhood Survival Tactic That Destroys Adult Relationships — And How To Move Past It For Good

Why so many people can't stop overgiving.

sweet couple in the sunlight simona pilolla / 

Do you have a habit of giving too much in your relationships? Like your needs didn’t count or matter to a significant other?

Maybe you've gone into sacrifice mode: Giving and giving to your partner wishing and hoping he would reciprocate?

Overgiving is not the same as being generous or conscientious; it’s actually a detriment to creating the lasting love you long for.

Even worse, it breeds feelings of anger and resentment alienating you from those you love.


If you’re constantly trying to earn approval and acceptance, never taking time for yourself, or if you feel guilty receiving from others, not good at asking for help or making requests, it’s very likely you have a strategy of giving too much.

Being in a relationship doesn’t have to mean that you’re always feeling exhausted and overburdened. Imagine feeling fulfilled with your partner and receiving the love and support you desire. You can stop the habit of giving too much with a proper understanding of your behavior and new skills to take care of yourself and those you love.


RELATED: The One Habit Loving Couples Practice To Avoid Taking Each Other For Granted

Where Does 'Overgiving' Come From?

Overgiving is a strategy to earn the love that leaves you feeling depleted and unsupported by your partner. It can lead to co-dependent relationships and is damaging to your self-esteem. Once you recognize this behavioral pattern, we imagine you’d like to let it go for good.

The root of your behavior runs deep in your subconscious programming, so be kind and compassionate with yourself as you take the time to learn a new way of giving and receiving love.

A habit of overgiving is developed in early childhood and comes from the dynamic in your family of origin. Every child needs to feel loved and safe in order to survive.


Children will take on any belief or behavior that brings them feelings of love and security.

Certain dynamics in childhood can foster a strategy of giving too much.

If you have a parent that is incapacitated in some way, either because of illness, alcoholism or depression, you can feel compelled to step into the role of physical or emotional caretaker for that parent. You may even be rewarded with attention or affection for putting their needs above your own.

Having a sibling that requires more attention and resources than the rest of the family can also plant the seeds for overgiving.

You may have found yourself having to give up what you wanted for the good of the family or because your sibling’s needs were deemed more important.


Maybe you were forced to become a parental figure for your younger siblings because your parents were working too much, or because you were raised in a single-parent household. It’s common that the older, more capable child is tasked with taking care of younger siblings before being emotionally ready to step into the role of an adult.

Oftentimes being the middle child in an unhealthy environment where there is physical or emotional abuse can cause a child to play the role of peacemaker and sacrifice what they want to keep the peace in the family unit.

No matter your past circumstances it is important to realize that the events of your childhood were not your fault. You are not to blame for the dysfunction in your family, nor are you stuck with this strategy forevermore.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Get Love & Appreciation In Your Relationship When It Feels Like You're Being Taken For Granted


You are not bound to be an overgiver

Just because there were challenges in your childhood that caused you to develop the strategy of giving too much and sacrificing your needs doesn’t mean that you are doomed to be stuck in this pattern for the rest of your life.

You can learn new strategies for giving and receiving love, develop healthier boundaries, and begin a practice of self-care that boosts your self-esteem. The first step is to acknowledge your habit of giving too much and recognize that it is not serving you.

Others played a part in your developing this habit in the first place. Some of your siblings chose other roles in the family dynamic — the problem child, the rebel, the overachiever, etc. You were the one who chose the role of overgiver. Remember, you were too young to know any better.

You just wanted to feel loved and safe, and your personality lent itself to a strategy of sacrifice.


It helps to feel compassion for that little child who just wanted to feel loved. When you take responsibility for the fact that you developed the strategy in the first place, you place yourself in the driver’s seat of being able to create change and learn new strategies that serve you.

RELATED: How To Be Yourself In A Relationship, No Matter How Deep In Love You Are

9 skills you can practice now — so you can stop being an overgiver in your next relationship

1. Pay attention to your feelings

If in past relationships you never spoke up about not feeling acknowledged, or you stuffed feelings of anger toward your SO for not reciprocating a kind gesture, or you suffered in silence because you didn’t want to make a fuss, it’s time to develop a practice of identifying your feeling state.

When you’re stuck in a habit of overgiving, your focus is on how your partner feels, and often you may not recognize your own growing anger and resentment.


Feelings of anger and resentment are the telltale sign that you have gone into sacrifice in a relationship, and if you’re not careful those feelings will spill out onto your partner at the most inopportune times.

It is through your feeling state that you create an emotional connection. If your desire is to cherry-pick and only share the feel-good stuff with your SO you may be harboring anger and resentment by not clearing up small issues as they occur.

Being able to share your feelings — all of them, the good, the bad, and the ugly — are part of being in a healthy long-term intimate relationship. Start off by simply identifying and acknowledging your feelings throughout the day, and once in a while sharing them with a close friend or family member.

This practice will pay off in your next relationship when you’re in a new habit of labeling and speaking about your feelings.


RELATED: 3 Rituals All The Best Spouses Do For Each Other Every Single Day

2. Fill your own cup first

The habit of giving too much in your relationships is worsened because you are typically giving from an empty cup.

Imagine that your personal energy is liquid in a cup and every time you give to someone, you’re emptying a little of that liquid to help them. If you don’t make sure your cup is full, eventually your cup will run dry. This leads to feelings of exhaustion, frustration, and loneliness.

Fill your cup first before serving anyone else. Discover the activities or practices that fill you up when you are down. Meditate, take yourself on an inner child date, read a good book, or spend some time on self-care.


In order to be of service to anyone in your life, you must fill your own cup rather than expecting that someone else will do it for you. Then you’re able to be of service without going into sacrifice. Make sure your cup is full and you’ll have plenty of energy to give to those you love.

3. Don’t commit in the moment

People who have a habit of giving too much in their relationships tend to say “Yes” to every request before thinking if they have the time or energy to accept. You end up feeling overburdened and resentful of the person making the requests.

Practice saying, “Let me get back to you,” when someone asks for your help. This way you can break the habit of agreeing before you know if you are available or not. Buy yourself some time to see if you really have the energy, time, and ability to help without going into sacrifice.

Take a moment when you are alone to consider the request. Imagine yourself saying yes to the request and seeing how it feels in your body. If you feel any resistance, tiredness, or frustration, then your answer is “no.” If, however, it feels energizing to agree, then you know that you are available to help and truly be of service.


Remember, by saying “no” to their request you are not saying that you don’t love or value them. What you’re doing is making sure that you aren’t sacrificing yourself to order to earn love.

RELATED: Is He Taking Advantage Of You? 8 Signs You're Trying Way Too Hard To Make Your Relationship Work

4. Practice setting healthy boundaries

When you have a habit of giving too much, at some point you get tired and frustrated and wonder when it’s your turn. This can cause you to set really hard boundaries in reaction to feeling overburdened.

Healthy boundaries are created when you understand what is your responsibility, and what is not. You are only responsible for what you think, feel, and do. You are not responsible for what other people think, feel, or do. Overgiving can be triggered by your need to help your partner feel better, be happy, or as an attempt to feel loved.


You have no control over how another person thinks, feels, or acts. If your partner is upset or frustrated, it’s not your job to fix it. Keep your side of the street clean, and don’t try to clean your partner’s side of the street (that’s their job).

A healthy long-term relationship lasts because both people take responsibility for their feelings rather than expecting the other person to clean things up for them. This takes practice so be kind and compassionate with yourself as you embark on this learning curve.

5. Don’t give to get

Sometimes the strategy of giving too much has a hidden agenda. Usually, this agenda is hidden from your consciousness (and also from your partner). If you are giving as an attempt to make you feel loved, safe, in control, useful, or for any other reason, then you are giving to get.

Pay attention to your motivation when you do something nice for a significant other. Practice now with other people in your life that you’re close with. If your desire to give comes with an expectation from the recipient you are giving as a form of manipulation.


Only when you come from love with non-attachment to the response you get are you in alignment for your highest good. Being of service does feel good, and service is its own reward. It is not a tool to make you feel better about yourself or to earn love, approval, or acceptance.

To break the habit of giving too much take a pause before you take an action that has an expectation of receiving something back. Release the desire for any reciprocation and see if you can simply give from a place of love with zero anticipation of getting something back.

RELATED: 3 Things You Need To Do If You're Stuck In A One-Sided Relationship

6. Practice receiving

Most people who are stuck in a habit of overgiving tend to have a problem receiving or asking for help when they need it. Accepting a compliment, assistance, support, love, or affection from others doesn’t make you selfish it makes you human. You can practice receiving without reciprocating so you can exercise your receiving muscles.


Start saying “yes” to all offers of help and support instead of telling people that you got it and you don’t need help. Just say “thank you” when someone gives you a compliment instead of downplaying yourself or reciprocating by offering a compliment back.

The more you practice receiving, the more you step into your feminine energy and give a man the space to step into his masculine energy and provide things for you (even if it’s simply emotional support or opening your water bottle).

Giving is inherently masculine, so when you have a habit of giving too much you are acting more from your masculine side instead of your feminine side. This could result in relationships with men who are more in their feminine energy and are happy to receive from you without ever giving back.

The key to breaking this cycle is to regularly ask for help when you need it, even if you have the big, difficult things down. You may find it’s nice to allow someone else to cook dinner, do the laundry, or ask what you need and provide it.


7. Ask for what you need and want

Attraction or deep feelings of love do not come with mind-reading powers. The person you end up in a relationship with has no idea what you need or want. The right partner for you will want to know and you’ll need to speak up and share about them.

Your needs will never be met if you’re simply hoping a partner somehow picks up on your subtle signals. Most men will never pick up on clues and in the early part of the dating process, it’s inefficient for a man to focus on your needs and wants (over other women he may be interested in).

The woman who spells it out for him will allow him to know what to do for her rather than making it a mystery. Men actually LOVE it when you tell them what you need and want from them. He can either provide those things for you or deselect you – either way, you won’t waste your time with a guy who isn’t an ideal match ever again.


Practice making requests and see how the people who care about you respond. Ask for help when you need it, and you’ll discover that you have people in your life who are there to support you and it's great practice for you to receive.

RELATED: 13 Signs You're In A One-Sided Relationship (And He's Not Pulling His Weight)

8. You don’t have to earn love

Love is not something that you have to earn or prove you are worthy of. You are inherently worth loving. Giving too much can come from a desire to show how valuable you are as a partner.

You teach people how to treat you and when you overgive to earn love, you teach any potential partner to expect that from you.


When you recognize that you are the prize, and you need to do nothing more than be yourself you can release the need to give too much and go into sacrifice.

You came into the world as the human embodiment of the energy of love, just like every other baby. Just because you adopted a strategy of giving too much as a child doesn’t mean you have to continue with this same strategy for giving and receiving love.

Even famous poets write about the infinite measure of love, like one of our favorites from the poet Hafiz:

“And still, after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

9. Give on your own terms

You can break the habit of giving too much in your relationships and still be a generous person. The key is to start giving on your own terms, not on somebody else’s desires or expectations. You can give in secret without sharing that you were responsible. You can decide you’ll never go into sacrifice in order to give to someone else.


Giving on your own terms means that you are giving from an overabundance of love in your heart. You have so much love inside of you that you can’t wait to share it with others. When you give from this place you feel energized and fulfilled.

There is no higher power that will reward you for over-giving and going into sacrifice because that habit doesn’t serve your highest and best self. Start practicing these skills today to break the habit of over-giving.

RELATED: 3 Reasons Why The Best Wives Nurture — Not 'Mother' — Their Husbands

Orna and Matthew Walters are Soulmate Coaches who have been featured guest experts on Bravo’s "The Millionaire Matchmaker." They're the authors of the free ebook, "7 Steps To Soulmating," which can be found on their website.