Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

Letting Go of Shame During Seasons of Feeling Like You Take More than You Give in Relationships

Have you ever had a conversation during which you spoke about yourself and your life more than 50% of the time?

What did you say at the end of it? Probably something to the effect of “sorry for talking so much about myself” rather than something like “thank you for listening and being such a great friend to me.”

It’s a lot easier to say “don’t worry about it – that’s what friends are for” when we’re the one on the listening end. When we’re on the talking end, how difficult is it to believe that?

There’s a lot of value in our society placed on being someone who gives more than they take. The shadow side of this is that when we’re having seasons when we are exhausted, feeling like we don’t have much to give, and thinking we’re not keeping up with our 50% of a friendship, we can feel a ton of shame. Accepting help can feel shameful and embarrassing – and asking for it even more so.

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I say this because I know what it feels like. I’ve had a really, really rough summer thus far. I’ve been depressed during all of it because two of the very most important relationships in my life changed suddenly, including my relationship with my beloved partner, with whom I am now just friends (or, at least, trying to become friends after a period of serious grief and necessary distance), and because I’ve been given random pieces of unpleasant health news and am going to more appointments than I have in years in order to do preventative care. This depression and the fog it leaves in its wake has affected every aspect of my life over the past month or so (hello, really bad grade in Greek; hello, frequent tears; and hello, needing a lot of encouragement and pushes to get back up). Though I now feel like I’m on the up-and-up, it’s felt nearly impossible at times.

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I’ve sometimes struggled with accepting help and love during periods like this. A few years ago, when I felt my call to ministry, I heard the words, “You were born to help people who feel like they have nothing left.” I live by these words. I almost always give more than I receive – it’s just the way it’s worked out, and I don’t worry about it because I know that I have more than enough.

The shadow side of this beautiful call and way of living is that I get worried when I’m receiving more than I’m giving during difficult and foggy seasons. What if the ones who are giving me love get tired of me and walk away? What does this mean about me as a person? Am I good enough? Am I enough? I can feel so much guilt and shame.

The beautiful thing is that during this season, I’m finally realizing – and finally wrestling to accept – that I sometimes will be the one who feels like they have nothing left – and that’s okay. I don’t always have to be the helper or the giver.

There is no shame in accepting others’ love or telling others that you’re going through a hard time and that you would love companionship more than usual.

 

When you’re struggling to accept this, here are some coping thoughts from my brilliant therapist (because guess what? I asked because I was struggling with this).

1. It’s natural to have ebbs and flows in relationships and periods when one friend is supporting the other more. You likely have supported these friends in the past and you will again in the future when you’re at a better point and they may need you. You don’t have to feel like you “owe” the person something; instead, trust that if they need you, you’ll be there.

2. Moments when we let others in, let them see our struggles and if needed, allow them to help and support us – these are what deepen relationships. Your closest friends are probably the ones you’ve been through things with rather than the friends you have neater, cleaner relationships with because these relationships are hard to move past surface level.

3. It’s okay to lean on others. If your thinking is taking you to a place where you’re focusing too much on what you should be able to do or what you should feel, try you best to quiet those thoughts of shoulds and shame and instead accept that you need help right now – and that’s okay. You’re allowed to ask for it.

4. Try to rethink the notion of not having much to give because you’re struggling. You don’t have to be at your absolute best to have something to give. You can still be your beautiful self even when you’re sad. The idea of not having anything to give or believing that you’d be depressing or annoying or boring to hang out with right now can convince people to stop making plans with you and that’s the opposite of what’s good for you during this time.

5. On that note, avoid isolating yourself, even though that’s likely the natural inclination. Remember that it’s okay to call it a day if you’ve been struggling all day and just aren’t feeling it, but try not to let that become a series of days. If you let it become a series of days, it generally leaves you to overthink your sad thoughts as opposed to having experiences by yourself or with others that may challenge those sad thoughts, provide some joy, or at the very least distract you. Keep getting out of the house, even – and especially – when you don’t feel like it. Sometimes, you may wish you had stayed home, but really, you’re more likely to experience moments of surprise and little (or even big) joys. So keep getting up and out.

6. General getting-through-depression advice:

  • Remind yourself that this period of trouble will get better and easier and that it won’t feel like this forever.
  • Pay attention to the ups and downs and maybe jot down a couple of quick notes about what’s happening if you notice moments that seem to represent the worst and best that you’ve been feeling recently.
  • Do things that naturally help you to feel better like eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising, and to try your best to prioritize these things. (You can exercise with a friend or share a meal with them, too! Avoiding isolation and killing two birds with one stone: Check).
  • Build in plenty of activities that are meaningful or enjoyable to you, especially ones that come naturally to you and are not a struggle, where you feel really competent.

Friends, if I can try to do these things and believe these coping thoughts, I know that you can too. I know that if I reach out to others when my true wish is to isolate because I don’t feel good enough or polished enough to be seen, you can too. I know that if I can receive love, you can too.

 

 

These are just a few of the people who have held me up during this period. Having deep friendships with friends and family members who have hearts of gold is worth more than just about anything. 

Let go of the shame you might be feeling or you just might miss the moments when people are offering love to you. Let others in – do not push them away. And if people don’t know you’re struggling because you’re used to putting up walls and wearing masks, break the walls and put down the masks. (If you have no idea where to begin with this one, I recommend that you check out Brené Brown’s work, especially her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” or her TED talk about vulnerability and authenticity as things that help us fight shame and isolation. Her work has changed my life). You deserve to be seen and to know that you can ask for help without a sense of guilt and worry about not giving enough or being deserving of others’ love. 

 

There are no scales (“Am I giving 50-50?”) in really strong relationships, no moment when real friends will weigh a hypothetical balance and say that you’re coming up short. People who know how to have deep and meaningful relationships know that we all go through seasons when we need more help than we are able to give, when we aren’t the most fun person at a party, when we need encouragement and love more often than usual.

Friends, you are loved and you are enough – whatever season you may be in. Believe it and let it sink into your heart. Change your passwords to “IAmEnough” if you have to. Take a whiteboard marker and write it on your mirror. Remember moments when people have told you that they love you and are there for you. Whatever you need to do, whatever you need to believe, do it so you can let go of the shame and guilt you may be feeling.

During the seasons of pain, let people help you get what you need. Let people love you. It’ll be you on the giving side soon enough.

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