Do you feel joy when you volunteer your time? How can you prevent that joy from turning into resentment? Many of us enjoy sharing our time, talents, and treasures with others, but occasionally we become disillusioned and lose sight of the purpose. The Bible tells us that "God loves a cheerful giver." But sometimes we lose the joy of giving, helping, or serving others because we expect something in return or find ourselves disappointed that we aren't acknowledged or publicly appreciated. Perhaps we hoped to have a greater impact on others and or expected to see a bigger difference in the lives of the people we serve. Or we may feel taken advantage of and manipulated by those in charge of the volunteer process. Sometimes we simply overextend ourselves for others and neglect our own needs in the process. Those of us who like to give and help others tend to minimize our own desires assuming that we can get by with less. We may not realize until much later that resentment was building over time and we began to detach from those around us. Pretty soon the resentment from our tendency to say yes to all requests turns into deafening no's eluding a healthy balance. So why do "givers" have an especially difficult time setting boundaries?
People who like giving and serving sometimes struggle with saying no, setting limits, and maintaining healthy boundaries. When we think of a physical boundary we may picture a fence that surrounds our property line and delineates where our property ends and our neighbor's begins. Most fences have a gate that can either be open or shut. While some fences are used to keep others out, sometimes the fence provides more aesthetic value than practical use. Ultimately we decide who we let inside our fence and who we keep out and we should be monitoring our gate at all times. Sometimes we have to deal with boundary violators and fence jumpers. The analogy helps us understand the boundary concept and setting our emotional limits with people and activities. We may have difficulties with boundary setting or enforcing because our guilt and fear override our ability to set limits. We may want to make others happy at the expense of ourselves. Sometimes we put ourselves last because we believe that is the right thing to do. But just as we maintain our physical boundary, our emotional boundary is as equally important if not more so. We teach others how to treat us by the way we treat ourselves. Serving gives us purpose and meaning, but occasionally it becomes our entire identity. Our own insecurities can drive our need to be needed and make us dependent upon approval and recognition from others.
Of course volunteering has many positive benefits for the person serving and to the people being served. So how do we discern when we're experiencing burnout or boundary crossing? One sign could be if we often feel physically and/or emotionally exhausted or lose satisfaction with our role. Sometimes becoming critical and cynical of the organization, being asked to expand your duties outside of your comfort zone or feeling very little control over your volunteer position signal red flags. Or maybe you worry unduly and your sleeping or eating habits have changed dramatically. What can we do to change our situation? For starters, we need to accept that we can't be everything to everybody. As mentioned above, we need to communicate our thoughts and feelings directly and be able to say no. We will also benefit from emotional support from others to help us find a healthy balance in life. Ultimately, we need to set and maintain our boundaries by taking care of ourselves so we can take good care of others. Make giving a choice, not an obligation.