Generosity feels good. Until the receiver doesn’t see it as generous. What hurts even more is when the receiver looks at the gift and questions, “That’s it?”
I’ve been on both ends: the generous giver and the ungrateful receiver.
I once offered a job to a friend who was struggling. She wanted to try something different and needed some extra cash. I created a position for her with my business and offered her an hourly rate that was far above her experience and education. I knew it would be a huge sacrifice for me to pay her so much, but I wanted to offer as much support as I could.
Her response shocked me. She was disappointed with the pay. She knew how much I made as a therapist, and thought I should therefor be paying her closer to what I made.
She was not a therapist. She had no related education or experience. It activated the part of me that wanted to scream, “Do you have any idea what it has taken for me to get here???”
It also felt awful. I went above and beyond to be generous and my silver platter was seen as scraps.
Over time, the therapist in me was able to step back and psychoanalyze the situation. The individual was in a stressful period (when you’re stressed it’s hard to see and connect with others) and didn’t genuinely understand the amount of education, life experience, effort, and financial investment it took for me to get to where I am in my private practice.
She also did not understand that what I charge for a therapy session is not the same as an hourly wage. Therapy session fees are the only income I receive, even though I work more hours outside the therapy room than in it (educating myself, preparing for sessions, cleaning the space, taking therapy notes, interacting with potential clients, maintaining marketing, and more).
In her stressed state, she simply was not able to understand me on that level. It hurt. I had to hold the pain and relationship strain until she could step out of her own pain and truly see me.
It needed time. This is often what it takes when there are large hurts around generosity. I know this because I’ve also been on the side of being an ungrateful receiver full of expectations.
When I was in high school, my parents paid for my brother’s college tuition. When it came time for me to go to college, I received scholarships that covered my tuition. My parents helped pay for some of my living expenses, but also expected me to get a job to cover the rest. I was extremely bitter and resentful. I knew how much they had paid for my brother. It paled in comparison to what they gave me and I thought their silver platter was scraps.
There was nothing they could have said to convince me otherwise.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I sat down with my dad to apologize for my resentment and acknowledge his generosity (my mom had already passed, though I’d like to think she can hear my apology wherever she is now).
It took life experience for my perspective of my parents’ generosity to shift: life experience for me to understand how difficult it is to save money, let alone give it to someone else. Life experience for me to understand the complexity involved in supporting and raising kids. Life experience to know my parents didn’t have as much money as I thought they did.
As a college student, “fairness” meant equal sums of money to me. I now see that my parents acknowledged that each of us siblings had different needs and unique circumstances. They did their best to meet those unique needs with the limited budget they had.
Furthermore, I now see they didn’t owe me a dime, and yet they were very generous to a very ungrateful child. It was a privilege that I did not appreciate until I had to figure out how to work full time, go to graduate school, pay for graduate school, and still cover my own bills.
My parents had to hold that pain. The pain of being generous and instead being seen as miserly.
It wasn’t fair to them. But it was a problem only time could solve.
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