`You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.'

So said Kahlil Gibran. He lists three types of giver - the one who gives to get praise the one who gives for the pleasure of giving finally, the natural giver who can do nothing but give, is generous with everything and genuinely asks nothing in return.

I definitely belong in the second category as I have so much fun buying presents and doing things for people, it's just as much for me as the recipents.

Most of us classify ourselves as givers or takers yet the truth lies in the middle somewhere. For example, think about your friends - are they all giving in the same way, and are the takers all completely selfish?

I have one friend who is fabulous with gifts, praise, attention and suchlike but don't expect her to come to your aid in times of trouble. Another is the complete reverse - she routinely forgets my birthday, is totally unsentimental yet is the first one I'll go to when I need help of any kind. What I'm basically saying is each of us gives in our own unique way.

Is it better to give or receive? Is it better to be a giver or a taker? How much giving is too much?

I once was told by an adviser that as a giver, I could never be a taker but needed to learn how to receive. A lovely distinction. Givers find it harder to be given than takers to give, I think. Let's talk about these two profiles for a bit.

Givers are very often the first child of a family, brought up to believe that they are responsible for others. As adults, they're always the first to volunteer when help is needed. The problem is that it can become compulsive and dangerously attached to self-value. I give, therefore I am a worthy human being. It's also a difficult thing to switch off. Giving can become overpowering to others and exhausting to the giver.

Takers are likely to be the third child in the family totem pole, the most indulged one, for whom life slides along a much easier path. Taking then becomes second nature, automatic. It's not designed to be self-serving necessarily. It can be totally unself-conscious. The more predatory type of taker of course is a different animal, often the second child, insecure and needy. Unwilling to risk rejection or trust love/friendship, the taker takes as a form of self-protection and fulfilment.

It never occurs to the giver that they could be doing anything wrong. I speak from personal experience. I thought I was being a terrific person because I gave and gave till it hurt. My motives were not as pure as I thought they were at the conscious level. Under the surface, I was longing for recognition and praise.

Look at me, look at how hard I'n trying, look at how much I sacrifice, how much I do for you. Unfortunately, when you're a giver, you naturally attract takers and takers don't tend to appreciate or reciprocate. This in turn grew into resentment, anger and even bitterness. I simply couldn't understand the lack of awareness in my friends and family members to whom I was showering all this attention. I exhausted myself then when no-one noticed or seemed to care, I would fall into a great crevasse of self-pity. Why was no-one there when I finally need help, I would ask myself. It was a very unhealthy and frustrating cycle which continued for many years.

I finally broke out of this pattern when I realised that I was just hurting myself by giving too much, and for all the wrong reasons. I was just seeking approval. Yes, I was the eldest child, and yes, I was brought up to believe that it's better to give than to receive, and yes, I felt that my self-esteem was tied directly to the level of my giving. I know better now. I know that receiving is such a blessing, an act of love between the giver and the receiver.

What turned it around for me was wonderful analogy offered by a colleague. She asked me to imagine myself as a rainwater tank. If I were to keep emptying out the water contained in me, in other words, endlessly giving, I would eventually deplete myself and run totally dry. If, on the other hand, I were to keep refilling mysel instead, and replenishing my supply, I would overflow with abundance and it is the overflow that I can shre with others. So, indirectly, I actually end up with far more to give by taking care of myself first.

When I was one of those who give with pain, I was always feeling drained. Now, I give in this new way, with love. I don't give anything that doesn't bring me joy, and surprisingly, that's very little. I don't divide my day into compartments of what I like to do and what I have to do. I just do everything in the right spirit and it never feels like a burden.

Giving doesn't only involve gifts and actual things. There's also time, advice, listening, company, laughter, outings, family interaction, conversation, love, caring, empathy, financial aid -the list is endless. The problem with the concept of giving is that we often don't wait to be asked. We tend to assume that we know what others need. So, we turn up with casseroles without asking if the recipient knows how to cook, we offer advice freely without any prompting, we insist on helping, we take over, take control, disempower the receiver - all in the name of giving.

Not only is this disrespectful but it also allows no room for the receiver to reciprocate. Giving out constantly is also pushing out, creating a space between the two people involved. Receiving in the right spirit, that is, not out of greed or a taking attitude, is a graceful art. A good example of this is when people insist on a `no gift' rule at a social occasion. Again, they think they're being generous but in fact, it's a form of control, as is much of giving itself. By giving only and refusing to receive, we're denying others the gift of giving to us! Isn't that ironic? The ideal is to give and receive in equal measure, as far as possible. In my view, it's preferable to be an unapologetic taker than a giver who really just wants a pat on the back and gratitude. The silent giver, the one who has no agenda, and requires no reward - that is the kind we should strive to be. Giving is then indeed a beautiful thing.

How then can we ensure that our rainwater tanks don't run dry? Self-love is the key. All the things we might be tempted to foist onto others can be directed more appropriately to ourselves. When we love ourselves, we make sure we surround ourselves with positive relationships, have rewarding work, a comfortable home, a reliable car, we manage our money wisely, take care of our bodies, eat well, laugh, play and rest a lot, minimise stress, share love. Most importantly, we feed ourselves physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

Author's Bio: 

Charmaine is a therapist, media commentator, lecturer and professional writer with specific and extensive experience in the area of personal development/relationships/wellness/sexuality/positive life. She's had six books published over the years, three with HarperCollins. She specialises in q & a advice columns, blogs, books and feature articles that deal with the above topics.
Her style is warm, funny, easy, practical, direct. You can check her details and read her articles and columns via her website - charmainesaunders.com