When You’ve Got Nothing Left To Give

Nothing Left To Give - amber et cetera

Humans – and dare I say especially women – are told that generosity and giving are some of the pinnacles of humanity. We women especially here the virtues of the maternal instinct, the nurturing spirit we are born with.

We are all told that people who give of themselves through money, time, effort, or caring are truly outstanding, the kind of person that everyone should aspire to be.

The problem is that no one balances that statement with the simple acknowledgement that sometimes, along the way, you have nothing left to give.

I’ll make this a personal statement because I don’t necessarily want to speak for all of you. But I’ve learned recently, to my surprise actually, that there are very real limits to how much of myself I have to devote to everyone and everything outside of my own basic well-being.

I only have so much encouragement and reassurance to give to other people that everything is going to be okay. Because sometimes, I’m not sure it’s going to be okay.

I only have so much money to give. And I do give. But it’s a finite resource.

I only have so much expertise to lend to others before my own business and work starts to suffer because I’m not paying enough attention to it.

I only have so many feelings of love and affection and trust to give away when my own stores are feeling woefully depleted.

My therapist’s name is Jane. She’s awesome. But I also love that I can remember what she tells me, sometimes before I believe it myself, by drawing on my inner 90s child and telling myself that Jane Says.

Jane Says that it’s okay — and normal — that sometimes the tank is empty. That we can give and exert to the point where we simply don’t have any more.

And that it doesn’t make me a bad or selfish or insensitive person to say no, no I can’t get into this conversation right now or give you a big smile or hug you or hear your laments about your job or boyfriend because I don’t have anything left. My soul, my mind, my emotions are starving and the only resources I have to give them right now are the ones that will replenish them.

But we get empty. We just do.

I still feel selfish. I think because I was brought up to believe that good people give. Good people are selfless, they put others first. Good people don’t take and take. They give and give. Constantly. Effortlessly.

And so I’ve never found the balance between taking at an extreme or giving at an extreme.

(And see, I’m even feeling like an asshole writing this because my inner self is saying “Really, Amber? You’re such a martyr that you’re talking about how much you over-give as though that’s some kind of indication of your superiority as a person?” My inner critic really can be a bitch sometimes when I’m trying to have moments of self-awareness.)

I guess I’m writing all of this to tell you it’s okay. To tell me it’s okay.

It’s okay to be empty.

I don’t want you to stay that way, of course. I need to work on shoring myself up some before I can really be strong enough to give to others again. You need to replenish your stores, too. By finding love, and comfort, and strength in those who have it to give right now.

It’s okay to not have anything left.

Because tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, you will.

You’ll be better, and re-energized, and you’ll find strength in therapy or the woods or church or your family or your kids or a book. And then you’ll give again when others can’t.

There was a time when I didn’t quite understand the give-and-take that really comprises the universe.

But I think I’m learning.

My tank is really, really empty right now. More so than it’s been in a really long time. But this time, I know it’s temporary. I know I’ll find ways to fill it again.

And more than anything, I know it’s okay, for right now, to have nothing left to give.

  • Tanya Lee

    Totally relate to this post, and boy as you say, that inner critic is a bitch. Since I work with finances the best way for me to wrap my brain around it is to acknowledge the fact that an overdrawn account is no benefit and in fact a very large liability. It’s such a balance that can be hard to achieve and not feel the guilt of failure in the area of the dropped ball, even when the ball is only in your mind.

  • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

    Much love to you, Amber. I’m right up the road if you need me for anything. :)

  • http://janetfouts.com Janet Fouts

    It absolutely IS OK. But it still sucks, This is why some days I just get on my horse and literally ride off into the hills. She recharges my batteries big-time.

  • Randy Clark

    What a fantastic post, Amber. It reminds me why many religious traditions have some notion of sabbath – a time of rest and recharge and refuel. Much to ponder here and much to remind me, too, to refill my tank.

  • Ian

    Bravo, another beautifully written post, Amber. Even though you say your tank is empty as you wrote this, you ‘gave’ in writing it. And I hope that in a small way your tank filled up a little.

    One of our challenges is being able to let people give to us. As i think we’ve discussed before, this is such a struggle for me, but someone said (maybe it was you) that it’s in being able to receive we learn how to truly give of ourselves. Ha, I’m still working out that one.

    Grace and peace, Amber.

  • Ninsuna

    Thank you, Amber…. I found this by Googling, just feeling unable to respond to a friend’s phone call awhile ago, knowing how badly it would drain me and that I can’t afford to be drained more now, having spent too many weeks supporting those who’ve lost loved ones, handling grief from my own losses, lending an ear and a shoulder and my time and energy to yet others who are sick and weak or struggling with difficulties. It does really help to know I’m not alone in reaching this point, and I’m not a bad person to say “enough, stop, I can’t”, even when I know there’s still such great need among those I care about. So I don’t feel like a bad person, just inadequate. But I’ve come to realize humans, especially caring humans, can never feel like “enough”, can never attain the heights of our desire to be more, and that can be tough to come to terms with. I’m 63 years old and still trying.

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  • Paulina Duran

    This was such a comforting article. It really is tough to realize when this happens, specially because of the guilt that other people make you feel. Letting someone else down is not as bad as letting yourself down.