I’ve always been generous – it’s the way I live so, don’t even talk to me about limits – that’s all about deprivation…I’ve had enough limits imposed on me in my life. Still do! But, what if both generosity and limits can bring magic into our lives? To discover how, read on.
Some of us are able to be both generous and put limits in place. These are both qualified by self-care. Self-care is when our behavior, speech, thoughts, feelings and attitudes are not harmful to ourselves. But some of us are only able to be either generous OR apply limits.
Louise and Marcel always end up having the same exchange about the taps in their kitchen. When she turns on the hot-water tap, the water flows out of it in a constant stream of water. When she turns on the cold-water tap, it initially flows strongly and then it becomes a dribble. Then she has to stop washing her hands or whatever it is she is cleaning and turn it some more for a consistent flow. She immediately feels irritated then. It feels like such an effort for her. For Louise, it is a no-brainer to use the hot-water tap. She doesn’t have the patience or inclination to play around with that cold-water tap.
She can’t remember how many times Marcel has complained when she does this. Mulling and muttering under her breath, she replays his words in her mind, “Do you know how much money it costs every time you switch on the hot-water tap?” He’d always say this! She recalls how he then gives her a run-down on how much it costs each time she does this. But by now, Louise invariably switches off. She stops listening. Being free of irritation when she uses the taps is more important. That tedious adjustment of the cold-water tap is just too much trouble for her. Sometimes she feels an almost imperceptible feeling of guilt but it’s quickly suppressed. She’s more aware of her rising feelings of rebellion. “Why does he have to fuss like this?” she thinks. “This probably makes such a small difference to the electricity account, it wouldn’t even be noticed! He’s always cramping my style.”
Generosity is the other side of the coin of limits. But, generosity is not only about money; it includes giving fully of our time, advice, and help and even amusing others. At its foundation, generosity is about caring for others. But, when you are always generous you end up not caring for your self and instead, often inflict self-harm. For example, certain people at work are unable execute their tasks and you often generously solve the problem for them but, at the same time it means that you become burdened by having to work harder because you have less time available for your own work – you become overworked. Or, you spend too much money on others – on gifts and being the one who pays for those lunches so that you end up struggling to meet your own financial requirements. This often results in ongoing financial anxiety. You might even extend this function to being excessive in your own life, as a compensation for early deprivation and constraints/limits on what you wanted and needed and also, experiencing unreasonable restrictions when you were young. For example, you find yourself buying too many clothes, getting the most expensive car, overfilling your home or garden, eating all those foods you yearned for – good for your health or not, good for your budget or not – or, being driven to create an aesthetic environment no matter the cost, which a childhood poverty situation prevented.
Why do we do this? If you look closely, you’ll notice that you are rewarded for this behavior. The gratitude, relief, happiness and enjoyment of those who receive from you bring about a great feeling in you. You feel seen, acknowledged, appreciated and happy. This is the reward. For some of us, this has been the primary way we are able to experience these good feelings. It often begins in early childhood.
Perhaps, in your early years, in a world characterized by too many externally imposed limits, you gave your talent for being funny full reign, making your parents and others laugh, and you were rewarded by feeling happy? Your excessive purchases also give you a momentary experience of reward – happiness. Because aesthetic surroundings give you daily pleasure, your money is poured into creating ambiance in your home. Generosity is a great quality to have, when it is not your only source of experiencing well-being. But this might have extended long past your childhood. Having limits imposed on you might continue to be your experience.
But, limits are not only about deprivation, restrictions, restraints, confinement or, frustration of goals and pleasures. But, for some of us, this was our experience of childhood. As a result, once we are grown up, some of us apply overly strict limits to our lives in order to not suffer financial deprivations. This is often accompanied by self-harm rather than self-care. For example, we might excessively restrict our pleasures and needs and what we want in order to have that safe, big bank balance. For others, limits have become tainted. The very word “limit” might evoke a shudder of distaste. For example, if you merely set up a tight budget, it is likely to be characterized by that same feeling of early deprivation, restriction or, frustration of goals and pleasures. This limit thus becomes punishment for you all over again. You will soon ditch that budget. If you decide not to spend hours advising that colleague or always paying for those lunches, you will miss out on those rewards of a warm feeling happiness. It might thus feel impossible to change this behavior. You might not be able to put a limit, or boundary on that client or supplier who flirts with you during business transactions. Indeed, you probably have no idea how you can limit this behavior and how to stop it. These are examples of how we often don’t know how to apply limits. We only learned about the negative side of limits and simply don’t know the language or behavior for setting healthy, boundaries.
But, just as generosity is self-care in terms of acting such that you feel happy and experience well-being by making others happy, so are limits a function of self-care. For example, you limit your spending to what you really want and like, not according to an excessive need to prevent a feeling of deprivation or to fill that hole – that feeling of lack. You limit that urge to buy that new coat this season, you limit your grocery spending to a reasonable percentage of your salary instead of buying more than you can eat while watching your credit card balance skyrocketing – and often throwing away the excess food that’s rotting in your fridge. But these limits MUST be qualified by self-care. You MUST experience a feeling of satisfaction, regard for self, and happiness with these decisions – sense that you are showing self-care toward yourself – experience this as a reward, as a result of feelings of satisfaction and happiness. Failing this, if you feel deprived, your good intentions will crumble and instead of feeling happy, you will spiral into the old pattern of self-harm, which manifests as anxiety, fear, guilt, self-recrimination and negative experiences of limitation being imposed on you – by yourself now.
For example, stopping that client or supplier from flirting with you by applying the inner view – a limit – that “flirting belongs to my social life but not my business life” might result in discomfort for the flirter, but you will be rewarded by the good feeling of happiness and satisfaction in your business dealings. This is “limit” qualified by care of self. Putting a grocery and spending budget in place that allows you to eat and live according to what you like and want, but not excessively so that you have to throw rotting food (which equals your hard-earned money) into the trashcan is caring for yourself. Budgets MUST be qualified by self-care otherwise they will fail. It needs to feel caring for you to have the energy and time you need to do your own job and derive happiness at the thought of doing this for yourself as opposed to struggling with time and loss of energy by always helping someone else who, should either be doing a different job if they can’t do their work adequately or, might need to put in some more effort. It’s always about self-care. This does not mean that you never help someone else; it means that you choose according to context so that you also care for yourself – not only others. Caring for yourself, you could be rewarded by relief when you stop those advertising messages and emails you once signed up for but which now take up your time daily by needing to delete them. And, it could feel rewarding to wash your clothes in cooler water to keep their colors fresh and bright and to stop wearing them out too soon so that you feel compelled to replace them. Limits must always be qualified by self-care, which means you are rewarded by good emotions, pleasurable emotions, and you are not harming yourself financially or otherwise.
One day, Louise was going through her credit card expenses. She also noticed how low her savings were. She couldn’t see a way to do it all differently. She’d tried setting up budgets – to no avail – at least once or twice a year… for years now. But, before she knew it, she’d bought yet another dress or another ornament for her home. She’d bought too much food. It would rot. She’d invariably have to secretly dispose of it, so that Marcel wouldn’t see this.
It was as if she was always driven. As she entered the shopping centre and walked past the stores on her way to shop for groceries – she habitually always wanted to walk past the shops first – she always felt a comfortable, familiar feeling envelop her. What delights might be waiting for her on this day? What unexpected surprises could the stores hold? She’d walk into shop after shop, looking through the racks of clothing or into the store windows with their many wares – an invitation to walk inside and buy that beautiful vase, so aesthetically displayed. The funny thing was that Louise didn’t have anything particular that she wanted to buy. She’d just look until something would capture her attention and then, like a sleepwalker, she’d buy it. It was easy to do with a credit card. Then she’d walk off with a fuzzy, warm feeling inside her, her thoughts continually going to the shopping bag and her new “valuable prize” – again and again…imaging how it was going to make her life so much happier. In a strange way, any new “treasure” repeatedly made her feel as if she’d become something more, had become the person she unceasingly wanted to be, but always fell short of being.
But, today was different. She was reflecting on those annual expenses such as her car licence, about unexpected expenses such as that sudden need for a costly dentist visit. She got caught out every time. She had to juggle her money and cut down on buying for a while. She always felt some panic and anxiety at these times as she sought to manage her finances. And then, the feelings of limits, confinement and a low-level, but ongoing flatness would follow.
But, today was different. She felt as if she’d somehow woken up. “What if I choose to put some limits on myself?” she thought – with some surprise. “What if I choose to only buy what I want and need? What if I specifically choose to keep less food in our home? What of I choose to stop putting huge, generous amounts of food on the table? Now that I think about it, that’s a ridiculous thing to do! I act as every meal is a feast, in fact a smorgasbord – what’s that about?” As she pondered on this, Louise could imagine how her savings would increase and how – what a relief, she could save some money every month towards all those annual and unexpected expenses. It would be so great to have it available when she needed it. That felt even better. She almost felt as if something was physically changing in her. The thought of potentially being able to buy whatever she wanted, without buying it – of rather keeping her money – began to feel very appealing. A feeling of relief and greater peace fell upon her. That inner drivenness was melting away.
The best part was that when Louise went grocery shopping the next time – and every time after that, she noticed that she was becoming very particular about how she used her money. She’d look at something and then think, “No. I don’t want that, I have enough.” And now, instead, she’d have that same fuzzy, warm feeling as she thought about the money she’d just saved by not spending it unnecessarily. And then…relief from Marcel’s nagging comments around those kitchen taps. Of her own accord, Louise had realized that it was rather thoughtless on her part to waste money needlessly by using that hot-water tap. Small expenses add up. But the real reason was that placing limits on herself in terms of mindless wasting was starting to infiltrate every area of her life. And it felt just so good. Her image of herself, her self-regard was getting better by the day. “Strange,” she though a few weeks later, “ I can’t understand why it felt so difficult to use this silly cold-water tap and to quickly coax it into a free-flowing consistent stream of water? It’s taken a bit of practicing to break that old habit but I have, and I feel so, so satisfied!”
When limits start giving you rewards in terms of generating good feelings, in the same way that generosity does, you’ll be able to choose EITHER of these options, depending on the context. Both limits AND generosity MUST be qualified by self-care if we are to be rewarded by a feeling of happiness and want to live a good, fulfilling life.
Bring some magic into your life! Ideas developed by Leslie Zimmermann.
MA in Research Psychology, Cum Laude (Witwatersrand University, South Africa),
Post-graduate Diplomate, Accredited Analytical Psychologist (Switzerland)
Member: SAPC (South African Psychoanalytic Confederation)
Member: IAAP (International Association for Analytical Psychology
Member: SAAJA South Africa
Leslie Zimmermann is an accredited Jungian Analyst trained in the philosophy and psychology of C.G. Jung in Zürich and is based in Johannesburg. She offers a range of services, which she integrates, to meet the needs and aspirations of people. In a word, her work is in the service of wholeness. Wholeness includes both our vulnerabilities and our strengths, becoming conscious of our own unique mix of these, honoring our own unique way of functioning and with this knowledge and confidence, contributing as only we each can in our own way, to this evolving world we find ourselves to be a part of.
Besides having a Diplomate qualification in Analytical psychology, which qualifies me to write about the theory and practice of dream interpretation, I also have an Honours degree in Applied Psychology and a Masters degree in Research psychology, which qualify me to write about theories of human development, personality, abnormal psychology, social psychology, neuropsychology, sociology and ethics. Also, theories and knowledge pertaining to sleep and dreams from a symbolic perspective including neuropsychological and biological systems.