Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Have You Killed the Angel of Perpetual Giving?

Perpetual GivingIn her time, Virginia Woolf struggled with stereotypical expectations of women and the expression of truth as a writer.  These challenges congealed into a phantom Woolf called “The Angel in the House,” after the character in a well known poem of the day.

“I will describe her as shortly as I can.  She was intensely sympathetic.  She was immensely charming.  She was utterly unselfish.  She excelled in the difficult arts of family life.  She sacrificed herself daily.  If there was a chicken, she took the leg; if there was draught she sat in it – in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.”

The Angel in the House tormented Woolf whenever she began to write, coaxing her to:

“Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own.”

But, finally Woolf stood her down.

“I turned upon her and caught her by the throat.  I did my best to kill her.  My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defense.  Had I not killed her she would have killed me.  She would have plucked the heart out of my writing.”

The Angel of Perpetual Giving

I swear Woolf’s phantom has a  twin sister named The Angel of Perpetual Giving.

Do you know her too?

Do you become so preoccupied helping others, there’s hardly a moment for your own writing or work?   I confess:  perpetual giving had soaked through my bones.  It seemed I could not separate it out from my self for the life of me.  Yet I know deep down this automatic response does not constitute intelligent giving, compassionate contribution, or intentional helpfulness.  It’s merely profound neurosis at its very worst.

Out of sheer overwhelm and despair, I cried out.  But, how would I kill this Angel of Perpetual Giving?   Even Woolf found her invisible Angel intractable, and near impossible to subdue.

“It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time. Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”

If not for good friends, I would be lost indeed.  With patience and care, they persuaded me to see it’s not just time I give away, but money to boot.  If someone asked me for $500 would I hand it over without a thought?  But asked for the equivalent in time and I would give it with glee.  How is it labeled, this sickness that had befallen me?

Now that my synapses have made the connection – there’s a relationship between time and money – I’ll be more hesitant to give it away for free.  I’ll practice my script:

“Yes, I’m happy to help.  I charge XYZ.”

Or, I’ll say “no” to the stream of favors asked repeatedly.  No more Miss Nice Girl, at long last!

That doesn’t mean I won’t help if I really care.  But, I’ve dismantled the automatic switch that says, “Blindly give”.  Each choice will come with a pause followed by mindful intention and an eye to the limits of time.

Do you know these angels?  Have they visited you?  Have you killed the Angel of Perpetual Giving?  If so, please tell us how?

Excerpts from the essay Professions for Women by Virginia Woolf

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  1. I seem to do okay with this. Not sure how I learned to say no, but somewhere along the way I did. After I retired, I added other things to my no list, like anything that requires attendance at meetings. Would I be on the board of such and such? Do you have meetings? Uh, yes. Sorry.

    It’s a bit trickier with legal advice, since my area of expertise is contracts, and all of us are involved with contracts of one kind or another. But I have still found ways to say no. Unless it’s really okay with me to help and then I do.

    The flip side of this is when we ask for help from a professional. Sometimes I ask for help from someone who might be willing to do it as a favor to me. Even so, I always start by stating clearly that I expect to pay for the services. Then if they offer to do it for free, I can accept graciously, or offer to pay part, depending on the circumstances. It’s important to me to not take advantage of those who might feel obligated to offer something to me for free.

    Great post, as always.

    • Hi Galen,

      This is a great primer on saying now and also how to respect other people’s professional services. I’m glad that it’s relatively easy for you to protect your time so you can focus on what’s truly important to you!

  2. jean sampson

    I am getting a lot better at saying “No” to things I would only do from a sense of guild or obligation. But I still have to be careful and thoughtful and, if I can remember to do it, say, ” I will get back to you on that after I have some time to think about it.” If they are urgent, they will usually lose me, no matter what, because I do NOT like to be rushed or pushed!

    • Jean,

      It really does help to give ourselves some space to think it through, doesn’t it? I’m so glad you’ve underscored this! You seem to be making fabulous progress. Being careful and thoughtful in the moment are excellent qualities.

  3. Oh Sandra we are kindred spirits! This wretched angel arrived in my life at a very young age. She kept me in an abusive relationship for 27 years. Finally my life imploded and fell apart completely. I was picked up by my brothers, who wrestle with the same angel. They introduced me to codependent’s anonymous and the 12 step recovery program associated with that organization. At that point I became notsgg “not such a good girl.” I have made progress, but it is very slow.

    • Oh Sharon, I’m sorry you have been through so much suffering! How wonderful you found your way out into the land of “notsgg.” It’s beautiful to see you blooming, though it may be slow, I feel confident there is more goodness to come.

  4. Yes I relate to this as here I am on other people’s blog commenting and sharing first thing in the morning when I have my own new blog post to share, a book to write and more. Yes I know these angels so well and no I haven’t found a way to kill of the Angel of Pertpetual Giving. I am looking forward to seeing how you go with your dismantled automatic switch . I am now going off to block in time that is yes time for me with the question; Will this move me towards my intention or pull me away and as i wrote this i am going to make a new poster that replaces intention with Heart’s desire
    thanks for resharing this wonderful post
    namaste XX

    • Suzie, I love this question as to whether something is your “heart’s desire.” We all get distracted in the smaller stuff at times don’t we? It takes regular reminders and continuous training to stay with our heart’s desire. We’re getting there! It much easier for me than when I originally wrote this post. You have so much inspiration to share and benefit others, I’m sure you will find your way too. Much love!

  5. Balance and grace are a perpetual challenge. I haven’t a solution besides practice. If I give too much I do experience burnout, but it passes with rest. I have to give myself enough first, or I proffer gifts unwisely. But the “enough” is always under consideration. I haven’t killed the Angel. I work to make her visits by appointment.

    • Nice, Mike! Love this > “I work to make her visits by appointment.” Rest, I believe, is our savior until we do find our own measure of balance and grace.

  6. Hi Sandra….Thanks for reposting or I would have missed this great post. This Angel has truly overpowered me! I have never thought of killing it and now, after reading this thought provoking article, I have some introspection to do. I have spent all my life with this Angel, drawing immense satisfaction from the fact that I have done whatever I could do for my family as a child and later as a wife and a mother.It gives me a strange feeling of being attached! Sometimes I get a feeling I must get out and join an NGO to do more.
    Blessed are those who live with this Angel!

    • Hi Balroop,

      It sounds like you receive great satisfaction from giving unless I’ve misunderstood you. I’m a big believer in service and giving of the self too. My struggle is with giving unconsciously without greater thought of what is really for the most good of all. I hope that makes sense. When I think of great leaders like the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, or Mother Teresa I imagine that they are thoughtful in how they give so they are able to truly make a difference in this world. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  7. Isn’t it tricky?
    Lately things fall through the cracks, because if there is less expectation one can’t drive oneself crazy staying up all night meeting them. And it’s all a show anyway.
    That’s what stops the craving to make experiences ‘meaningful’ – of course they will blossom in their own time. They are much more significant when they manifest naturally…


    • Yes, I think it is tricky! Sometimes it’s our ego that is giving out of neurosis rather than a genuine giving of the heart. Thanks for highlighting that! Love to you, Rich.

  8. Sandra, I love this!

    I’ve told so many people–mainly women–to remember that they, too, are a part of humanity. We separate people into two groups: “me” and “others.” That’s a pretty lonely place for us to be!

    Instead, I tell myself that I need to do what’s right for whoever has the most pressing need. Over the past year, that has meant spending a LOT of time on myself. Only recently has it balanced out, but I am still very good at saying “no” to things that are only obligations.

    Balance is key, and I think the majority of women give themselves the smaller piece of the pie.

    • Hi Bethany,

      Yes, I love this idea of thinking of “all of us” instead of “self” and “others.” In order to be of genuine service to others, we do need to transform our own mind first. Otherwise our service will only come from attachment or ego. Yes, I think it’s necessary to reject what appears to be obligation and look for the deepest way to heal and server. Thanks for your thoughts.

  9. An important post, Sandra. Thank you. I too have an Angel of Perpetual Giving sitting on my shoulder. For example, last week I developed four proposals to prospective clients. Two were for small amounts that wouldn’t adequately recoup my investment of time, and two were pro-bono arrangements. On top of that, developing the proposals took many hours. Mad!

    I love your script, and am going to use it myself.

    • Dearest Narelle,

      My heart is with you! This is such a tender example. I wish you the very best in turning this around. Good luck with using the script. Thanks for having the courage to share your story. So many of us are grappling with the very same challenge. We’ll kick this together!

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