Service Vs Servitude

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This is the time of the year we often find ourselves looking back at what we have experienced, done and accomplished in order to assess both where we are and to plan for where we are going.

Lately, one of the discussions I’ve been having with clients, especially due to the nature of the holidays, is around being of service.

Some have told me they are experiencing a sense of burden from all they feel they have to do, give and be for others at this time. Some have expressed getting ready to “throw in the towel,” and “just be selfish.”

My response has been, “replace the words have to with get to, and see how you feel.” Is there a sense of lightening? Gratitude? Do you feel more of a true sense of service and less of servitude?”

In working through the patterns that leave us feeling burdened, it’s important to recognize a few things.

When we experience a sense of overwhelm or fatigue around giving and serving, it’s because we haven’t set boundaries around our own needs, and we’re tapped dry. We also have not been communicating our needs appropriately to others – or even to ourselves.

It is imperative to distinguish from where these feelings are coming. What we choose to say “yes” to and the meaning we are giving it is what is leaving us with a sense of burden, exhaustion and a bit (or more than a bit) of resentment. It is not being created by others, situations or our environment.

One client told me last week, “I love being of service to others, but I’ve been feeling like I’m giving more than I’m receiving. Of course, I don’t like this, because it shouldn’t be about what I get, but about what I give. I just cannot seem to help it! Then I start feeling guilty about all of this, and I beat up on myself for even thinking and feeling this way, at all!”

Giving to others when we are filled, ourselves, is not something that leaves us feeling empty. When we ensure we have what we need and we value who we are, we can come from a place of strength and can choicefully serve from the heart.

When giving and serving has us feeling less than, in any way, perhaps, we are working from a pattern of perceived servitude and not from a place of sustained service, at all.

So, let’s look at the difference between giving from a place of service and giving from a place of servitude.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines servitude as “a condition in which one lacks liberty, especially to determine one’s own course of action or way of life.”

Of course, we all have free will when it comes to how we choose to look at a situation and, thus, feel about it. What we experience and how we experience it is determined by our perception of reality.

If we are feeling obligated, we will act from obligation. If this is where we are coming from, we will often be in a state of “keeping score.”

Service, on the other hand, is defined as “an act of helpful activity; aid.” It’s authentically deliberate, from the heart and you want to do it to help, not to feel important, loved or like you’re doing what’s expected of you.

If you are thinking, “I’m here to serve,” but you are acting and feeling more from a place of obligation or expectation, then, most likely, you are not serving from the heart. You are creating a “service” pattern that is based more on the internal experience of servitude.

The good news is, as I mentioned before, how you help others is a choice. Becoming aware of your feelings and the fact they are coming from your perspective and perception can allow you to change your course of action, experience and outcomes.

I was discussing this with a client whose favorite line is “merely here to serve.” I pointed out that the word “merely” degrades his value; who he is and what he has to give. Anytime we use “merely” or “just,” these words tend to communicate lower regard for the value at hand. We can replace them with a word like “simply” and the meaning we truly want to convey is given.

This client is often left feeling unappreciated or underappreciated, especially at home. He shows up and is the dependable one who can be relied upon to do the chores and run things from here to there – getting things done. Due to the fact he also does not tend to communicate his own needs or opinions around wanting to do certain things, he feels he spends a lot of his time doing what others want of him, but not receiving as much of what he would like in return.

I brought his awareness to the fact that if he continues to communicate to his environment that he is only here to serve, others will take him up on this. He is also, without knowing it, communicating that he is not here to receive. Furthermore, the subconscious focus on only giving and not getting creates an automatic pattern of inequality.

We tend to project this onto the people and situations around us, yet we are the ones creating all of it. Our communication (or lack there of) causes others to reflect this back to us. What we put out (or don’t put out) is what we get back (or don’t get back).

Our words always set the course for what we will experience.

Again, servitude is about the perception that one doesn’t have a choice and is obliged to serve. True service is about a free and intentional choice to help, support and give aid to another. When we do this with discernment, clear communication, a full cup and an open heart, we will never feel used, unappreciated or undervalued.

As you look back on the past year and make plans for the year to come, see where your relationship with service stands. Is there more of yourself that you can give in healthy ways? Are there boundaries and needs that can be better communicated? What can you do to shift your awareness, perspective and words so that you are giving (and experiencing your own service) from the heart and not from a place of expectation?

I wish you a joyous holiday season filled with insight, growth and lots of fun!