Psychology of Volunteering

The psychology behind volunteering is more complex than one might imagine. Obviously people believe that giving is good, and indeed it is, though there is a fine balancing act between what really is volunteering, and what is self-sacrifice or even gratification, and it is here that the gray areas elude those who seek to understand. To take this a step further, popular writers such as Kahlil Gibran make the statement that;

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

To a certain degree, he was right, though psychologically speaking, part of what he said has been misinterpreted by so many people who consider themselves as volunteers. Choosing to rest upon their laurels and read no further, people believe that giving or volunteering is a positive aspect of life. If you read further into what Gibran said, he qualifies his statement by adding

~ There are those who give little of the much which they have and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. This article delves into the psychological act of volunteering to explain the different approaches and how they relate to different aspects of volunteering.~

*Giving for self’s sake.

*Types of volunteering.

*Giving for recognition.

*Giving through lack of self esteem.

*The true psychological profile of a real volunteer.

Giving for self’s sake.

The works of Gibran make it very clear that you cannot buy goodness. Science and Biblical perspective come together in agreeing that volunteering should never be done with any thought of self-reward, even if that reward is psychological reward. The problem with this kind of psychological dependence is that people misread who benefits from this type of volunteering.

Of course it is positive to be able to volunteer, though how much volunteering is healthy or depending upon the approval of others? The psychological understanding of volunteering is that often people who do so are looking for the approval of others, self satisfaction or some kind of mental reward for what they do.

Types of volunteering.

If we examine the types of volunteering, there is a decided psychological profile which attaches to volunteers. If you look at the examples given below, each type or profile will volunteer for different reasons.

*Because there is a need.

*Because there is recognition.

*Because there is a need to distract oneself from self.

*Because it’s the done thing.

Each of these aspects of volunteering is basically selfish. The need factor is probably the least egoist, although who determines need?

~ See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives until life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness. ~

Kahlil Gibran.

The recognition factor means that the volunteer seeks a status. They want to be recognized as a volunteer and as such are demanding some kind of reward for what they give. True volunteering comes when there is no motive but the giving comes naturally.

To volunteer is also viewed by many as a distraction rather than a humanitarian think to do. People who feel that they lack something within their lives often volunteer because they need to take their mind away from their own problems. While this is merit worthy, what happens when an individual becomes so engrossed in the problems of others is that they can often forget that their character and being requires an equal amount of attention.

Giving for recognition.

A volunteer who offers their service for any kind of praise or admiration is doing so selfishly. Society encourages the volunteer syndrome. It actively supports those who find time to devote to serving others. However, there is a big difference between those who do this silently in the background without wish for reward and those who do it for recognition.

Psychologically speaking, if you take on a task in the hope of reward, although you may achieve a certain amount of reward, the true reward comes when you volunteer with no other motive than that you were in the right place at the right time, as witness to a situation which needed your input.

Giving through lack of self-esteem.

A psychologist may ask the eternal martyr why they volunteer, since these people tend to take on a heavy load but also enjoy being able to let everyone know the personal sacrifice they made in order to volunteer. These are people who lack self esteem and are asking for something beyond the reward of knowing they did well. Often, this psychological profile will end up unhappy because the very fact that they demand thanks makes the gift they give one which has strings attached.

Often, the patient with lack of self esteem tries to find areas where they can help simply because they don’t know how to help themselves. If a person with lack of self-esteem addresses the self-esteem issues, they may realize that what they have to offer is more substantial and will be more appreciated simply because their help was given for no other motive than helping.

The true psychological profile of a real volunteer.

~And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.~

Kahlil Gibran

No-one could put it more eloquently or argue with the logic. A true volunteer is one who is able to help others with no intention other than to help. These are people who see themselves amid a situation and have the ability to make a difference. They don’t help to make a difference, but help because in that one instance, they are able to.

The true volunteer has no huge sense of egoism about their skills. They come from all walks of life, all different kinds of education and are the backbone of humanity, without wishing to be. These are the people who simply know that the work they offer helps a situation and have no notion of reward, recognition or self-esteem issues. They go beyond what life asks of them for no other reason than that they can.

References: On Giving, by Kahlil Gibran