We’re approaching a season of giving–an appropriate time of year to examine how well you allow yourself to be given to. Yes, receiving–the ability to fully accept gifts and enjoy and appreciate being given to–is an essential part of the human relationship equation. It is the complement of giving and just as important.
Relationships are an ongoing interchange of giving and receiving–reciprocal exchanges of love, ideas, resources, caring. It’s easy for most of us to see how people who have a hard time giving to others can gum up the whole process. Not giving blocks the flow and leaves things imbalanced and …wrong.
If you think about it, someone who doesn’t ACCEPT gifts or who doesn’t receive things well causes the same kind of clog. If we don’t allow gifts in, we are blocking the flow of the relationship. If you aren’t fully receiving, you aren’t fully letting in all the love that comes your way–and you aren’t letting the giver really give. What an incredible waste!
There’s also the old oxygen mask example to consider. Remember the flight attendant who tells you to put your own oxygen mask on first–before attempting to help others? If we don’t allow others to reciprocate, and our giving vs. receiving ratio gets out of balance, we tend to run out of steam. If you are someone who finds it much easier to give than to receive, get ready, you are quickly approaching the season that likely wears you out. Learning to let others give back to us provides us the fuel to keep on giving. Besides, once you learn how, it feels REALLY good.
How ARE you at accepting gifts?
People who are uncomfortable being given to are good at invalidating gifts. They can also be so focused on being the giver that they miss and fail to really absorb the gifts that come their way.
There’s a quick and dirty litmus test for recognizing difficulties with receiving. It’s the “yes…but” response. Say you’re given a compliment. With the “yes, but” response, someone tells you you did a great job and you say (or think) “yes, but… The “but…” is where you minimize it, deny it, invalidate it.
The “but” pushes the gift away. “Yes but” deflects the gift and the love and caring behind it. Examples of “yes, but:”
- Yes, but it could have been better
- Yes, but it was on sale
- Yes, but the roast was burnt
- Yes, but I had a lot of help or I was just lucky
- or (the mother of all yes, buts) “yes, but you always say that.”
The yes, but indicates that you hear the compliment or acknowledge the gift BUT don’t fully accept it.
The equalizing response
I remember reading in a magazine once that during the holidays, one should carry pre-wrapped gifts in the trunk of your car so that if–heaven forbid–you are presented with a gift and don’t have one for the giver you could run out to your car and quickly “make it equal.” If you find yourself always worrying about whether you’ve done enough to be worthy of receiving the gift (or the favor or the compliment), you aren’t allowing yourself to be given to.
Missing the gifts entirely
Do you know people who are impossible to give to? No matter how hard you try to please them or help them out they just don’t seem to see you or let the gift in. Every compliment, no matter how sincere, gets brushed away or “laughed” off, every offer of assistance rejected. If we build our identity around being “the giver” or if we don’t really feel deserving of receiving, we might not even look up long enough to see and feel the gifts coming our way.
Think about it. What have been your favorite moments of giving? The best gifts I’ve given have been received with expressions of pure delight and absorption in the gift just received. For me, the joy has been in seeing that my gift made an impact or touched someone or left them feeling appreciated. I’ve never enjoyed a dismayed look of “but I don’t have anything for you!”
That’s not the point!! When I think about successful giving, it’s the eye contact I remember–the compliment that landed, the present that brought joy, the assistance that really provided relief. I knew it had been received when we made eye contact. They saw the gift in mine and I saw in theirs that they had really, really received it. Now, let yourself switch places. Do you allow yourself to receive that deeply? It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling.
What’s it like to be given to?
It’s a perfect time of year to work on strengthening your receiving muscles. How to do this?
Practice, practice, practice.
Do this now. Take a deep breath, smile your most gracious smile and say “Thank you.” Then stop! No “you shouldn’t have” no “but I couldn’t” no “are you sure?” Do it again. Smile. “Thank you.” Breathe again. The next time a gift comes your way, take time and absorb what you’ve been given–whether it’s a sweater or a cup of tea or a compliment. Look into the giver’s eyes and let yourself see the intention–and the gift.
Try something out. Make a daily practice of listing three gifts you received every day, noting the little or the big things. Look for the gifts you were given all day and notice whether you allow yourself to really receive them. We’re not talking expensive jewelry. It might be the coffee someone made for you or the email a friend sent or the way your partner didn’t point out that irritating thing you did. It’s how your colleague washed the coffee mugs. As you practice this, you’ll get better at catching it in the moment–and letting the gifts really sink in.