It’s really important to be able to receive love and receive compassion. It is as important as being able to give it. – Pema Chodron
As the end of the year approaches and the holiday season gets into full swing, I have been reflecting on our practice of giving and receiving gifts. I have realized that in some ways it has been somewhat easier to accept the gifts that others offer to me during the holidays, a discreet period of time, rather than throughout the year. Like a distinct badge of honor, I’ve carried around this notion of it “being better to give than to receive,” allowing this belief to resonate from my being, defining who I am—a giver. I’ve also looked around and seen that there are some pretty happy folks who do just fine with receiving. No, these aren’t particularly selfish, self-serving, or needy individuals. Instead, they are ones simply more free in accepting what others offer to them, making no apologies for taking what is given. They are confident with or without the gift. With this observation in mind, it’s become apparent that one possible root issue around discomfort with receiving is feeling as though one is undeserving of what is good without working hard for it. There is a lack of confidence in our worthiness and value when we struggle to accept the kindness being lavished upon us without “paying our due.” We believe, “I must do something to earn this gift.”
Having lived part of my life in the Caribbean with strong ties to the culture, I can say that there is absolute disdain for “laziness.” So it can be unsettling to think that we are accepting something for which we have not worked. Can you identify with this? There is also the air of pride that we have worked for everything have. We are independent, relying on no one, even if that self-reliance comes at a very high cost (e.g., bitterness about how hard a struggle has been, poor physical and/or emotional health after we’ve pushed our bodies beyond what is humanly possible). Truthfully, sometimes we have underlying feelings of resentment of “not getting back what we give.” Yet, we still refuse to allow opportunities for reciprocity in receiving acts of compassion. Perhaps we fear how we’ll be perceived for accepting help, or want to avoid feelings of indebtedness to another person because of their generosity. In the end, we may push others away and essentially avoid the intimacy that comes with giving and receiving.
What if we removed our typical capes of helping, doing, and saving others, just allowing ourselves to be nurtured? Flip the script and exchange roles. Consider the fact that your refusal to accept a gift/gesture impacts the other person as well. It may translate to that person as rejection—of their thoughtfulness, sacrifice, general need to be of service, to feel appreciated for some act.
Starting today, you can choose to recognize your own value. You are enough, just as you are, without embellishment or action or change. You deserve to receive life’s gifts and to simply say, “Thank you!” By receiving, you are affirming yourself, as worthy of the gift, and affirming the giver, recognizing that what s/he has offered you is of value. These are very powerful and meaningful interactions.