So many of us were raised with the concept or belief system that it is it better to give than to receive. Whether or not we even want to give, whether or not we even have the time to give, we were taught that we should give. Although there is no doubt that giving may sometimes feel wonderful and come from an authentic, heart-centered space, giving simply because we believe that we must is not self-caring.
And most importantly, we were usually not taught the opposite side of the coin: that receiving from others, whether that be a compliment, a gift, or support, is as equally (and sometimes more) important, self-esteem boosting and life-affirming.
What does receiving truly mean?
Receiving a gift, compliment or support in the form of a listening ear or help with something (like yard work when you’ve pulled your back or meals when you or a family member has been struck with an illness) can be tough. All of these are ways in which others show their love and concern for you, yet many of us have a hard time receiving and especially asking for this type of help and concern:
- True receiving means being able to accept things from others with joy and grace, without the use of a negative or deflating response.
- So often when someone says something like “you look beautiful today”, we might respond with, “That’s because I’m not so tired today”.
- Or someone may give us a gift and we’ll say something like “You really didn’t have to…” , essentially negating the effort and care that someone gave in selecting and purchasing the gift.
To be able to say and truly mean “thank you” when someone gives us a compliment or a gift, and to be able to breathe in and fully take in the tangible or non-tangible gift, is really what receiving is about.
But isn’t it selfish to receive?
Many of us were raised believing that it’s selfish to bask in the deliciousness of just receiving:
- We might have heard that we should take a compliment, gift, or support from a friend with grace, but we may still feel that it’s selfish.
- However, receiving not only feels incredible for you, but also for the other person. They’ll know that you are truly grateful and appreciative (which makes them feel good) and they’ll want to continue to care for you in a similar way in the future.
- We’re allowing someone to do for us as we do for them, and that makes others feel good about themselves.
- When we give to others, we are delighted when the receiver is appreciative and joyful of the compliment, gift, or help that we’ve offered and we would want to be able to give the same to our friends and loved ones.
And it’s also important to work towards being able to accept what is offered because it may really give such joy to us if we really allow it. We can start by simply saying “thank you” when someone gives to us, and meaning it.
Why is it so difficult to accept from others?
It often seems that we live in a society of takers and selfishness, yet in my psychotherapy practice of more than 30 years I regularly see how hard it is for so many people to receive and accept what is offered:
- Giving to others was usually emphasized by our parents, teachers and clergy, and these belief systems are still in place in our adult lives.
- We often need to uncover and then challenge these old belief systems.
- Of course, acceptance is a process, and our guilt will be the last to go. However, once we start to practice receiving from others with a simple “ thank you” and just gratitude for the act, then the guilt will eventually fade, too.
- We were taught (usually through subtle cues) that taking a compliment at face value about our appearance means that we are vain or egotistical and that we believe that we are better than others around us. We see this many times when we tell a friend that she looks great, and she responds with something like, “Oh, but my butt looks way too big in this.”
Men, too, aren’t safe from an inability to accept both compliments and help:
- Men were usually taught that it’s not okay to ask for help when needed and ...
- That it’s not okay to lean on a friend in times of stress, illness, or even just a bad day.
- Men are expected to always “be strong”, right?
Are you enough?
We’ve heard these messages from our culture for so long and so often (verbally and non-verbally, overtly and covertly) that we may not even be aware of them. However, as adults, we must truly learn to hear and understand:
- These cultural messages as well as ..
- The messages that we have been sending to ourselves.
This process of listening to our underlying thoughts and belief systems can unlock some deeper learning’s about ourselves.
We may start to realize that our inability to accept help or compliments may be due to:
- A subconscious feeling that we are undeserving of this love, affection, or help from others.
- Feeling that we must first reach a certain level (whether that be with our weight, our parenting skills, our love for our partners, success in our careers, etc.) before we’ll be truly deserving of the compliment or gifts that are given to us.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, these deeper feelings of unworthiness may be playing a part in our inability to receive.
Allowing for help:
If you recognize yourself in these words and struggle to accept the compliments and gifts of friends and family, it may help you to speak with a trusted therapist.
A good psychologist can counsel you in methods to bolster your self-esteem and your ability to accept help from others.
At Nassau Guidance and Counseling, our trusted psychotherapists have worked with many people on Long Island to help uncover and heal old messages, allowing each person the ability to live their best life.