Receiving is Love, Too
When you were little, you were probably taught that when someone gives you a compliment, the appropriate response, regardless of how you feel about it, is “Thank you!” and not “Oh, this old thing?” If you downplay the thing being complimented, you are also denigrating the opinion of the person giving the compliment, which is ungrateful, rude, and sometimes even offensive. Accepting a compliment is a basic form of receiving that we all learn to do, even if it sometimes makes us uncomfortable.
Contradictory as it may sound, being able to receive graciously is an act of love, too. This is because receiving is itself an act of giving–giving your acknowledgement and appreciation to a person who has done something kind for you.
Receiving graciously can be difficult for some people. They feel as though in order to receive something, they must first “earn” the thing being given. As with most behaviors, this uncomfortableness with receiving usually has its roots in a person’s past. You may have been raised in a family that prized self-sufficiency, maybe overly much, and equated receiving with charity. Or you may come from a family that tends to attach strings to gifts: We’ll give you this, but we expect you-know-what in return (and even though the you-know-what was never said aloud, you all knew what it was). Or maybe because your parents were stingy with their affection and praise, you’ve come to feel undeserving of receiving. Whatever the reasons that lie in the past, many people have trouble receiving.
Receiving is a form of sharing, and sharing is a gesture of love. So if you are uncomfortable with receiving, then you are uncomfortable with love itself, or at least one important aspect of it. If you want to be a more loving person, you must become comfortable with receiving.
One way to do this is to “act as if.” If you intellectually understand the importance of being able to receive freely, then you can behave as if this is how you truly feel until you actually do feel that way. When someone gives you something, be it a compliment or a diamond bracelet, smile widely and say, “Oh, thank you!” with as much enthusiasm and warmth as you can muster, no matter how your insides are feeling. This is the polite and proper response to a gift, and it is simple to do. And if you get really good at it, you won’t even start plotting how you’re going to pay the person back for a good hour or so afterward!
But while you’re working on this, it might be wise to look more deeply at why receiving makes you uncomfortable. It may be one of the reasons given above, or a combination of them, or something else entirely.
I think that for many of us, we just don’t feel deserving to receive. Even if other people see us a certain way–in this case, worthy of praise or gifts–we don’t see ourselves that way. We rationalize that they don’t see our inner thoughts, our judgments, our resentments, our flaws and neuroses, the many ways we’re not as honest or as forthright or as kind as we think we ought to be. If they could really see me as I see myself, we reason, they would never think I was worthy of such kindness. And this is true even for those among us with oodles of self-esteem, at least some of the time. We all, at times, struggle with receiving. I think it’s just part of being human.
Sadly, and likely for the same underlying reasons, this can work conversely, too. We might unconsciously harbor beliefs that people aren’t worthy of gifts until they do something to “deserve” them. We might withhold giving until we think a person has done something to earn it, or worse, until we want something from them. Once again, this is not love; it is some sad sort of business arrangement. Not to say there isn’t plenty of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” in relationships, because there is. And that’s just fine, if such reciprocity is freely given and comes without emotional strings attached, or at least strings that both parties agree to. But chances are that if you think you need to work on giving, you also need to work on receiving, too. They go together, like night and day.
Regardless of what we may sometimes (or all the time) feel or believe about ourselves, we are all worthy of love and worthy of receiving. If we waited until we were perfect, then no one would ever give or receive anything, because none of us will ever be perfect! Instead, we can learn to be content as we are, in this moment, regardless of our flaws, and humbly accept another person’s offering to us.
Because really, a gift freely given is more than just the gift itself. It is an opportunity to stop judging yourself and see yourself, however briefly, through the eyes of the giver: worthy, deserving, loving, and perfect–or at least just fine–exactly as you are.