Written by Emily Holden, LPC-Intern
In an alternate universe, where everyone went around doing what other people wanted and only giving to others, who would be left to ask for a favor? Who would be left to receive the gifts of others? Of course that is not the world we live in, but hopefully that far-fetched scenario encourages a momentary paradigm shift, inviting readers to suspend their prior judgments and long-held assumptions while reading this post.
The act of giving actually goes two ways. In one direction a person exerts energy to please someone else. While on the other hand, the person being helped must show up with a willingness to receive the service or gift. Without the giver, the receiver does not reap happiness, and without the receiver, the giver has no one to reflect appreciation for his acts, while he/she also loses out on the inherent joy that humans, as social animals, get from helping others.
In his book Dancing With Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships, John Amodeo suggests that “we may then bask together in a non- dual moment in which there is no distinction between the giver and the receiver. Both people are giving and receiving in their own unique ways. This shared experience can be profoundly sacred and intimate.”
So why then does it seem so hard to accept a sincere compliment from someone else at times? How did we come to believe that it is “good” to give and “bad” to receive? In the early years of parenthood, the task of attending to a child’s inner world is just as involved as tending to a child’s physical development, calling parents to introduce values and moral guidance into their child’s life. Many children are told that it is better to give than to take or receive, especially in early years when children can only view their surroundings from the perspective of their small world and their own needs.
This simplification of values may be sufficient to steer a child away from self absorption and reckless behavior, and allow them to integrate and even thrive socially through adolescence to early adulthood. Yet this duality of thought and moral reasoning can create an imbalance in the lives of young adults and the preceding generations. From traditional western mode of thought, dependent on a fixed, “right” and “wrong” moral code of behavior, our line of sight is limited to the same set of rules, causing us to miss alternative solutions that emerge in the present situation.
In my experiencing practicing mindfulness techniques and in counseling individuals and groups, I have found one of the most challenging meditations for people is the “Loving Kindness Meditation,” which calls for us to extend loving and compassionate thoughts to ourselves and our bodies while holding a deep gratitude for each breath taken in every moment. I relate this struggle to the challenge we have receiving compliments or gifts from others, because it appears common that many of us struggle against receiving an inherent, fundamental gifts of life we receive from the environment every few seconds, our breath. In bringing awareness to the act of breathing as receiving a gift from the universe, we are sometimes flooded with noise from our minds or inner tapes that play on repeat saying, “you are not worthy,” “You are bad, selfish, etc.” However the truth is we are all beautifully flawed human beings, deserving of life and the gift of compassion, from others and ourselves. Yet, the hardest work, as Kristin Neff, PhD, explicates in her international work on self compassion, often begins with allowing ourselves to give and RECEIVE self compassion. For those of us who struggle with the act of receiving kindness from ourselves and others, please know you are not alone. Also know that through the act of receiving more compassion and life’s gifts in your world, you will be filling your reservoirs with gifts and preparing yourself to extend, to give more kindness to others in your life and world. It can be helpful to begin this work with a professional and in a community of others who understand your struggle.
In the mean time, I will leave you with some suggestions from John Amodeo PhD, MFT, written in his article “5 Reasons Why Receiving Is Harder Than Giving.”
Suggestion: The next time someone offers a compliment, gift, or looks lovingly into your eyes, notice
how you feel inside. What's happening in your body? Is your breathing relaxed and your belly soft or
are you tightening up? Can you let in the caring and connection? Bringing mindfulness to the pleasant, uncomfortable, or perhaps fiery feelings of delight might allow you to be more present for
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Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.