John Amodeo, PH.D., MFT
I recently spoke on the art of receiving at an event organized by. Dr. Allen Berger, who is a psychologist, author, and leading expert on addiction. He made the interesting point that there’s an important difference between receiving and taking. Here is my understanding of the difference. Many of us have difficulty receiving it deeply. When someone offers a gift, a compliment, or a kind act, their offering might hit a wall we’ve erected to prevent its entry into our heart. The bricks of this wall have been built from negative beliefs and emotional wounds around receiving. If our religious or cultural training taught us that receiving is selfish, then this belief may neutralize the love and caring that comes toward us. In addition, old emotional wounds may make it challenging to receive. If we were exposed to lots of shaming, criticism, or abuse, our love receptors may have atrophied. We may have concluded that love isn’t available for us or that we don’t deserve kindness or love. Or we may feel a curious kind of emotional threat when caring drifts our way. If we let in someone’s kindness, what if that person hurts us in the future? We might therefore conclude that we’d be foolish to let in their kindness. Perhaps it’s better to protect our hearts from any vulnerability! Refusing to receive safeguards us from disappointment and hurt. But sadly, we simultaneously cut ourselves off from the nurturing we need to thrive.
Taking Versus Receiving
Allowing ourselves to receive in a deep way means connecting with the tender place inside us that longs to be loved, accepted, and understood. We experience softness and tenderness when we’re truly receiving. When we disallow ourselves from receiving in this deeply felt way, our longing doesn’t disappear; it often curdles into something more demanding. We evaluate a person to see if they meet our expectations for being a worthy friend or partner. We administer secret tests of loyalty to determine whether or not we want to stay with someone. Our heart goes into hiding as our ego craves a sense of being gratified in ways that don’t really satisfy our soul. For example, does our partner or potential partner perform the household chores that we require? Do they offer sex on demand? Do they comply with our requests and not bother us with too many needs of their own? Do they spend time with us when we want it, watch the movies we prefer, and give us space when we need it? In short, we may have become adept at being a taker—consumed by our own needs with little interest in being responsive to another’s needs and preferences.
It’s OK to want things. For many of us, it’s difficult to ask directly for what we want, especially if our needs were neglected growing up. Having needs is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s part of being human. The important question is what do we really want? Perhaps kindness, affection, caring, good communication, and being seen and understood? Can we let those good things in when they arrive? Can we find a balance between meeting our own needs and seeing people for who they are—recognizing that they have needs and longings, just as we do? Can we accept them as a vulnerable, imperfect person, just as we are?
Another symptom of our inability to receive is an inability to feel and express appreciation. If we cling to expectations about what others should provide us, we may have little gratitude for what we’re given. We may take their kindness and care for granted, which leaves them feeling unappreciated or resentful. A climate for intimacy is created as we appreciate what we’re given and engage in a loving dance of mutuality. The next time someone offers a kind word or deed, see how far you can let it in: pause, take a breath and allow your attention to settle inside your body. Rather than feel obligated to respond immediately—other than perhaps with a sincere “thank you”—simply notice how you feel inside to receive the gift. Does it touch some longing to be seen or appreciated? Be gentle with that tender place in your stomach or chest and allow the good feeling to seep into your roots as much as it wants to. Receiving nurtures us. Supporting ourselves to receive not only feels good, but it also honors and uplifts the giver by allowing them to feel that they’ve touched us in a meaningful way.