“I’m just better at giving than receiving.”
Have you ever said this before?
I used this line for years. It was my go-to when people tried to give me something: a compliment, a “thank you”, love, respect, compassion. Anything really.
I just sucked at receiving. I would feel so uncomfortable and shut down quickly by using some sort of dismissive comment like “No need to thank me, it was no big deal.”
So I empathize with you when it comes to learning how to receive. It’s a skill that has taken me years to master.
And if you feel like you suck at receiving too, this post is for you.
While there’s tons of content out there that focus on “How To” receive, I want to take a slightly different approach and help you also understand why you have a hard time receiving in the first place.
Knowing the WHY is a really effective strategy for healing negative patterns and behaviors.
Once I know why I behave a certain way, it becomes easier to just let it go and do something different.
And here’s the secret sauce:
There are really just 2 main reasons why we don’t know how to receive. It’s either because we feel unsafe or we don’t feel worthy.
And in this post, I’ll be diving deeper into these two main issues, as well as share 12 practical tools and exercises to help you reverse them quickly.
When you begin to feel safe and worthy in the world, you’ll also naturally know how to receive gracefully.
Ok, let’s get started.
WHY WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO RECEIVE
1. FEELING UNSAFE
This can happen on many levels. For those of us who had difficult childhoods with emotional or physical abuse or dysfunction, feeling unsafe became a norm.
Think about it:
A child usually feels most safe with their “tribe”, their family or caretakers. When something feels unsafe, the child will automatically run home to “mommy” or “daddy”.
But what if “home” isn’t safe either?
What if there’s dysfunction in the family unit?
The child will basically feel safe nowhere. And this will eventually lead to a lack of trust in everyone and in life.
And she’ll internalize that the only way to be safe is to rely solely on herself. As she grows, her mind will become controlling.
This makes sense right?
If I don’t feel safe anywhere, then I’ll have to rely on myself for that safety. The outside world becomes hostile, scary. The mind will constantly feel “unsafe” with anything. Even small things.
Some people become control freaks, others color coordinate their closets or arrange their furniture in specific ways. Others binge eat or exercise obsessively.
And many others, including myself, will close their hearts to any type of love or intimacy. They close their hearts to receiving.
The whole process looks something like this:
This is why giving is more comfortable than receiving: it allows us to stay in control. When I give, I control what, when, where and how I give.
But receiving is very different. To receive, I must open up and loosen my grip on life.
To receive with an open heart is to surrender to the giver on some level. Suddenly, it feels like they have control. And that scares someone who has deep wounds around safety and lack of trust.
For me, the unsafe feeling I felt as a child manifested in a severe lack of trust in everyone, including myself.
But the distrust went deeper.
For years, I had a really complicated relationship with Source or God. I didn’t believe I was “protected” by God or “safe” with Her. To me, the whole world She had created was hostile and unsafe.
It wasn’t until much later (and after a lot of healing) that I changed my relationship with Source from one of parent-child (in essence a victimized way of being) to an empowered one based on the knowing that Source was me.
For a more detailed explanation of control and feeling unsafe, check out my video on the topic:
2. FEELING UNWORTHY
All the negative feelings we ever have towards ourselves are simply a reflection of how separate we feel from Source or the Universe.
The more separate we feel from Oneness (some call it Home), the more we believe ourselves to be unworthy.
This sense of separation is at the root of most of our deepest issues today.
As the phenomenally popular spiritual book “A Course In Miracles” puts it:
“A sense of separation from God is really the only lack you need to correct.”
Or as the late Wayne Dyer said:
“You came from magnificence, and you are magnificent still.”
The problem is, most of us are raised by family members who also feel separated from Source and so did their ancestors. In fact, this feeling of separation became the norm in most cultures and societies.
Even cultures with really strong religious beliefs still carry the “gene” of separation.
In my own Catholic culture (I’m Portuguese), the belief is that one can only “connect” with God through an intermediary like a priest. There’s this idea that you must get on your knees and pray to some God way up high in the sky, separate from you and me.
No one realizes or feels that when they get on their knees to pray…they are in fact praying to themselves at a deep level. Just saying this statement– that I AM God– can actually get people in trouble in many cultures.
And we’ve all suffered so much because of this. The 1st-century Greek philosopher Epictetus illustrates this point well when he says:
“You carry a God about within you, poor wretch, and know nothing of it.”
The result of feeling separate from the Universe is that we also begin to feel unworthy of love, abundance, and receiving in general.
We begin to feel like we have to work to be worthy. We just don’t feel our inherent value. Learning how to receive without a base of worthiness is an impossible task.
Just how pervasive is the feeling of unworthiness?
When I asked my audience what the most difficult part about receiving was, here’s what some of them said:
Feelings of unworthiness can eventually lead us to see the act of receiving as a transactional process. In other words, I can only receive if I have something of value to give in return.
If I don’t, I feel uncomfortable because my mind thinks there’ll be a “payback” time:
I used to feel this way and it’s one of the reasons why I hated receiving anything. I just didn’t want to “owe” the person anything in the future. I believed there were always strings attached to receiving.
But let’s break this down further.
Why do we so frequently think there are strings attached when someone gives us something?
And most importantly:
Why don’t we consider feelings like gratitude, love, or joy as good “paybacks” for receiving? Why do we feel that a simple “thank you” isn’t enough?
It’s because we don’t feel valuable or worthy as we are so something intangible like gratitude doesn’t feel like enough.
When we get to a point of unconditional worthiness, we can receive with an open heart and a smile on our face. We no longer feel like we need to pay back or work hard to deserve that gift.
Now for a truth bomb you may not be aware of:
If we don’t know how to receive with an open heart, we also don’t know how to give either.
Ok, my ears are ringing from your protests:
“That’s not true Christina! I’m a really generous giver and actually prefer giving to receiving!”
I used to think the same about myself too. But it just isn’t the case and here’s why.
Giving and receiving both come from the heart. They are essentially acts of love. So when I close my heart down to receiving, I also block genuine giving.
When we give from a closed heart, the giving always has an ulterior motive.
Here’s an example from my own life.
Years ago, when I was a clinician, I completed two humanitarian missions to India and Peru. My job was to train therapists and physicians in the area of Neuropediatrics. I love teaching so my missions brought some joy to my heart.
But later on, as part of my healing process, I had to come to terms with the deeper reasons why I completed these missions in the first place.
Being a humanitarian made me feel better about myself. I had such a horrible sense of self-worth at the time that I actually traveled to far away countries in order to gain validation.
I didn’t become a humanitarian because I wanted to genuinely give with an open heart. I did it because of all the “thank you’s” I got from my Indian and Peruvian students. I did it because I could then hear others commenting about how generous and wonderful I was as a person.
I was giving with an ulterior motive.
It was only when I healed the safety and worthiness issues that I finally learned how to genuinely receive and give.
Ok, now let’s move on to 4 tips and 12 practical tools and exercises to help you feel safe and worthy in life.