Receiving is Just as Important as Giving

By Kitty J. Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT, RScP

Certified Life Strategies & Stress Management Coach

Growing up, we were taught the importance of giving, and for many of us, giving became second nature. We were trained to look for ways to “give back,” “give a helping hand,” “give to those less fortunate,” etc., etc. For most of us, we got the lesson loudly and clearly…giving is way better than receiving.

As a result, for some of us, now that we are fully and well trained, we are much better givers than we are receivers. Now, to be fair, we probably needed to be taught as children that giving was a good thing. Otherwise, we might have grown up expecting everyone around us to cater to our every whim all the time the way small children do. That would create a lot of trouble in the long run, so I am not casting any sort of aspersion on the importance of giving or the need for us to have a sense of the need to give and to give generously when we can.

The trouble is that we have mostly become so much better at giving than at receiving that we find it hard sometimes to receive, which ultimately stops the flow that is created in a giving-receiving dynamic, whether it be between friends or life partners. One example that stands out in my mind is when I was going through my divorce, I asked a good friend to go with me to the lawyer’s office to sign a deposition that affirmed that I had not lived with my soon-to-be ex-husband for the past 6 months. It wasn’t a hardship for her, and I know she was happy to do it. It only took a few minutes for us to meet with the attorney and sign the paperwork.

As a thank you for her giving of her time, I took her to lunch, but when I got ready to take the check, she put up a huge fuss. She insisted that she wanted to pay for her own lunch. She was quite adamant about it, and I could tell she absolutely did not want to have me paying for her lunch. She informed me that if I paid for her, she would be beholding to me and she would worry about it until she had a chance to reciprocate. In fact, she said that if I insisted on paying, she would never go to lunch with me again! She would just prefer to pay for her own lunch and then she wouldn’t have to “worry about it.”

I remember feeling like she was denying me an opportunity to show her how much I really appreciated her help. It was the first time I had run into anyone who so adamantly refused a gift or a kind gesture. We are still friends, but I have never forgotten the sense of her not allowing me to offer her a small gesture which embodied my gratitude.

Do you have trouble receiving? When someone offers to buy you lunch or coffee do you protest until you can wrestle the check away and pay yourself? If so, I invite you to consider that doing so may actually hurt the friendship or relationship in a way that you may not have considered before.

John Amodeo, Ph.D., says that there are 5 reasons why receiving is harder than giving. His 5 reasons are as follows:

 1.  Defense against intimacy.

Dr. Amodeo says that receiving creates a moment of connection, and some people fear that feeling. They feel more comfortable keeping their distance.

 2.     Letting go of control.

When we give, we have a sense of being in control in a way. When we receive, we are relinquishing that feeling and it makes some of us uncomfortable.

 3.     Fear of strings attached.

We may have a fear or concern that accepting a gift or a compliment may be used against us in some way. We may, in fact, be so suspicious as to wonder what the other person is going to expect in return if we accept a gift or a compliment.

 4.     We believe that it is selfish to receive.

As I noted in the opening of the article, we have been conditioned to believe that giving is better than receiving.

 5.     A self-imposed pressure to reciprocate.

This is what was going on with my friend who wouldn’t let me buy her lunch. She feared the pressure of needing to reciprocate as though our friendship were in such delicate balance that I would hold it against her if she didn’t buy my lunch the next time we were out.

I believe that it is just as important to learn to receive as it is to give. Learning to receive is, in fact, as much an art and a skill as learning to give. Let yourself receive a sincere compliment without poo-pooing it out of hand. Practice simply saying, “Thank you,” when someone offers a compliment or a simple kindness. Do not feel pressured to rush to reciprocate.  

Dr. Paul Dunion says that we should develop our competence as “highly effective receivers.” What he means by that is that those who have learned to receive and are comfortable with being able to receive do not make their self-worth dependent upon what they give to others. They recognize that being able to receive is really a gift to the giver. It also means that they understand the tension (as in a good thing) between giving and receiving in any healthy relationship. Let’s face it, it is tiring to always be the one who is expected to give, and give and give without ever being on the receiving end of gifts, compliments, or even just someone’s attention.

Learning to receive can be a challenge for some of us, but challenging ourselves is what brings about growth. I challenge you to practice receiving as well as giving and see if it doesn't bring a greater sense of balance into your life.

Kitty Boitnott
Boitnott Coaching, LLC

Glen Allen, VA 23060
United States of America