Until we can receive
with an open heart,
we are never really giving
with an open heart.
~ Brené Brown
Giving and receiving are integral parts of life. We engage in them both all the time, in small and large ways. When we are in the flow of life, giving and receiving are natural, easy and mutual. There is no keeping score, withholding or over-giving. There is no resentment or feeling of deprivation. This is a great ideal!
There are many people who live from a place of entitlement and take all the time, giving only grudgingly. Underneath this greedy desire for more is often a feeling of emotional lack that they are unconsciously trying to fill with whatever anyone is willing to give them, emotionally or materially. Their hearts are certainly not open, as they live in a place of constriction, fear and need.
There are probably many more people who are more comfortable giving than receiving. An emphasis on giving and discomfort with receiving can have many root causes. Often there is an underlying sense of lack of deservability. It may be difficult to accept that someone cares about you enough to give you something, be it verbal, emotional or material. This is especially true if deep inside, you question your own value. Someone else valuing you can throw you into a place of discomfort.
Truly receiving (and not just taking) also invites a certain vulnerability; an open heart is required to truly accept what is offered and allow it to impact you. If you have many years of protecting your heart, of defending yourself from feeling vulnerable, this will be difficult and perhaps may feel unwelcome.
Another reason why giving may be easier than receiving is that it may allow you to feel in control, or in a relative position of power. If receiving is difficult, then it is a relief to give more than receive, as it keeps those feelings of vulnerability at bay. However, this may ultimately cultivate resentment or exhaustion, as your heart is not being fed either by giving or receiving.
I encourage you to take note of how you feel when you are either giving or receiving this week. Is one more comfortable than the other? Is this experience reversed with certain people or situations? How do you understand this based on your life and history? Can you allow yourself to practice doing both with an open heart, remaining mindful of how you feel?
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley