We think of this time of year as being about giving: gifts, gratitude, praise, compliments.
Many of us love to give.
Especially those of us who are called to be of service to others.
Perhaps you ask yourself how you can serve better.
Here’s a crucial piece of that equation:
How are you at receiving?
Many of my clients are coaches, trainers, healers, real estate agents, therapists, parents — people who find purpose and meaning in their service to others.
I have noticed a consistent pattern among them:
They are great at giving.
They make time in their schedule to serve others. They give generously and abundantly of their time, attention, energy, and material resources.
They give from their heart. They care.
Many of them think about their clients outside of sessions.
When it comes to receiving, however, it’s a different story.
When offered opportunities to receive care from others, suddenly they have no time.
If someone offers them support, they push it away.
I’m good. I can handle it on my own.
In the moments when they allow themselves to receive care from others, they tell me that they often feel guilty for taking time for themselves that could have been spent in service to others, or taking resources that could be better used elsewhere.
In a similar pattern, when someone offers them gratitude, praise, or a compliment, they dismiss, deny, or deflect:
It’s no big deal.
You did all the work.
I’m just doing my job.
My Resistance to Receiving
I used to be like this. I would dismiss compliments and praise, and I would rebuff those who wanted to do nice things for me.
I thought that I was acting with humility.
I didn’t want to be a taker.
In fact, I was skeptical of people’s motives when they offered to help.
What’s in it for them?
We’ve all heard the famous aphorisms,
It’s better to give than to receive.
The secret to living is giving.
And it felt silly to be thanked for doing my job.
Humble or Hurtful?
I’ve learned that how we receive from others is just as important as how we give to others. Perhaps even more important than giving.
When we deflect compliments and gratitude, we may think we are being humble, but we are actually hurting those who are trying to give to us.
One of the core needs of humans is to feel seen, heard, and fully expressed. We are meaning-makers. Each of us is here to live a purpose.
When we dismiss, dissuade, or deflect another person’s efforts to give to us — whether a compliment, a gift, or their gratitude, we are implicitly refusing to hold space for that person’s expression.
The message we send to the giver is that their opinions aren’t worthy, their judgment is flawed, they’re insincere, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
You may be “just doing your job,” but this doesn’t preclude other people from being grateful.
And when we deflect, dismiss, and dissuade the giver of a compliment or praise, or the offer of support or care, we deny that would-be giver the opportunity to find and live their purpose and find meaning in their life.
The Harm to Yourself
I also realized that in deflecting and dismissing compliments I was diminishing myself. I was sending myself an implicit message that I wasn’t worthy of receiving praise or gratitude, that I was unworthy of support or care.
That unconscious message led me to overwork and overgive — as a way to prove my worthiness to myself and others.
I’ve since learned a new truth:
Being a gracious receiver is essential to being a gracious giver.
Receiving is also form of giving.
When we allow ourselves to receive — a gift, a compliment, praise, support — we give someone else the opportunity to find their voice and their full expression. We help them discover their gifts.
By allowing someone else to give to us, we help them find meaning and purpose in their life.[Related: 3 Affirmations for Receiving]
Through receiving, we help others feel the joy of giving.
There’s no better gift or act of service we can offer those we care about than to wholeheartedly receive the gifts that they desire to offer us.