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52 Ways to Show I Love You: Receive Graciously

Childhood experiences and current emotions can interfere with accepting love.

Source: BattershellTactical/Pixabay

Last week, I introduced the topic of “giving to a loved one” as a way to show love. This topic was inherent in many other posts published on “Life, Refracted” throughout the year: for example, showing love by honoring and accommodating differences between ourselves and a loved one. Today, I address how we can show love through allowing ourselves to receive the gifts, whether they are in a physical package or gifts of time, or of the spirit, or of accommodation, or of any kind of offering that someone who loves us may provide. By graciously accepting a gift that is given and appreciating the intention behind it, we validate the donor’s expression of love.

What influences how we receive?

  • Attachment historyFor some people, receiving is easy. People who as children grow up among adults that were quick to nurture and provide usually feel worthy of expressions of love. Receiving is part of their “secure” attachment style. In contrast, if a person’s parents were demanding, intrusive, negligent, inconsistent, punitive, or absent, receiving can become complicated.
    • The avoidantly-attached/dismissing child may refuse offerings of others, assuming a stance of independence, of needing nothing from other people. Their contrarian nature can bristle at any implication that they are not fully self-sufficient. Seeing themselves as dependent is anathema.
    • The preoccupied/anxious child may seek out offerings, even appearing needy, yet never seeming satisfied. What is received is not enough or not quite right. The deep neediness is not tempered by normal offerings or reassurances.
    • The disorganized/undifferentiated/fearful child, who grew up in chaos, may be wary of poisoned gifts, whether of the spirit or the pocketbook. All offerings bear the risk of coming with strings attached, either expectations or requirements. Very little feels safe, except trying to care for the loved one, mimicking their relationship with an inadequate caregiver.
    • All attachment styles tend to carry over into adulthood unless a person consciously addresses and decides to change them.
  • Emotions and their interpretations — Some children may have grown up in homes where resources of all sorts were very scarce. For them, accepting a freely given expression of love, especially if it provides indulgence or impractical pleasure, can evoke guilt left over from long ago. He or she is betraying an imagined caveat of thrift and denial.
    • When a person does not feel deserving of being loved, he or she can feel guilty when receiving a gift. And the one who loves them and is offering that gift of love may or may not understand.
    • Or a recipient may not be prepared to reciprocate when he or she receives a gift, so that their feelings of embarrassment interfere with graciously receiving it. Through these pathways, both guilt and embarrassment can short-circuit the pleasure a person might otherwise receive from a gift.
    • Alternately, there is simple disappointment. The recipient had been dreaming of a marriage proposal, and instead opened a box of chocolates with no ring inside. Or, wanting an invitation to a restaurant, unwrapped a box that contained a sweater. Yet again, the way that one person sees the world, assigns priorities, and receives pleasure is not synchronized with that of the other. This mismatch, described one year ago in my introduction to “52 Ways to Show I Love You,” was what provoked this year of weekly columns. You can reread the rationale on posts published on December 18, 2016 and December 25, 2016.
    • Or, one more scenario, a recipient may feel anxiety about real or imagined strings they see as attached to the gift. A plant that needs extraordinary care they would rather not provide. An outing that will require them to spend more time than they would like with the donor. A book that they will feel compelled to read, even though they are not enjoying it. And the proverbial unwanted tie or Christmas sweater that will sit in the back of the closet taking up space for far too many years. All these fears can limit an attitude of receiving an offering with open arms.

Recapping what we may receive from someone we love:

  • AttentionHaving another person’s full energy focused on us and what we are experiencing or trying to convey is a uniquely nourishing experience. When both members of the couple focus on each other and express themselves clearly, they can learn to work together until understanding is accurate. In contrast, what is perceived as too much or excessive attention can trigger a fear of seduction (which may or may not be the objective of the one who is showering the attention), and that fear, real or imagined, can interfere with joyfully receiving the generous intention. In this instance, the gift may be more about power than love; conversation can clarify who expects what to result from the giving and the receiving.
  • Preferences — When we receive something that only someone close to us knows we might prefer or even yearn for, we can feel treasured. That person took the time to notice what pleases us. Receiving graciously recognizes that effort.
  • Support (financial, instrumental, emotional) — I have written about all the ways in which we provide love through various forms of support or help — but being able to receive it gracefully reflects back the love, amplifying the value of what was offered.
  • Maura24/Pixabay
    Source: Maura24/Pixabay

    Inspiration — Sometimes the gift that is offered is inspiration, a deep breath enabling the receiver to see a situation from a different angle. For example, perhaps a partner recognizes that the rainy day which resulted in the cancellation of the picnic brought a chance to dig into old photographs and walk through memories with a loved one, rekindling feelings from magnificent moments in the past and appreciation for what allowed those moments to happen. Because the other was willing to receive, two people were able to experience their bond through an inspired opportunity to share.

  • Companionship — People do need their private moments, when they provide for themselves what only they themselves can. But we also need companionship, whether for shared pleasure, for distraction, or for activities we cannot do alone. When such companionship is offered, receiving it with gratitude affirms a desire to be together. By receiving graciously, you can both become givers.
Source: Maura24/Pixabay

How do we receive from those we love?

  • Direct offers — The examples above can all come from clear and direct offers, through words or by actions. The offer can be a surprise or come after discussion and negotiation.
  • Random acts of kindness — The spontaneous offering, like the photo session that replaces the picnic or the flowers that appear on the table when a mood can use some brightening, can happen anywhere, anytime.
  • Surrender to one another — When we allow the one who loves us to offer any form of gift to show their love, we signal trust in their judgment and faith that they have our interests at heart. This temporary “surrender” is a compliment of the highest order.

In short, receiving with honesty and grace the gifts offered by someone who loves you can become a tribute to them, recognizing their efforts on your behalf. You will have brought them the unique joy of being able to delight someone they care deeply about — you!

Do you receive your loved one’s gifts easily, or is your first impulse to reject them, insisting that you can provide for yourself? Do you see the gift as unwanted or unneeded? Are you aware of the emotions that trigger your negative reaction? How do you express them? How does your loved one react to your responses? If you are uneasy accepting, what are your fears?

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

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Mikulincer, M. & Shaver P. R. (2017) Attachment in Adulthood (2nd Ed.) : Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Guilford Press: New York.

Simpson, J. A. & Rholes, W. S. (Eds.) (2015) Attachment Theory and Close Relationships (2nd ed.) Guilford Press: New York.

Sperling, M.B. & Berman, W. H. (Eds.) (1994) Attachment in Adults. Guilford Press: New York.

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