The Neglected Art of Receiving

What it takes to let in love.

Posted Nov 01, 2015

flickr image by Tony Gladvin George
Source: flickr image by Tony Gladvin George

We’re taught that giving is superior to receiving. Indeed, the art of giving is a helpful corrective to human narcissism. Seeing what others need to be happy requires empathy and kindness.

But receiving is an equally noble endeavor.

We may strive to love, but to what extent do we allow ourselves to be loved? When someone extends attention and caring toward us, how deeply do we let it in? Can we allow ourselves to be nourished by another’s kindness? Receiving deeply provides needed nutrients for our soul, while also honoring the giver—making them feel that they've made a difference in our life.

Being mindful of the following might deepen your capacity to receive, thereby bringing greater fulfillment to your life:

Get Out of Your Head and Be Relaxed in Your Body

When someone does us a favor or compliments us, we might feel awkward or shy, or not know how to respond. We might think we’re required to reciprocate. We might wonder: Must I now do them a favor or compliment them? Are they expecting something in return? Do I really deserve this kindness? Such thoughts keep us imprisoned in our head. Negative self-talk keeps us depressed, disconnected, and unhappy.

The next time someone gives something to you, see if you can take a deep breath and let it be. Relax. Don’t trouble yourself by trying to figure it all out. Don’t overthink it. Just let it in.

The trick is to get out of your head and stay in your body. How do you feel in your stomach and chest to be gifted with such kindness? If thoughts are swirling, simply notice them and set them aside.

Don’t Question Whether You Deserve It

Sometimes we don’t absorb good stuff because we think we don’t deserve it. We might think, “If they really knew me, they wouldn’t say this.” Or, “I haven’t done much for them, so I don't deserve this favor.” It’s easy to drive ourselves nuts with endless considerations. Lost in the folds of our thought process, the beauty of the gift slips out of our hands. The giver might notice our distraction and not feel appreciated for what they’ve done for us.

We can drive ourselves crazy pondering whether we deserve something. Who’s to say whether we do or don’t? Does it really matter? It’s unlikely that the giver has evaluated whether we deserved it, so why should we? Perhaps it was a spontaneous act of kindness that felt good to the giver.

Questioning it diminishes the power of the offering.

An important part of self-worth is to validate that it’s OK to receive things. Being human means having needs and wants, which includes being valued and appreciated. No doubt, we have ample flaws and limitations, but when we're given a gift it's not the best time to ponder them—actually, one of our flaws may be that we complain that nobody cares about us despite evidence to the contrary. We’re not skilled at the art of receiving good stuff when it comes our way. 

When someone gives you something, it's a good time to let your mind be quiet and just focus on receiving.

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable

We’re firmly in control when we give, but not when we receive. Being the recipient of a kind word or deed can trigger a sense of vulnerability. Receiving requires the strength to be vulnerable.

When a tender moment arises during a conversation—perhaps a look of compassion as we talk about a parent’s illness—can we let someone's tender caring in or do we quickly look away due to shame or embarrassment? How often do we voice our struggles, hoping to find a kind and receptive ear, and then when someone offers a kindhearted response, we keep talking over it?

Allowing ourselves to slow down and welcome a tender vulnerability can be connecting—a salve for our isolation. Taking a moment to pause or show a tear can be a gift to the listener. It can signal in ways deeper than words that their caring has touched our heart and helped us take a small step toward healing.

Look for opportunities to let love and kindness in when it comes your way. It might be as simple as someone holding open a door for you, or a genuine interest in hearing about something that’s troubling you, or a warm hug. As you practice being a sponge, you may allow more joy into your life.

And as your emotional tank gets filled, you’ll have more to offer others.

Please consider liking my Facebook(link is external) page and click on “get notifications”(under "Likes") to receive future posts. If you like this article, you might enjoy Dancing with Fire (you can read reviews on Amazon).

John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT, is author of the award-winning book about relationships as a spiritual path, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships. His other books include The Authentic Heart and Love & Betrayal. He has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for 35 years in the San Francisco Bay area and has conducted workshops internationally.

© John Amodeo

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