‘Tis indeed the Season for Giving.  Since early childhood, we have been told that it is nobler to give than to receive. To care more about the well-being of others than our own. A life without giving is one of futility and barrenness. Without giving we turn in on ourselves, become consumed with our own smallness.


The Joy of Giving

Many of us love to give, it is in our nature. We share our time, expertise, money, and service freely. We willingly do it and hope it brings a benefit to those on the receiving end. We give without expecting anything in return – it makes us feel good. We have a genuine desire to make other’s lives better or easier.

But what happens when we give and give and don’t receive? We start to burn out. Our well starts to dry out and we feel empty. We pull back from people in exhaustion leaving them confused as to what they have done. We need to find balance in both giving and receiving.


The Shame of Asking

Yet for many of us receiving is extremely difficult. Recently I asked a very generous person “Who takes care of you?” By the look in response, I had hit a nerve. Many of us don’t feel we are worthy of receiving for a multitude of reasons. We don’t think we are worthy of a reward, a promotion, of a compliment because we think we are just doing our job. Even when others tell us what an excellent job we are doing we feel like imposters. We are dependable, we have always delivered (in fact, more often than not we over-deliver because we don’t want to come up short), and we intend to continue to deliver, every day, every time. Even when we struggle with something new, a big project or a challenge, people just say to us: “You’ll do fine, you’ve got this covered.” We don’t ask for help because we don’t want to admit our vulnerabilities or weaknesses. We continue to prove what we have told ourselves all along – “Rely on yourself. Ultimately there is no-one else to rely on.”


The Need for Defense

For those who grew up with trauma or drama, you learn from an early age to go into survival mode. Part of this is putting “protective armor” around yourself, of becoming self-reliant because you know you can’t rely on those you should be able to rely on. It is easier to keep this armor on all the time than to take some off and risk being hit with an arrow or a bullet (it is hard work taking armor on and off!). You learn to keep it on all the time despite the weight of carrying it. It keeps others out and us in. The thicker the armor the safer we feel but the more isolated we become, and this protection turns into a prison more than a shield. It is unhealthy for a body, mind, or spirit to stay in this fight or flight state indefinitely. It takes its toll in many ways.


Learning the Art of Receiving

We may convince ourselves that no-one really cares or no-one will really help but perhaps we don’t even see the offers or attempts to help from others. We portray an image that we are self-sufficient, that we don’t need help, that we are enough in ourselves, that “we’ve got it.” In other words, we don’t ask for what we need and the message we send to others is that we don’t need help.


“Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are


Asking for what we need, learning how to receive, and believing we deserve it is hard, really hard. It makes us vulnerable, opens us to pain, disappointment, and rejection yet again. By not opening ourselves up to receive, we not only deprive ourselves but we deprive others of the joy and pleasure of giving. We will never know the joy of receiving until we are willing to peel back some layers of armor and take some risk. Instead of focusing on the risk, focus on how it will make the other person feel being able to give to us.

When we graciously receive, it restores equilibrium in our own person and in our relationships. It’s impossible and unhealthy to keep giving and to never receive without burning out, becoming empty and bitter inside. It is just the law of equilibrium.

If we want to be of the most benefit to ourselves and others we need to be willing to open ourselves up to asking and receiving. When we start finding a good balance we will find our lives and relationships take on a new richness and vibrancy that we have not known before.


Accept the challenge of asking yourself each day:

  • What did I give today? (to others and myself)
  • What did I receive today? (from others and myself) If you find you are not receiving from others ask yourself: “Am I truly seeing the opportunities when others do reach out to me, or have I asked for my needs to be met?”

Janet Burton is on a mission to encourage you to live a dynamic and intentional life. Find out more at Dynamic-by-Design, or connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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