By Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT
When Receiving Is Uncomfortable
Often many people, in particular codependents, find it hard to receive. Codependents are more comfortable giving or even self-sacrificing than receiving. Yet they wonder why they’re in relationships with “selfish” or narcissistic partners. They might fantasize receiving, but keep right on giving and not suspect that their predicament is not just due to their partners’ selfishness, but also due to their own difficulty in receiving.
It is a symptom of deeper issues that may be hidden in our unconscious. Until resolved remain obstacles to receiving real love.
How do you feel when you receive a compliment or a gift? Do you ever ask for a favor or help, or would you rather do it yourself? These are just small examples compared to being in a relationship where you receive love, help, and cooperation daily. Here are a few of the obstacles and beliefs that prevent us from receiving:
A major reason we have trouble receiving is that we don’t feel worthy. We feel too flawed, undeserving, or unlovable. We might not trust people’s intentions or find it hard to believe they care enough about us to give or do something for us unless there is an equal exchange. We think, “Why would someone do that for me or say those nice things?”
Shame also makes us reluctant to reveal aspects of ourselves we disown (don’t know about) or disparage. Particularly when we’re in need of help we might feel ashamed of our limitations or feel “weak” and unlikable. If needs, wants, or dependency were shamed in childhood, then we learned to be self-sufficient and not ask or want anything from someone else—a far better solution than to experience shame when we’re vulnerable. As adults, we expect or attract other people to react as our parents did. If early shaming was chronic or severe, we might repress our needs and wants so much that they’re buried in our unconscious. It might never occur to us to ask for help.
Control and Safety
When we receive we’re in a more vulnerable position. Imagine someone listening to us talk long time, helping us physically, unilaterally sexually pleasuring us, or even driving us somewhere. Receiving requires that we trust to allow someone to have “power” over us. If we’ve been abused or controlled in the past, being in such a vulnerable position could make us feel unsafe. We don’t want to be judged or be controlled. We rather be in control than have someone control us. This is based on past dysfunctional experiences of being in relationships based on control, rather than respect and cooperation.
A corollary to this is the fear that we might owe the other person. We fear that we’re a burden or that we’ll be indebted to someone who now has our IOU. To avoid this, we might want to even the score and immediately give back in some way or pay for what we get. We don’t believe that we have a right to say “no” to any request they may make on us in the future.
Do you ever feel guilty receiving or feel you must return the favor? This is irrational, false guilt. Would you rather suffer than call your doctor after office hours? Giving for free is a novel concept when we grow up with parents who give with strings attached or parents who complain about or envy what they give and do for us.
Fear of Intimacy
Being vulnerable allows other people to see us and connect with us. Receiving opens up parts of ourselves that long to be loved, seen, and understood. It tenderizes us when we’re truly receiving. My heart melted when I received a tremendous outpouring of support on social media following a serious car accident I had. I felt gratitude and appreciation toward all the people who offered their kindness and caring. In an intimate relationship, this fosters love.
When we’re a “one-person show” and do everything for ourselves, we feel self-sufficient and in control, but the price is loneliness and isolation. We don’t realize that it’s human to need and that giving and receiving rewards both participants. It’s a natural flow of energy that permits love, closeness, and intimacy.
Training and Culture
Perhaps, we were trained to be self-reliant or learned that having our needs meant we were weak or needy. In some religions and cultures, it’s considered selfish or impolite to ask and receive. In the Persian culture, it’s considered proper to refuse compliments, to initially decline a gift and rude to ask for one.
Our natural need and requests for comfort, love, and support may have been ignored, rejected, or belittled. These false, shame-based beliefs can make us withdraw or behave in needy ways, rather than to directly ask for what we need and want.
You can change your beliefs. Ask yourself whether you give too much, and why. Analyze your beliefs around receiving. Read how to overcome guilt. Heal shame you carry from your childhood in Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.
© Darlene Lancer 2020
This article was originally published here, and is reprinted with the author’s kind permission.
Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People and Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness, also available on Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”