Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Is It Easier To Give Than To Receive?

easier to give or receiveOver the years many more people have told me that it’s easier for them to give than to receive. I think many would agree. Why?

Loving to Give

For starters, most people love to give. A part of our moral fabric, espoused for centuries and across diverse religious beliefs, we recognize giving as essential to goodness.

“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9.

“For it is in giving that we receive.” (St. Francis of Asissi )

“They who give have all things: they who withhold have nothing.” (Hindu quote)

Apart from goodness, giving seems to put us in charge.

  • We love giving advice far more than receiving it.
  • We take great pains to give directions (GPS or not) although we would never ask for directions ourselves.
  • Most of us would much prefer to be in the posse that arrives to rescue the town, than waiting in the town to be rescued.

While there is little doubt that true love and generosity motivate the giving in our volunteer work, exhausting child care and even our hours of shopping and standing on lines to buy the perfect gift- we often feel more sense of control when we are giving than when we are receiving.

Receiving is Complicated

Although receiving can be wonderful, it is complicated. For some, the essentials of care and love have always been given, so they find it easy to trust and receive. For others being the recipient connotes need, dependency and expectancy. It is avoided because it has too often been associated with anxiety and disappointment.

For many, regardless of history – receiving is a difficult position.  It feels incongruous to be anything but thankful when someone is giving you something.  The moral code for many includes not only generosity but gratitude!

  • What do you do when he books the trip you clearly did not want to take?
  • How do you feel when the giver’s gift implies a commitment you are not ready to make?
  • Where do you put the disappointment when there is clearly no positive feeling associated with the gesture or gift being offered?

Giving and Receiving as Counterparts

The fact is – whether we prefer giving and avoid receiving or the reverse, giving and receiving are not separate events. They are counterparts that are inextricably connected.  There really is no true giving without receiving and no receiving without giving.

What does this mean?

The real joy comes in the mutually shared moment of exchange. That doesn’t mean equal gifts or equal efforts. It just means that when the offering – be it a gift, a feeling, a compliment, a new well or a meal is embraced and received in a way that sends back a gift of delight, joy, gratitude or appreciation- the exchange is mutual. A gift has been given and received.

What Makes Mutual Exchange Possible?

Two strategies, Self-Reflection, the consideration of self, and Empathy, the consideration of the other, can enhance giving and receiving.  Consider taking a closer look at yourself as giver and receiver.

Do You Give In A Way That Makes Receiving Easy?

  • Can you give without expectation? – Is it still a gift even if there is no thank you?
  • Do you get so excited by your gift that you forget the other’s need? – Consider the generous CEO who shipped computers to a remote school without internet capacity.
  • Can you give of yourself in a way that may take more time but mean much more – like the gift of a weekly movie night with Grandma instead of another sweater?
  • Must you give the most or the best?
  • Can you give what the other wants rather than what you want  – like her wish for the dinner for two rather than the surprise party for 40?
  • Can you give without strings – is the gift free of you entitlement to control or dictate its use?
  • Can you allow the other to join you in planning or picking his/her gift?

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift. (Pierre Corneille)

Do You Receive in a Way that Makes Giving Possible?

  • Are you so selfless that you are unable or unwilling to receive gifts? – This may make you untouchable.
  • Are you able to appreciate the giver’s intent such that the reality of the actual gift doesn’t matter?

One woman speaks with fond memory of the tiny sequined red dress her husband gave her for Christmas four weeks after the birth of their first child. Managing to squeeze into this dress was almost as difficult as giving birth – but the look on his face was the gift she carried for a lifetime!

  • Can you accept the gift in the moment it is given without presuming it comes with historical expectations of control or payback?
  • Can you receive a compliment without correcting or invalidating the giver?
  • Can you receive with empathy for the giver?

Accepting Aunt Grace’s cheeseboard each year validates her wish to be a giver in the only way she can.

  • Can you welcome help as generosity rather than implication of dependency or need?

God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with. (Billy Graham)

When Giving and Receiving Are Both Easy

If we are human, we will never quite master the ease of giving or receiving. But the effort to understand and give to another and the effort to receive and trust what  is offered is at the heart of our human connection.

For Further Reading:

Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving by Patricia Spardaro

Photo by mmolek1, available under a Creative Commons attribution non-commercial license.