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: The Reason We Have Two Hands: A Closer Look at Giving and Receiving

While giving and receiving are more pronounced during the holiday season, both in terms of gifts and generosity of action to those we love and to those in need, many people give in big and small ways throughout the year. Over 40.4 million people provide unpaid care of parents and family members ages 65 and older in the United States. There are a reported million spousal caregivers and if we add those caring for grandchildren and friends, the numbers keep expanding.

With this in mind, it is worth looking closely at ourselves in terms of the importance of not just giving – but of receiving.

  • Do you give in a way that makes reciprocating possible?
  • Are you able to give to yourself in terms of time, needs and activities?
  • Do you receive in a way that acknowledges the intent of the giver?
  • Can you give yourself permission to ask someone you are caring for “ to give you a chance” to understand or get what they need?
  • Can you give yourself respite from caregiving or receive the respite offered by another?
  • Can you give yourself the self-care needed to be a sustaining caregiver?

Loving to Give

  • Whatever impressions we have of people being selfish or self-serving, the reality is that most people love to give.
  • Over the years many more people have told me that it’s easier for them to give than to receive.
  • New Brain research bumps up against survival of the fittest to inform us that we are “ wired to give” in order to survive.
  • Developmental research  finds an altruistic quality even in babies who at 12-16 months will choose the puppet that is helping over the puppet that is hurting.
  • For centuries and across diverse religious beliefs, we have espoused giving as essential to goodness.

For it is in giving that we receive. (St. Francis of Assisi)

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

The Role of the Giver

While there is little doubt that true love and generosity motivate anonymous donations, the efforts of volunteer work, exhausting child and elder care and even hours of shopping to buy the perfect gift, we often feel a greater sense of control when we are giving than when we are receiving. Often receiving is associated with vulnerability and it takes time to recognize the courage and power in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

  •  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.
  • We are quickly moved to compassion in face of another’s tragedy or suffering – do we allow ourselves the benefits of Self-Compassion?
  • We may be expert caregivers but can we tolerate seeking help or being the recipient of professional or familial caregiving?

Receiving is Complicated

Although receiving can be wonderful, it is complicated.

  • For some, attachment and the essentials of care and love have always been given, so it is easy to trust, receive and enjoy.
  • For others being the recipient connotes need, dependency and expectancy. It is avoided because it has too often been associated with anxiety and disappointment. From compliments to cookies – receiving is stressful.
  • For many, receiving becomes difficult when the giver, the gift or the gesture is something they are not comfortable or prepared to accept. It stirs the dilemma–Aren’t we always supposed to be grateful?

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 moments 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, or a meal is offered freely with care and love and is received in a way that sends back a gift of delight, joy, and acceptance, the exchange and the benefits are mutual. A gift has been given and received.

What Makes Mutual Exchange Possible?

Using two perspectives, Self-Reflection, the consideration of self, and Empathy, the consideration of the other, can enhance the mutuality of giving and receiving.  It is worth taking a closer look at ourselves as givers and receivers.

Do You Give In A Way That Makes Receiving Easy?

  • Can you give without expectation? – Is it still a giving experience for you if there is no thank you?
  • Must you gift the most or the best?
  • Can you give what the other wants rather than what you want to give?
  • Can you be the first to smile, lend a hand or make an overture  of reconciliation without scorekeeping?
  • Can you allow the other to tell you what they really need from you?

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

Do You Receive in a Way that Makes Another’s 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?
  • Can you receive help from those you usually help—children, students, patients or neighbors? Do you allow them the gift of giving?
  • Can you accept the gesture of a gift in the moment without creating shame in the giver–even if you cannot accept the actual gift?
  • 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)

Listen in to Dacher Keltner on Psych Up Live. He is  well known for his discussion of The Power Paradox – Is Power Associated with Giving?