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“Everything that comes to us, belongs to us, if we create the capacity to receive it.” – Rabindranath Tagore
Five years ago, this month, my mom passed away. My relationship with her was wonderful and tangled. I always felt loved by her and I frequently felt impacted by her childhood wounds. She was my best friend and because of her own wounds, at times I also felt like I was a mother to her.
The past five years have given me the much-needed distance to better understand our unique mother-daughter dance. Through much unlayering, journaling, and personal process, I can now appreciate one of the greatest lessons my mom taught me
I now see this lesson as one of my greatest life lessons as a woman, a mother, a daughter, a leader, and a coach. And when I share this learning with you, you'll probably nod your head and think "well of course that's true". But to know this reality in the deepest, most embodied parts of your being, is incredibly freeing. What was that lesson?
My mother, through her resistance to healing her life, taught me that no matter how many tools you offer, no matter how much love one tries to give, or how much guidance and support you offer, that person can only benefit to the extent that they have the capacity to receive.
My mom couldn't receive. Not even a compliment. She could only accept gifts on "holidays". And her response to receiving an out of the blue gift, was often one of angry rejection. Her incapacity to receive made it difficult for me to support her and our relationship was often in an awkward dance as a result.
There are so many messages in our culture that “it is better to give than to receive”. I heard this all the time growing up from my parents, teachers, and religious leaders. While our planet can absolutely use more attention to social policy, and I believe in giving, I’m talking about something different here.
The capacity to receive allows us to be part of the reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving.
When I think about my mom, I now realize that not receiving was a form of self-protection, it kept her feeling safe and free from obligation to others. It also kept her from experiencing something wonderful.... the beautiful interpersonal connection that occurs in the dance of life when we have the capacity to both give and receive.
Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. So why is giving so much easier than receiving?
- Perhaps you also grew up with the belief that it is better to give than to receive, or that receiving is selfish, and that you should not bring too much attention to yourself. A healthy self-esteem believes in our right to relish life’s pleasures. Receiving with humility and appreciation—living with a rhythm of giving and receiving—keeps us balanced and nourished.
- When we only give, and refuse to receive, we keep ourselves at a distance from others. We keep our hearts defended. Do you notice this in yourself? The difficulty receiving compliments or help when it is offered? The degree to which we keep others at a distance deprives us of the precious moments of connection.
- When we give, we are in control. Receiving is a type of surrender. It invites us to welcome that vulnerable part of ourselves. When we live in this tender place, we are more available to the subtle gifts of a thank you, a compliment, or a warm smile.
- When growing up, if we experienced being valued for achievements like getting good grades or winning in sports, we may have sensed that we weren't accepted for who we are but, rather, for what we did. This experience can cause us to feel unsafe to receive. When love is conditional, we realize there are strings attached. Today when someone is offering you a compliment or admiration, do you wonder "what's the catch?"
After all the work I have done, with so many tools, loving teachers, and healing experiences that have transformed my own life, this realization of the capacity to receive speaks louder to me than ever.
The capacity to receive affects all the domains of our lives.
The capacity to receive has a direct impact on our ability to heal, learn, and grow. If we can’t receive new information in a way that allows us to change our perspective, we are limited in our personal and professional development.
The capacity to receive impacts our relationships with our birth family, our intimate relationships, our children, our friendships, our co-workers, our leadership, and most importantly, the relationship we have with ourselves.
The capacity to receive impacts how and when we ask for help. If we perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness, we block our ability to receive support and guidance.
What makes it difficult for you to receive? What mindsets do you have about receiving that may be keeping you from experiencing deeper relationships, emotional healing, and a life lived fully. How can you become more open to receiving?
Here are some journaling questions to help you unpack your own experience about receiving:
- What are your beliefs about giving and receiving?
- Do you prioritize one over the other? If so, is there a pattern of when you do this or with whom?
- When do you feel uncomfortable receiving?
- How has not being willing to receive impacted you?
- How has not being willing to receive impacted your connection with others?
- What have you learned about yourself from this reflection?
- What actions can you take to be more open to receiving?
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