Why receiving is so hard.

Firstly, I’d like to say that this topic is particularly challenging for me to write about.  So please forgive the imperfections in my language, any sentences that don’t quite make sense.  This feels so important for us all to consider, and yet, so hard to articulate.  But in the spirit of wanting to stay true to our collective and be open to the beauty of imperfection, here goes!

Having sat in many sharing circles, lived through quite a few birthdays and ‘gift giving’ situations, coached many people and having been involved in many of my own and others’ relationship difficulties, I have always been curious about my own and others’ ability to receive.


This is a complex and powerful dynamic for all of us.  How to receive from others and from life gracefully; how to give without expectation and how to tolerate what it feels like to say no or make a choice that leaves us seemingly less connected than makes us feel comfortable.

The other day my Mum did something for me which was very generous, and to her, a very ‘normal’ thing to do for her daughter.  And it felt very hard for me.  I noticed in myself how challenging it was to receive what she was giving me; I wanted to negotiate, to push it away, to not allow her to give to me.  I felt awkward, my body ached in the front, I felt embarrassed and ashamed.

I took this as a chance to truly study myself and feel the feelings present in the face of receiving.

What I learned is that our capacity to receive is inherently linked to the experience of neediness. When we are given to, it touches into the ways we need(ed) love – and the meeting of a long-lost need, physically and emotionally hurts us.  The vulnerability of this needing, the young and raw feeling of being out of control and needing deeply is pretty much intolerable to our adult narratives of what it means to be human.

At this point in my life (and may this never-endingly deepen) I am blessed to have a larger context into which my experiences happen.  I am with a current understanding, sensing, feeling and knowing of my truer, deeper identity which is whole and intact.  And with this being true, I am able to feel feelings and allow rather than push down, defend, freeze or avoid.

With this ability to be with rather than bounce off or deny, I could feel what it felt like to be truly needy without acting out, without protecting myself by closing down and defending – without rejecting my Mum and pushing the gift away from me in self-protection.  And it was so illuminating to stay there, experience the rawness, the original feeling of this need. Seeing how this plays out in so many areas of our lives that I’ve seen so many times in myself and others who I work with, spend time with, am in relationship with.

This dynamic of having trouble receiving has many consequences (and there will be way more than this list!):

  • Being very independent (if we meet our own needs, we don’t have to acknowledge that we need anything from anyone else and we don’t have to touch into this raw and young, wounded part of us that doesn’t feel worthy of depending on anyone or receiving).
  • Being an avid giver (if we give to others, always talk about / act in service of them, rather than us, we will not leave enough space for them to give to us and therefore will not have to receive and therefore face this feeling of neediness ever again)
  • Having a strategy of always being capable (if we are capable, people will think we don’t need their help, and then they won’t give it to us, so we don’t have to feel the feelings of receiving and therefore the underlying neediness inside)
  • Feeling stingy and ungenerous (in order not to feel the neediness, we have to feel we’re providing for ourselves, and this brings about a conundrum that if we give to others we won’t be able to provide for ourselves as there will not be enough to go round, so we had better protect what’s here, and not give it away so that we don’t have to face the vulnerability of needing something when it’s ‘all gone’)
  • Maintaining distance with those who we feel needy around (if we stay away from the people we feel needy around – could be emotionally or physically – then we don’t have to be in the presence of our own fear or feeling of the neediness arising)
  • Feeling guilty (each time someone makes a request of us, it’s a chance to give – and if we do not meet that request, and we can’t give in order for the relationship to be maintained, we feel guilty – and underlying this is the dynamic of the act of saying no, or standing up for our true motivations.  Saying no is an act of self-dignity, of receiving ourselves, trusting ourselves- and many times that hurts)
  • Feeling jealous or envious (seeing others having their needs met – especially by those who we want our needs to be met by – is triggering and hurtful, so we become jealous or envious and in many cases feel ashamed of ourselves for being this way – the unhealed need that creates a deep story of lack plays out and clouds our view of everyone involved – I can’t help but feel deep compassion for children whose parents bring another child into the family and what that experience must feel like – and of course it’s one of my experiences too as I have a younger brother)
  • The sacrifice story (the more we give, the more we are defending against our own receiving or neediness being felt and all the while the need is running the show – and this is where the sacrificial feeling comes from, we’re all given out, our needs are not being met and underneath we are crying out for our need to be met so we resent anyone who attempts to ‘get’ anything from us or needs anything from us – we haven’t got it to give – and we feel in deep sacrifice in our lives)

And the list goes on.

So what if our active part in this is to heal the wound of neediness ? Given we’re all dependent on each other and that’s the nature of being human – i.e. we need each other.  How do we navigate this and heal so that these dynamics can soften, and be brought more into our awareness as we learn our lessons ?

So here are a few suggestions for us all:

  • Be gentle with ourselves – these feelings are young and raw. Feelings only want to be felt, we can go through them, be with them and they will transform if we trust. Give yourself the hugest break and hugest compassion in facing this and ask for help.
  • Write an ongoing list of all the ways we feel any of the above manifestations of this dynamic, and add to it as we go.
  • Notice that under any reaction there is something else going on than what we think – and take some time to reflect, to look beneath the surface and see what feelings are there when we’re angry, hurt or feeling left out, unmet.
  • Commit to a practice of making requests clearly about what we want or need from our partners, family members, children, friends which directly meet our needs – and see what it’s like to let them truly provide for us. Recognising what it feels like to receive can open up so much awareness of this dynamic for our study and holding.
  • Begin to write a list of self-appreciations – all the ways you appreciate who you are, what you do, how you bring things and yourself to the world and all your relationships / spaces / communities / family etc.
  • Share this with a friend, ask for help from someone you trust in talking this through, examining this through speech and putting language to your own story around this.
  • Allow the awareness and feeling of true connection – that exists beyond time and physicality – to seep into our daily lives, and drink from this source, be filled with this and allow this ever flowing generosity of life to permeate small acts each day.

PS. The picture attached to this article is of me when I was little.  Looking at it and feeling into the little girl in me, all her needs and dependency feels connecting and acknowledging.



One thought on “Why receiving is so hard.

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