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November 26, 2009

The Gift of Receiving--A Pre-Season Guide To Staying Stress Free

By Judith Acosta

Every year at around this time, the advertising starts to remind us that the holidays are closing in. For some, that is a delight. To others, it is a cause for panic.


Every year at around this time, the advertising starts to remind us that the holidays are closing in. For some, that is a delight. To others, it is a cause for panic.

Givers and Getters

Most of us know from our own experience that holiday shoppers can be lumped into two grossly generalized groups: those who are worried about what they're going to give and those who are worried about what they're going to get. In a sense, it's not all that different in the larger circle of life. There are “givers” and there are “getters.”

Over the years, it has been my observation that many of the “getters” are not all that worried about getting. Not really. They're anticipating and expecting, but not fretful or truly anxious. The fact that they are expecting gifts in one sense precludes a certain anxiety and presumes a certain amount of happy narcissism.

The givers on the other hand truly fret. They make lists. They change them. They review gifts they've given in the past lest they buy something similar. They start out with one gift per person and wind up with three or four or more. They love to give. And they love to see people respond to them with love and appreciation.

'Tis the Season To Be Given

However, since it is the season of giving, there is a de facto twist for these givers—it is also the season of receiving. If one gives, then another must receive. And for givers that is not as easy as it sounds. They love to give, but it is an entirely different affair when they are on the receiving end.

A Story of Two Givers

A while back a friend of mine who is a devout, loyal and generous man was helping me out with my garden. I had asked for his advice as a botanist in selecting specimen plantings and laying them out properly. Because he is so generous, advice became a day of drawing things out on graph paper, making lists of shrubs and perennials, and finding a wholesale nursery we could work with. That soon turned into his physical help in buying the material, loading and unloading the truck, turning over rock-filled beds, digging the holes and tamping down dozens and dozens of plants.

I stated to him clearly at the beginning of the process that if his “help” ever evolved into anything more than a few opinions that I felt strongly that he should be paid for his time. (At one time he had been a professional landscaper). I reminded him on the drive to the nursery that I appreciated his help and asked him to think about his fee. He laughingly dismissed me. I said it a second time while we were unloading the plants. He laughed again.

Finally, I offered him an envelope and we proceeded to hand it back and forth like a flu in the first grade until I put it in his shirt pocket and said, “If God wants us all to give in His name how can I give if you won't receive?”

How to Receive with Love
The truth at the time is that neither he nor I were very good receivers. I stood as firmly in the givers camp as he did, which made giving to one another absurdly difficult. However, according to behavioral psychologists and anthropologists, it is a supremely important social impulse and there are more than a few good reasons to give:

it increases the bond between us and the person to whom we have given;

it generally increases our feelings of competence;

it helps keep us aware of our place in the Divine scheme and cognizant of the fact that we can have a positive impact on the lives of others;

it keeps us grateful – if we have enough to give, then we're not so bad off;

it sanctifies our lives;

it reinforces compassion and love where it did exist and makes room for it grow where it didn't exist before.

According to those same social psychologists and behaviorists, giving is not just an effect of an internal emotional or cognitive process. It is a cause. By giving—by acting as if—we create a feedback loop that creates an emotional or cognitive matrix. Daryl Bern, Ph.D. explains that we deduce our attitudes from our behaviors, which is why so many rehabilitation programs use slogans such as: Move a Muscle—Change A Thought or Act As If. If you act as if you care long enough and consistently enough, you begin to believe it. If you act like a sober adult, soon enough you begin to feel like one.

The danger is when we are so intent on giving that we forget to let others give to us. We're so busy being the givers, we leave them no opportunity. According to Ellen J. Langler, “the person who attends to a"suitor's every need and asks for nothing in return may come to care more and more for that person. But that person [the giver] may be cared for less and less in return because the suitor is not being given the same chance to feel effective. We mistakenly think we will lose a partner's affection by burdening him or her with our requests for favors or acceptance of gifts. Attending to someone else's needs leads to affection for that person. Discouraging a desired potential suitor from giving, then, is clearly the wrong strategy for fostering affection.” If giving is the glue of the relationship, then receiving is the vise that lets the glue take hold.

Some Seasonal Pointers For Giving Stresslessly

• A good gift is a good match—not for us, for the recipient. If you've never ever seen Johnny watching spectator sports but you get him tickets to the Rose Bowl because you think it would be “good for him,” who's the gift for? You or Johnny?

• A good gift shows some thought, but it isn't overdone. Giving beyond your means is not only stressful to you, it may be awkward for the recipient or perceived as excessive. Keep the gift loving but appropriate to the relationship, especially when you're giving to co-workers.

• A good gift demonstrates your feelings about the relationship and how you value it. It doesn't have to be expensive or flamboyant. The best gifts are often the gifts that show someone was paying attention all year, for instance, remembering the time your friend, Joan, commented on how much she liked a pair of gloves she saw in a catalog or how your colleague, Rob, wanted a particular DVD. Simple things, perhaps. But important.

• Good gifts show some effort on your part, not something you picked up at a local supermarket while you were in the toy aisle.

• A good gift should NEVER symbolize your dissatisfaction with another person or make a statement about how you wish they would give up smoking, lose weight, or tone up. A good gift speaks of acceptance.

• A good gift is almost never a joke. A joke has a time and place. A birthday or a special holiday is usually not it.

• A good gift is something someone would probably not get himself. According to Margaret Rucker, a professor of textiles and an expert in the science of gifting, "It's not a gift if it has a cord attached.”

Some Pointers on Receiving Well

Say thank you and put a period at the end of it. Refrain from repeating “You shouldn't have,” or “Oh, this is too much,” or, the worst, “How could you possibly afford to do this?”

Acknowledge any anxiety you experience and file it away for later. Express only joy and gratitude. Let people know that you have received their kindness and their love.

Remember that receiving a person's love is a gift to him or her.

Avoid competition or trying to outdo, pay back, or respond to imagined obligation. Keep it simple. Give what you can. Give what you desire to give. Then receive what is given in the same spirit.

Keep your perspective. If a gift is not perfect for you, avoid taking it personally. Not every gift has to be imbued with eternal, deep meaning. Sometimes people are stressed and busy and don't have the time or the memory for all that is required of them come holiday time.

Whatever you receive or don't, whatever you give or don't, stay in synch with the real reason for it all—love of God and love of one another. Everything after that is gravy.

On That Note: Some Important Thoughts on Giving and Receiving

With the financial crisis of 2008 still not quite behind us, before we put our hands out to give or receive, we ought to ask ourselves: what is really of value? For too many years we have fallen prey to the purveyors of Madison Avenue and been in the trance I've called “Moritis.” It has become a pervasive cultural delusion, a trance in which we believe we are what we have and, as a result, must always have more. If we are no more than the image we project by the things with which we surround ourselves, then those things must always speak of us well. They must be new, shiny, hip, gracious, sexy, gallant, grand, outré—whatever it is we want to say about ourselves via those objects.

It occurred to me the other day that these toys and trinkets we consume and collect are not unlike the transitional objects children use to represent the safety of their mothers and fathers. When a child is scared to be alone in their own bed, they might carry a blanket or stuffed animal or piece of clothing from their parents' room to remind them of the comfort they want. That blanket becomes a “transition” from the security of the parent to the time the child is able to internalize that feeling of safety and carry it within himself or herself.

Objects that “represent” status are no different. They are substitutes, usually poor ones, for the persons we really are.

When we give, we might consider that the things we have held in such high esteem these last few decades—the blingy gadgets, the HDTV's, the phones that can do everything except whip cream—are worth little more than the landfills they occupy within the year when they are compared with the love and time you can be giving instead.

Before you give, think about what has truly made you happy in your lifetime—even if it has only been for a brief moment. The probability is very high that it had little to do with “more stuff” and a great deal to do with feeling loved, accepted, free, and part of something bigger than yourself.

Whatever you give, whatever you hope to receive, let that thought guide you and become your silent, sure intention.

Submitters Bio:
Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT is a licensed psychotherapist and clinical homeopath in private practice in Placitas and Albuquerque. Her areas of specialization include the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She has appeared on both television and radio and is a regular lecturer throughout the U.S. She is the author of The Next Osama and co-author of the books, Verbal First Aid and The Worst Is Over, which has been dubbed the "bible of crisis communication."