Giving requires the act of letting go. Receiving invites us to open and let something in. While it may seem like giving and receiving are two opposite actions. In fact, receiving is also a way to give.
In his book Authentic Happiness, Marty Seligman tells the story of Bobby and George. Bobby had a severe disability and for the time they were together, George was Bobby’s legs. George explained that Bobby made him feel good about helping him. Bobby conveyed a “deep unspoken gratitude” for the assistance that George gave him. George felt “enlarged” helping, while Bobby did not feel “diminished” as a person for asking and receiving help. Seligman concludes that we must have both the capacities for giving love and for allowing ourselves to be loved.
Bobby provided George an opportunity to experience the joy of giving and the opportunity to grow as a person. Giving love, experiencing compassion and empathy are parts of our better selves. These only grow in us with use, expression and action. Our capacity for them are immeasurable.
Giving love, experiencing compassion and empathy are parts of our better selves.
We also need to grow in our capacity to be loved – to open to one another. This is extremely important in relationships, in marriages, friendships and family relationships. Loving in this sense is mutual and a WIN/WIN experience. We are enlarged by giving to others. We are enlarged by receiving and acceptance with gratitude.
Practice Receiving Graciously
The next time someone offers you assistance, do not wave them off, or verbally stiff arm them with, “I can do it myself.”
- Enjoy the moment of receiving assistance.
- Allow yourself to open and smile.
- Observe: watching, listening, and feeling their touch.
- Smile and say, “thank you.”
You have the power to generate positive emotions at this moment in the other person. To make them feel good about giving and about themselves.
Receiving affords the giver another opportunity to grow out of their small selves and become the kinder, compassionate, caring person they need to be, thereby expanding their capacity for giving and loving. The opportunity needs to be there over and over so that we can expand our capacities more and more.
At the same time, the one receiving grows first by letting go of pride which is most often the barrier to asking for help. Some people would rather suffer than request. Next, we need to experience that we are not diminished by receiving help, we too are enlarged or expanded. The gratitude without attitude we express in return enlarges both people, giver and receiver. It is a shared reality, both are participating.
We can generate positive emotions in others through our attitude, words and actions.
Here, too, is an opportunity to do a loving kindness in return: by generating positive emotions in the other person. We can generate positive emotions in others through our attitude, words and actions. Never underestimate that power and capacity and the good it does. So many friendships, partnerships and marriages end because one or both people feel unloved, used and taken for granted.
I will never forget the people with whom I worked for a brief time in hospice. Each person had story after story to tell about how their lives were enriched by serving a person who was dying and the dying person’s family. When I spoke to family members, the gratitude they felt and continue to feel for the assistance provided by hospice nurses, aides, spiritual care workers and social workers is tangible. They speak fondly and warmly. People grew through one of the worst experiences of their lives: the death of a loved one. It also helped them greatly along the path of recovery after the death of a loved one, the path we call Grieving.
What a great gift it is to receive. Of the two, the capacity to love and be loved, Seligman concludes the most important is to be loved. May you continue to grow in this gift.
David Agee, LMSW, is a therapist at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Detroit, an MDiv at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. and an MSW from Grand Valley State University.
As a therapist, David is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, narrative therapy, motivational interviewing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, and mindfulness based cognitive therapy.