How many time had I deflected a compliment, discounting the credibility of the person for surely if they thought well of me they must not know what they’re talking about. Many times I felt uncomfortable receiving a promotion, raise, or award, like an impostor; if only they knew who I really was they wouldn’t have given it to me. Based on talks with close friends and my clients, I know I’m not alone in this. Why do we have so much trouble receiving the positive while simultaneously complaining about no one appreciating us, feeling drained and burned out? I believe a combination of factors contribute to our difficulty receiving.
Sense of worthiness. The greatest impediment to receiving is our sense of worthiness. When the outside world is sharing something positive and it doesn’t resonate with our internal beliefs, we discount it. Many of us have the core belief that we are not enough. So even as the world is trying to fill our cup, we don’t fully receive because the good slips out the crack of unworthiness.
How do we fill that crack? How do we feel worthy of love, success, happiness? This is a complicated question and the answers are as individual as each of us. Asking the question is the first step. The next step is reviewing our past for the messages we received as a child and young adult that reinforced our unworthiness. Challenge those messages. Maybe we had a parent who could not provide unconditional love or required “perfection” before bestowing praise. These experiences plant the seeds of unworthiness. Now imagine our best friend in the same situation. Are they unworthy because of the actions of their parent or because they are not perfect? NO, of course they are still worthy and that same logic applies to us as well. At some point we have to accept that we are worthy of love, joy, happiness and stop sabotaging our success; start enjoying periods of happiness and peace in our life without focusing on what bad thing is about to happen and accepting love and kind words from others. Feeling worthy will mend the crack in our cup and allow us to receive and hold onto all the good that life is trying to bestow on us every day.
Mindfulness. A second potential crack in our cup that inhibits receiving is our attention. Our brain is designed to focus on potential threats and negative circumstances. Rick Hanson PhD, in his book Buddha’s Brain, says that our mind is like velcro for the negative and teflon for the positive. Our brain is hardwired to scan for the bad, immediately store it and make it easily available for recall. In contrast we must consciously focus on something positive for 10-20 seconds for it to sink in. It’s difficult to receive the good in our lives if our brain is not even allowing it to register. To overcome our physiology we need to be mindful and look for the joy, beauty, and love that is always available. Once we are aware of the gorgeous sunrise on the way to work, the smile of the barrister in the coffee shop, the compliment from our co-worker, the feel of our partner’s hand in ours, we need to spend just half a minute reflecting on this and appreciating the positive experience. The simple steps of increased awareness and reflection go a long way in filling our cup and allowing us to receive the good that is always there for us.
It is better to give then receive. This is a tenet of many cultures and most spiritual traditions. I believe it is better to give but that doesn’t mean to never receive. Continually giving without receiving empties our cup and when empty we feel depressed, resentful, burned out. Many people think that if they only give more they will feel better without realizing the problem lies within them. Serving as the giver keeps us in control and in an active state of doing which feels comfortable and is more socially acceptable in the Western world. Being on the receiving end requires vulnerability and a state of just being, something we have less experience with.
Continue to share your time, energy, love and money but be aware if you want to continue to give with compassion and joy, you need to keep your cup full and allow yourself to receive. Remember that as we receive gratefully, we allow others to experience the joy of giving. In healthy relationships there is a balance of giving and receiving.
I challenge you to improve your ability to receive: begin to accept your inherent worthiness, be mindful of the positive experiences available to you every day and challenge the belief that it is always better to give then receive. You will find that by receiving, your cup will fill with love and compassion and you will have more to pour out into the world.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.