Chapter 1: How I Discovered My Receiving Muscles, and How You Can, Too
Maybe you don't reject the things that you're offered -- or perhaps you do so without realizing it. Make it your mission to identify ways you might have rejected things that were offered for your enjoyment. The world is an abundant place, so anything we're lacking in our lives very often reflects an area where we aren't yet receiving.
Notice if you feel guilty or anxious when someone compliments you or tries to help you, but don't mention it to them.
When I'm trusting and being myself...everything in my life reflects this by falling into place easily, often miraculously.
-- Shakti Gawain
I Was Standing in My Own Way
Turning down offers that were meant to delight me hurt me in more ways than one. The guilt and control that were stiffening my receiving muscles took the biggest toll on my marriage. I didn't recognize this until after one particularly awful night. John announced that he was taking me out but wouldn't say where we were going. He said that he wanted to give me a special treat and that I should just relax and enjoy the surprise that was coming my way.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how to do that.
First I badgered John to tell me where we were going, but he wouldn't budge. When we arrived at a familiar restaurant, I told him where to park so that we would be able to get out and avoid the postdinner car congestion. Next I asked him if he had enough money on him to cover the cost of dinner. When John tried to pull out my chair for me, I ignored him and pulled it out myself. When the bill came, I told John what I thought he should leave for a tip. When we left the restaurant, John tried to take me to the movies, but because the evening had been out of my control, I was so anxious that I just wanted to go home.
You can imagine the jerkiness of the evening. Every time John did something, I put on the brakes. Being with me was like driving a car that's stuck in first gear. Far from being romantic and fun, it was exhausting and stressful.
Unwittingly, I had sabotaged John's efforts at creating a sweet, intimate evening.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I had no idea how to just enjoy myself while I was being treated to a night out. I couldn't stand not calling the shots. Being in control made me feel secure.
And, being surprised -- even pleasantly -- made me anxious.
I Had the Kookiest Problem
At home, I took a hot bath to soothe myself. Sitting in the tub, I struggled to figure out why I couldn't enjoy myself on a night out with my husband. I tried to think of something besides me that was wrong with the evening, but I couldn't.
I was the problem. I realized then that if I ever wanted to have intimacy with my husband -- who loved me and wanted me to be happy -- I would have to learn to ride out the initial discomfort of being in the spotlight.
I would have to find the courage to receive graciously.
That night I discovered that my capacity for enjoyment was limited. The only thing standing between me and my having romantic nights out with my husband was the discomfort I experienced when I was treated well. Prior to that night, I figured that the problem was with my husband, or that we couldn't afford to go out, or that marriage isn't like dating. But seeing John try so hard to make the evening special and to plan it with all the things he knew I loved, and watching myself systematically reject his efforts, made me realize that I was blocking my own pleasure. It was like knowing that Ed McMahon was at the door with a sweepstakes check and not opening it because I wasn't sure how much money I would get.
If I wanted good times -- let alone intimacy -- with my husband and others, I was going to have to increase my tolerance for good treatment.
Looking back, I can see how I had been turning down gifts and special treatment my whole life, but it wasn't until that night that I had my "aha" moment. In that flash of clarity I felt as though I had the kookiest problem in the world and that no one else would understand it. I didn't know of any books or advice columns or talk-show hosts who'd ever talked about receiving.
I had no idea how I would begin to change, but I knew I had to do something because I desperately wanted to stop blocking all the kindnesses, treats, and even money that could come my way. I racked my brain for ways to overcome my anxiety. Then, one afternoon while I was quietly folding laundry on my bed, I remembered what I had learned from singing in front of an audience.
For my first performance -- a gig at a tiny coffeehouse in the suburbs of Los Angeles -- I had been so nervous and self-conscious that I didn't enjoy myself at all. I spent the whole night wincing internally at my mistakes, and I was one big pretzel when the show was over. But I didn't let that stop me from coming back to perform again the next week, and, when nobody said anything about how awful I was, I felt a little less anxious. Over time and dozens of gigs, I grew so comfortable being on stage that I actually enjoyed myself. Eventually, I stopped thinking about the mistakes and just had fun connecting with the audience by smiling at them and singing their requests.
I decided that I would make myself accept as much good treatment as possible, just the way I decided to keep performing on stage despite my sweaty palms and pounding chest. I put myself on a receiving regimen, hoping to improve the intimacy in my marriage, deepen my friendships, improve my standard of living, and simply make myself into someone our neighbors and community thought was pleasant and gracious. I made my mantra "receive, receive, receive!" I hoped that if I got used to good treatment, I would eventually begin to enjoy it.
Little did I know that would also attract more to me.
I Had to Override the Alarm System in My Head
Forcing myself to say nothing but "thank you" to John's compliments and the nice things he would do when I was least expecting them -- even if I thought they were undeserved -- was as uncomfortable as using muscles I hadn't stretched in years. But the more I used those receiving muscles, the more confident I grew from hearing -- and believing -- compliments that I once would have dismissed.
When John offered to do the dishes, I ignored my fears that he would leave streaks on the glasses and said only "thank you," so I could have a little time to myself after dinner to read a book or chat on the phone with my friends. My receiving muscles grew stronger, and I experienced a calmness I had never felt in the days when I was frazzled from doing everything myself. I felt prettier and smarter and more loved because John was constantly telling me how beautiful, intelligent, and beloved I was now that I was no longer rebuffing his kind words.
When you hear something enough times, you start to believe it, and hearing and believing how wonderful and adored I was gave me ongoing incentive to receive.
Before I knew it, receiving graciously had become second nature. I started flexing my new muscles outside of the house and in every area of my life. One day I let the box boy carry a single bag of groceries to the car for me, which I had never done because I thought it was too indulgent. I imagined that other people were wondering what was wrong with the able-bodied woman who couldn't even carry her own groceries to the car. But I didn't see any strange, critical looks (and trust me, I was searching for them), and the box boy didn't seem to mind one bit, so I did it again the next week. Eventually, I noticed that I didn't dread the trip to the supermarket anymore: one of the things I hated most about shopping -- lugging bags to the car -- had disappeared.
At work, when a coworker praised me in front of two other people, I worried that word would spread that I was conceited for saying nothing but "thank you." But if word did spread, it never got back to me.
I received an apology from a friend whose beater car leaked oil in our driveway. I didn't say, "That's okay," and secretly resent her for her jalopy. I just said, "Thanks for that. Apology accepted." Hearing myself saying "thank you" so much made me realize I was receiving a lot. I felt grateful.
I was no longer rejecting the things I said I wanted more of -- I was enjoying them. Things were getting good, and although I was uncomfortable at times, I could stand it.
The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.
-- William James
How I Know It's Better to Receive Than to Give
Then came the holidays, and a friend presented me with a neatly wrapped box and a sly smile on her face. At first I was nervous because I had no present for her, but she didn't seem to care because she was so focused on her excitement over giving me a gift. She explained, "This reminded me so much of you I just had to get it." I laughed when I opened the package to find a shirt that read blonde comet beneath a picture of a cartoon blonde with her dukes up. We both laughed at how appropriate it was because the cartoon had my coloring and seemed to represent perfectly my spunky personality. We had a great time laughing together when I posed with my fists in the air like the girl on the T-shirt and said, "That's me!" That was all she needed in return.
I resisted the urge to go out and buy her something for the holidays. I knew I had also given her something by simply receiving and enjoying the present. Wrapping up a scarf for her at the last minute out of guilt would only have diminished her gift to me, which clearly came from a place of fun and inspiration rather than obligation. Instead, we both got a kick out of her present, especially when she saw me wearing it, which I did until it wore out.
That's when I learned that it's better to receive than to give.
Anyone Can Learn to Receive
Knowing how to give is important, and most women are wonderful givers. But we can't be good friends, wives, mothers, colleagues, and sisters without also learning to receive.
What's magical about receiving is that you find you have more free time as you let loved ones help you decorate for the party or write your résumé -- even if you think you could have done those things yourself.
Your confidence will soar as you come to take in all the help, praise, and material gifts that people around you want to give you. Your receptivity will show you that you deserve them.
Take Victoria: When she acknowledged her secret desire to be an actress, the only person she felt safe enough to tell was her sister. To her surprise, her sister was supportive of Victoria's dream and offered to let her stay at her apartment on the nights she had acting class nearby. Just receiving that gesture of validation gave her the confidence to take a course that she had only fantasized about taking for years. The last time I spoke to Victoria, she had an agent and an impressive demo reel. To say her confidence had improved is an understatement.
You'll also feel more self-respect when you stop dismissing and start receiving apologies, because as you do, you'll realize that you deserve to have others keep their commitments to you and treat you thoughtfully.
Most important, your friendships and love relationships will grow stronger and more intimate as you become a gracious receiver. That's because receiving requires vulnerability, which in turn creates closeness born from a sense of trust. Good receivers know that they are also giving something when they simply let someone else please them.
No matter how strong your knee-jerk reactions are to appear modest and fend for yourself, you can start having the things you say you want the most -- if you strengthen your receiving muscles.
Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want.
-- Joseph Wood Krutch
Reflect on What You Reject
If you're like I was, you may not even be aware that you're rejecting gifts. Maybe you just have a hard time simply saying "thank you" and taking in the kind words when someone pays you a compliment. When a friend says, "I'll get it," and grabs the check at lunch, you insist on paying your share because you don't want to burden your friend with the cost of the check -- or feel that you now owe her something. When a coworker offers to carry one of the boxes of office supplies up the stairs, you might say, "That's okay -- I've got it," to show that you're capable.
We tell ourselves we are just being efficient, considerate, and modest when someone is giving us something. Whatever the "reason" for rejecting gifts and compliments, the result is the same: you're rejecting things that are meant to give you pleasure and enjoyment.
Here's a quiz to help you identify the ways you might be inadvertently rejecting the things you say you want:
Are You a Gracious Receiver?
1. When a friend apologizes for being twenty minutes late to meet you, you relieve the tension as quickly as possible by saying, "That's okay."
2. When you find yourself wanting to have something that's unrealistic, you put it out of your mind so you won't set yourself up for disappointment.
3. After a dinner party, two friends offer to stay and help you clean up. You say, "You don't have to do that."
4. You've always known your hair is too thin, so when a coworker tells you that you have beautiful hair, you tell her thanks but point out that it's actually limp.
5. When it comes to answering the question "What do you want to do tonight?" you hope that your partner or someone else will come up with a plan because you can never think of anything.
6. You're a really busy person.
7. You talked your best friend into making an investment that completely bombed. Of course she is unhappy about it and tension is high. You apologize repeatedly because you feel so guilty about it.
8. If someone asked you to name a part of your body that's gorgeous, it would take a while for you to come up with an answer.
9. Your hate your job.
10. You would feel uncomfortable letting someone support you financially.
To total your score, give yourself:
5 points for each "rarely"
3 points for each "sometimes"
1 point for each "frequently"
Add all three columns together for a final score (somewhere between 10 and 50)
If your score is 25 or less:
Life Doesn't Have to Be So Hard
It's not easy to be you, because although you're strong and hardworking, you're tired and often overwhelmed. Nobody looks her best when she's running ragged, but that's probably the least of your concerns at the moment. Mostly you'd like to know how to keep life from overtaking you completely. The good news is that an easier life, better relationships, and more free time are well within reach. For simple instructions on how to get off this treadmill and live the way you've always wanted to, read on.
If your score is 26-42:
The Good Life Is Just Around the Corner
You know how to take a compliment, and you wouldn't reject a present, but you sure could use some assistance. Stress is part of life, but you don't have to carry it all by yourself. That gray dullness you feel is a distinct lack of adequate fun. Sure, you're having some, but you could be having so much more. Read on and you'll see how.
If your score is more than 42:
Congratulations, You Relaxed, Confident Woman
You don't need me to tell you that life is good. You count your blessings every day, and the list is long. People are drawn to you because you're gracious and self-assured. You work hard, but you have time to yourself, wonderful support from family and friends, and plenty of fun and relaxation. This book will show you how to benefit even more from what you already do so well naturally.
Anyone can become a good receiver by following a few simple suggestions. But this book can help you start living the principle that it's better to receive than to give only if you first become conscious of your present behaviors and then replace them with new ones. In other words, begin to receive.
Copyright © 2004 by St. Monday, Inc.
The human race has had a long experience and a fine tradition in surviving adversity. But we now face a task for which we have little experience, the task of surviving prosperity.
-- Alan Gregg
Women Reject the Very Things They Say They Want the Most
Years ago some friends offered to treat my husband, John, and me to dinner for our wedding anniversary. As we were preparing for the evening, I started to fret. "Now we have to find out when their anniversary is so we can take them out to dinner," I said to John.
I wasn't thinking about how much fun we would have with our friends, and I wasn't grateful for their thoughtfulness. Instead I turned their gift into a debt that would have to be paid.
But John had a wise response. "Did you ever think that just having your company at dinner is enough and that you don't owe them anything besides that?"
The idea that I could relish a gift without worrying about reciprocating was new to me.
Accepting what someone offered simply for my enjoyment made me uncomfortable. Dinners. Theater tickets that a friend couldn't use. A bottle of wine from houseguests. Neighborly offers such as a ride to pick up my car or the favor of rescuing our mail while John and I were away. A birthday phone call. Anything that was meant to bring me joy or to make my life a little easier and nicer would flood me with anxiety and a suffocating sense of obligation.
And I'm not the only one. One woman described feeling stressed out when her husband invited her for a romantic Friday night dinner. Accepting his invitation meant she had to focus to finish her work, call a baby-sitter (and clean the house before the sitter arrived), and get the kids fed and bathed. Not only that, she figured that her husband would want to have sex with her after they came home -- when she knew she would be exhausted.
Ah. Superwoman Syndrome in its purest form.
This woman could have asked her husband, the babysitter (who is paid to feed and bathe children), and even her oldest child for some help instead of doing everything herself as if she were a superwoman. She could have kept the perspective that her husband just wanted to show her a good time instead of feeling obligated to him.
Like me, she had a hard time receiving without feeling indebted.
Favor offering and repaying and gift giving and receiving were column headings on a giant scorecard I kept in my head, and I never wanted to lag behind. Worrying that I wouldn't be able to afford to reciprocate heightened my distress.
All that anxiety and worry was the knife that severed my connections with the people who loved and cared about me. Ultimately, my incessant rejecting of gifts -- whether they came wrapped with a bow, arrived in the form of favors and help, or appeared as kind words uttered just when I needed a pick-me-up -- signaled to my friends and family that their offers weren't welcome. Eventually, they dried up. And so did the friendships.
When I said that I didn't need help after a dinner party or claimed that I really was in need of a haircut when someone complimented me on my appearance, I was unwittingly keeping my friendships at arm's length. My friends didn't see me as independent and self-sufficient but rather as someone who, in rejecting their offers, was rejecting them.
I felt alone. Without support and the warmth of hearing that I was beautiful or had done something well, my self-esteem flagged. And I was completely exhausted because I had trapped myself in a corner where I had to do everything single-handedly. I didn't realize that I was rejecting the very things that I -- and every woman I know -- wanted most: more time, help, understanding, prosperity, and validation.
I didn't realize my isolation was self-imposed -- I just thought life was overwhelming.
All of us at certain moments of our lives need to take advice and to receive help from other people.
-- Alexis Carrel
I Thought I Was Superwoman
Feeling as if I had to be a superwoman who didn't need anything from anybody also put a strain on my marriage because I didn't know how to receive from my husband. When he offered to take me away for the weekend, I argued that we couldn't afford it. Instead of showing gratitude when he washed the dishes, I found fault with his work and mumbled that I could have done it better myself, which discouraged him from helping the next time. I said, "That's okay" when he offered to make dinner because I figured I could do it faster. After I snarled, "Yeah, right" when he told me that I looked great before an important meeting, he stopped complimenting me. Then I was mad because I felt unnoticed and unappreciated.
What a mess.
And that's not all. I felt guilty when I was relaxing or doing something I loved, like walking along the beach or buying a new pair of shoes, because not only was I intolerant of other people's kindness, but I hadn't yet developed a tolerance for treating myself well. Instead, I worked long hours at a job I hated because that felt useful and important, even though it didn't make me happy.
No wonder I was always cranky.
I am a reformed poor receiver.
Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.
-- Sydney J. Harris
What to Do When the Easy Times Hit
Most people know what to do when tough times hit -- circle the wagons, hunker down, and try to get through as best you can. If tomorrow is the big deadline for a project that's not ready, you'd probably make a pot of coffee and plan to work through the wee hours. If money's suddenly tight, you ration what you have for groceries and other necessities. If you lose your job, you network like crazy until you get another one. When the goal is survival, it's not hard to figure out what to do next, and you don't feel guilty about it. But when you suddenly have a free afternoon with no responsibilities, get a nicer car than you've ever had, attract an amazing guy who falls in love with you, or get promoted over three people who have been at the company longer, what do you do?
You try to enjoy it, of course.
But that can be tricky.
I knew one couple who lived meagerly until they received a substantial inheritance. Before long, they had spent it and returned to their paltry lifestyle. They understood how to struggle, but they had not developed a tolerance for living much beyond that. Having extra money didn't fit with their picture of themselves, so they unconsciously returned to their low but familiar standard of living. We do the same thing with gifts.
When I first became self-employed, I was so used to working from eight AM to five PM Monday through Friday that I felt as though I wasn't working hard if I slept in on a Tuesday. No one but me was expecting me to get up at a certain time, and I had never been a morning person, but my Protestant work ethic dictated that I should stick to that familiar schedule. If I stayed up late at night writing, I judged myself harshly for being undisciplined and not getting my work done in the morning. I wasn't focused on my excellent productivity (I was writing two books) but rather on the fact that I was abusing the privilege of being self-employed.
Now I recognize that I enjoy writing at night -- I feel alert and rested in the evening, and there are fewer interruptions. I've finally developed a tolerance for something that's really great for me -- the ability to set my own work hours.
But it wasn't easy.
We have to reprogram ourselves to be comfortable with more love, free time, success, confidence, money, or a situation that is better than we already have, but it can be done.
Receiving is the key.
If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.
-- Robert Fritz
You'll Feel As If You're Getting Away with Something
Focusing on being a good receiver will help you override any temptation to dismiss or reject the things that you say you want but that you can't seem to get. Chances are, having them makes you feel uncomfortable. In other words, when you change your behavior to become a good receiver -- when you tolerate having what is good and pleasurable for you -- you will have more peace in your life. If you're like me, you'll feel delight and surprise that life can be so easy.
When you discover the bounty of time, love, and everything else that is good that comes as a direct result of receiving, you increase your capacity for more wonderful, surprising, exciting, tender things to happen to you.
Learning to receive will at first be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. But this book will show you how to ride out the awkwardness.
In the following pages you will learn simple, practical steps that will help you make receiving your habit. You will learn how to choose confidence and graciousness over insecurity and guilt. As a result, your romantic relationship, friendships, and family connections will be more intimate and enjoyable. You'll have more free time and less stress, and you'll develop an acceptance -- a tolerance -- for what you want but have unconsciously rejected in the past because you didn't think you were deserving.
When you master the art of receiving graciously, magical things happen. Instead of doing the dishes by yourself the morning after the party, you have a splash-fest with the friend who stayed late to help you clean the kitchen. Leisure time becomes more abundant. Instead of having leftovers and watching TV on Friday night, you let someone take you to a romantic dinner and a movie. Compliments you would have dismissed serve to make you feel more confident, and you connect more deeply with loved ones.
Adopting the habits of a gracious receiver will help you draw things to you with minimal effort instead of struggling to pull them toward you by force or manipulation. Becoming a gracious receiver will also make you more attractive. If you learn to receive, you'll have more energy to devote to the things you've always wanted to do -- learning French, cultivating a garden, getting in shape, taking care of a child, or running a corporation.
All of this will happen just as soon as you discover and develop your receiving muscles, so keep reading.
Copyright © 2004 by St. Monday, Inc.