Now that the holiday has come and gone, the gifts are put away and the packaging discarded, recycled, repurposed, or set aside to reuse, I think I’ve got just enough distance from it all to articulate some brewing thoughts on the whole gift thing.
I feel like so many of us have issues around gifting – gift-buying, gift-giving, gift-receiving, and gift-guiltage of one sort or another.
Maybe we equate the monetary value of the gift we receive or the degree of time and deep thought involved in deciding on and procuring it with the implied personal value the giver must assign to us, the intensity of feeling he or she must have for us. Or perhaps we get caught up in what meaning and perceived value the gift we give will convey to the receiver, worrying that our love won’t seem large enough, our caring not deep enough. Or maybe the gifting scale is imbalanced, leaving one of you feeling mired in a lack of appreciation or reciprocation and the other in discomfort or guilt. In any event, we are often left with so much anxiety and second guessing around the process of gifting that the meaning behind the gift can be lost, obscured, nullified.
And it kind of drives me insane, since the whole concept of a gift is to treat someone you care about to something they might like, to do something kind, to acknowledge an occasion or achievement. It’s about thoughtful intention and connection, and the gift is a token of that, a representation or reflection of the fact that you care enough to acknowledge or recognize this person in some tangible way. Yet this is where the extrapolation often begins which says that if a gift is indeed a token of my affection, then a costly gift must mean that my affection is more worthy, is greater. Perhaps rationally we know that all the cost of a gift represents is how much money was paid for it, yet emotionally, we worry that he doesn’t care enough if he gave a cheap gift, that she will think I don’t really care if I don’t overspend.
I had wanted to write and post this before the holidays, but it just wasn’t coming together. I think I needed to see the whole season through, in person and online, in order to gain clarity on my thoughts. The morning after Christmas, I was sifting through my email Inbox – ingesting, addressing, sorting, and deleting emails. In that endeavor, I came across a link to a podcast from Rebecca Campbell called “Heartbreak and Higher Love.” Now, I’m not actually in the midst of a heartbreak, but I was intrigued by the thought of what she and guest Jayne Goldheart might say, so I gave a listen.
They spoke for a bit about receiving, about how sometimes when we are going through and getting through a heartache, we have people who are there for us, who offer us help that we don’t actually let them give. We graciously thank them and immediately assure them that we can do it, that they don’t need to do whatever “it” is for us. They used as an example the making of a cup of tea. I mean sure, you can make your own damn tea. But why not just accept the gesture, the intention behind the act? Why not just let this person help you?
Rebecca connected this to the idea of receiving, of learning how to receive. This is something that many of us struggle with, to accept or receive. Help, a compliment, a positive outcome. We don’t want to appear weak, naive, incapable, needy. We don’t want to become indebted, to anyone or anything. We don’t want to be disappointed when someone hurts us, especially after they’ve said or done something so nice to or for us; that only makes the hurt hurt worse. So we deny the kindness, the gesture, the praise. Or we wrap it in so many layers of meaning, expectation, guilt, and obligation that we couldn’t possibly take it in. Like gaining weight as a way to protect your tender self from whatever harms and ills your slimmer self feels unprepared to face, so does cloaking kindness in analysis, doubt, and skepticism attempt to protect that same tender self. So too does assigning too much meaning to the gifts we give and receive, to the things we do and don’t do for each other. All with similarly unsuccessful and contaminated results.
Rebecca made the claim that once you do learn how to receive from others, then you are in a better place to be able to receive other more ethereal things, like grace and whatever sort of higher support you believe in. Jayne mentioned that by allowing the other person to give or do for you, you are allowing them the opportunity to be of service, which helps them reach their own place of grace. Conversely, when you cling to being able to do x, y, or z yourself, you are taking that away, denying them the opportunity to be of service, to show that they care, to love you.
This conversation, about love and heartache and receiving help or kindness from loved ones, made me think of giving and receiving less lofty and more gifty gifts and how we often deny ourselves and our loved ones the opportunity to give and receive unfettered by guilt, expectation, and anxiety.
Maybe instead of questioning the gift-giver’s intention, we can just assume the best and move on, heedless of whether we are right or wrong about it. We can just be grateful that someone cared enough to acknowledge us, and stop trying to read anything into it outside of that. And when we give our gifts, maybe we can let go of what we think the gift-receiver might be assuming and just give what feels right, what speaks to our bond and honors it as well as our monetary boundaries and capacities.
Let our gifts be given authentically, and let ourselves receive in the same way. Who knows what greatness might be headed our way!
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