On Giving and Receiving


I read this article called What Your Gift-Giving Style Says About You which quoted a woman named Karen Pine who actually studies gift giving psychology. Here's the article

I found this article because I noticed something....it can be nearly painful for some people to receive a gift. GIVING is easy, but RECEIVING is hard.


A.G.R. | Awkward Gift Recievers

I witnessed two very awkward gift receivers. They so desperately did not want to be receiving a gift (in both cases, they had no gift to give in return) that they looked as if they were handling poison—gingerly opening it, repeating over and over how they did not bring a gift, or saying they 'left it at home', not making eye contact with anyone and writhing uncomfortably in their seat. People were cringing. And the gift giver.....felt like they must have given a terrible gift or said something wrong. (In both cases, the gifts were thoughtful, appropriate and awesome). The receivers in these cases, I think (armchair psychology here), were so thrown off by getting a gift without having one in return, they just didn't know how to behave. They didn't know how to receive without giving first. They had lost their sense of control! They were so overwhelmed by their feelings of not having something to give in return, they didn't get to enjoy the wonderful experience of just receiving a gift from someone.

A couple of years ago when I was working in a large office, a coworker was preparing for a frugal holiday season. Everyone knew about this as this person would bring it up regularly through the end of November and into December. Then it started to turn into a guilt trip...."You should consider donating this year instead of gifts. We all have more than enough. Let's not do any gifts this year at the office." The company had been doing a gift exchange its entire 50+ year history. It was discovered this person was doing it at their extracurriculars, their job, and with their family. Finally, this person volunteered to organize the company holiday gathering . They adjusted the time to a very inconvenient and odd start and end time and 'had to' eliminate the gift exchange. The day of the party, when some of these things failed (people were bringing gifts), at the last minute, this person canceled with a very elaborate (and very fake) excuse. Successfully avoiding any chance of receiving a gift!

Can you imagine? All that work.....just to avoid getting a gift.....when they didn't have one to give in return?

vulnerability shame blame

Vulnerability, Shame and Blame

Gift giving is a social thing. I like you and you like me so we exchange gifts. It's a bit of a vulnerability thing; gift giving, and gift receiving, I guess. 

In thinking about the two incidents I witnessed, I noticed something as I hobnobbed around the room after gifts were given and the wrappings had been gathered up. Both people were talking about how they 'couldn't believe so-and-so gave me a gift' (as if deflecting an imaginary social faux paux onto the giver) and 'well, they always make it about themselves, giving gifts like that.' Hurt feelings is what I noticed. All because they could not receive a gift. 

I learned from the research in Brene Brown's book, Rising Strong, this year, that when we feel vulnerable, we often feel shame.....and then look for someone to blame. This was what I saw happening right before my eyes.

Vulnerability can lead to shame which often leads to blame. It's not a fun trip to take. 

For me, I was lucky to just be a fly on the wall, overhearing these conversations. It made me ask myself if I was a good receiver of gifts (hence how I found the linked article). Lord knows in the past I've been on the receiving end only, with nothing to give in return (either because they weren't on my list, or money was tight).

gift giving preparation

Gift Giving Preparation

I'll never forget, a few years ago, I bought some extra gifts, wrapped them, tagged them, put them under the tree, but did not write a name on the tagJust in case someone came to one of my parties who didn't get anything. That year—and I will never forget it—someone came (friend of a friend) who had no family, just a few friends (but not close friends) and literally no place to go for Christmas and no one to see. I quickly wrote that person's name on a gift, and they had something to open. To this day, when I see that person around town (which is rare and has only happened, I think, twice), they brought up how it meant so much that we had something for them that Christmas. That it made their whole holiday season. Just a little gift! So, I think I may tend towards over-gifting—but I know why and where it's coming from. From then on, if I ever plan to give gifts at a larger gathering, I always make sure guests are notified so they know to expect it. Lesson learned on my part, and it eliminates surprises.

Asking for help and receiving gifts

Asking for help + Receiving Gifts (without giving one in return)

I think that our ability to receive a gift (without giving one) is linked closely to our ability to ask for help when we need it. Some people are great at asking for help when they need it, and others are not. Some people are great at receiving a gift, and others—not so much. I know I have not been great at asking for help when I needed it in the past....in fact I think I probably had to learn how to even identify that I needed help in the first place. And I'd say in my past, I was not always a great gift receiver. I'm better at both nowadays, I think. Or at least possess a tad more self awareness which is at least a good place to start. :)

This year, I'm paying attention to the gifts I have an opportunity to receive—even the ones I wasn't expecting—and hope to do so graciously.