The Capacity to Receive

“It’s better to give than to receive.”  Most of us grew up with this rule, especially those of us who went to church.  I heard it so much that I beat myself up when I was the one who needed help!

But one of the things I’ve learned to love in my old age is to think outside the box, and I look for ways to encourage clients to do so as well.  When the concepts we grew up with aren’t tested, it leads us to think we know what to expect out of life and that’s comforting.  But I’m going to challenge this belief about giving and receiving.

Author, Rob Schwartz gives several reasons we incarnate on earth.  One of those is to balance karma. (Brief note here:  In this perspective karma is not a punishment, but the simple need to be able to experience both sides of any particular event/condition in life.  In order to understand this view of karma, one has to at least open themselves to the possibility of reincarnation.  Souls incarnate to experience a multitude of situations for the purpose of spiritual growth.  Sometimes two or more souls come together to help each other in this quest.  Balancing karma is one way this happens).  For example, one might be the caretaker for the other in one lifetime, and then they reincarnate together in another to switch roles so they can each experience both sides of giving and receiving.  The ultimate purpose might be to learn compassion for others and/or self love.

Mr. Schwartz says that giving and receiving love is the most fundamental purpose to incarnate. In my opinion, the energy of love is always flowing around us, but it’s up to us to step into that energy and allow it to continue it’s flow or we can block it.  Either way we affect all other souls to some degree because of the continual flow and ripple effect of energy.  The way Schwartz explains the flow of love is to envision it as a big circle. If you divide it in half, one half is giving love to other people, and the other half is receiving love from others.  So not allowing others to love us (because we don’t want to be hurt again, or for some other reason our ego makes up) blocks the flow of love in the world just as effectively as if we refuse to give love.

There is also the reality that each of us has times in our lives when we can’t do for ourselves.  We lose loved ones and don’t know how to go on with our lives; we lose a job and the sense of identity it gave us; we lose our health and can’t manage our daily tasks by ourselves – the list is endless.  And virtually each of us will find ourselves in this place at some point.

According to Brene Brown (shame and vulnerability researcher), in her book RISING STRONG, most of us believe that helping is courageous and compassionate, and a sign that we’ve got it all together.  If we’re not feeling brave or generous enough, we’re not helping enough.  But we also believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  However, when we attach value to giving help, we attach value to needing help.  Brown lists 3 keys to learning about giving and receiving:  (PLEASE read these slowly and consciously).

1) When we judge ourselves for needing help, we judge those we are helping.

2) The idea of tying our self worth to giving, attaches shame to us when we need help.

3) Offering help is courageous and compassionate.  But so is asking for help.  Giving help can occasionally lead to vulnerability. Asking for help ALWAYS includes vulnerability.  (Opening ourselves up to vulnerability requires courage).

Both giving and receiving help are necessary in life.  As adults, we need to model both behaviors for our children.  My granddaughter gets extremely frustrated when a game on my iPad isn’t working the way she thinks it’s supposed to.  My routine, when her frustration starts, is to calmly repeat to her the steps she can take:  1) Make sure you’ve done everything you know to do.  2) When you are sure you’ve done that and it’s still not working, then it’s OK to ask for help. I also try to model that behavior for her. It feels good to accomplish something on our own.  But once we have tried all we know, if we can ask for help without attaching that shame, we’ll incorporate the task more easily because our heads won’t be so full of all that negative self talk.

Another point made by Brown is the reason we hesitate sometimes when someone else needs help.  She gave an example from her own life that hit home with me. My elderly father was needing a little help one day when I was visiting.  My brother (who taught nursing courses) was my parents’ caretaker in their later years.  I had always provided the emotional support. But on this day Dad needed help physically and I was the only one available.  As I hesitated, he was the one who had to say, “It’s OK.  I need this and you can do it.”  I didn’t think I was capable of doing what he needed, so I had backed off.  Looking at it now, it feels ridiculous that my impulse was to not help at all. Even if I wasn’t able to perform the task perfectly, helping him with something he could no longer manage was better than doing nothing!

According to Brown, if we’re not secure in how best to help, we sometimes feel vulnerable also.  Again this is tied to the worth we put on giving/helping.  She says this is because it puts us in touch with our own need, and again that scary word: our own vulnerability.  If we can get past the belief that vulnerability is weakness, and understand it as a huge part of being human, we might come to terms with it easier.

This is why we come to this life in the first place – to allow ourselves get in touch with our strength and our vulnerabilities, so we can experience love from all sides!  “We don’t have to do all of it alone.  We were never meant to.” (Brene Brown/RISING STRONG).

In any given moment we have 2 options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.