On the Vitally Important Art of Receiving

On Saturday morning, I was at a bootcamp class at my gym.  Class was about to start, we were all getting our equipment ready and one of the girls got the instructor a body bar.  He didn’t ask, she just knew he needed it and was a crazy bitchtrying to be helpful.  The teacher said, “Thanks!  You’re my new favorite student!” and smiled. A second later, after she had returned to her spot, he said to her, “Actually, would you get me a mat too?”  The girl happily obliged, and my teacher seemed to have no qualms about asking and taking it.

That really got me thinking about how hard it is for most women to receive.  Think about it, can you even picture a manly voice saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”?  It’s so rare!

This is so sad, because it’s our true nature.  Sorry to bring this between your legs, but think about it – biomechanically, we were built to receive.  Somehow, in this fast-paced, masculine-energy-dominated world, we have flipped the script and become giving machines.  Giving when it comes from a full, healthy place is the greatest high in the world.  Giving when you’ve forgotten how to receive is a horrible, fried, resentful, low.

Please understand:  I am not suggesting that you become a selfish bitch.  If you are totally happy with the state of your energy and relationships, yay!  You’re already good at regulating this yourself, congratulations!  But if you are like I used to be and you are feeling bitter and wiped out and undeserving of anything better, it’s time to ask yourself if you’ve got adequate inflow for your outflow.

I Used to Suck Really Bad at Receiving

A few years ago, had I been that instructor, taking the body bar and mat would have immediately filled me with overwhelming guilt and an relentless urge to immediately give back.

I first realized my inability to receive joyfully when I took an honest look at my crappy romantic relationships.  Before Jonny, my incredible husband-to-be, you would not believe the pathetic loser parade that was my love life.  Drug addicts, womanizers, anger management issue dudes, I dated ‘em all and gave my little people-pleasing heart out to every last one.  If you needed money, a ride to somewhere inconvenient, an all-night therapy session; I’d give it with a smile.  If I needed…um, anything, I’d squelch it in silence.

After a brutal breakup with a guy who I’d later find out was prone to tweeting pictures of his genitals (I let this guy meet my family!  My mom should never shake hands with a man whose dick has been on the internet!  I’m surprised the world didn’t explode at that very moment), I realized I’d have to get my shit together to have the marriage and family I’d always dreamed of.  I started reading books about relationships in an effort to heal myself.

The two that changed my life forever were Getting to I Do by Dr. Pat Allen and Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts by Regena Thomashauer.  They taught me about masculine and feminine energy, and introduced the idea that receiving joyfully was a healthy expression of my femininity.

For the first time in my life I began to understand my value did not lie solely in what I could give to other people.  It rocked my world.  I learned that I deserved to receive, and that it was vitally necessary if I was ever going to have a happy relationship.  Up until that point, I’d meet a guy, he’d be interested and pursue me a little bit, and right away I’d start giving back.  You bought me flowers?  I’ll buy you a computer!

A few months later, I met Jonny, the first guy I liked since I realized the importance of my own needs.  I steeled myself to receive, despite the nagging voices in my head that said this would never work and that he’d lose interest if I wasn’t working my butt off to keep it.

After our fourth date, Jonny came to a race that I was running at 7:00am on a Saturday and held up encouraging signs for me.  Then that night he cooked me an extravagant duck dinner.  Let me tell you, I immediately wanted to purchase a building in his name.  Instead, I just smiled and told him how much I appreciated everything.  I’d read that if you’ve been receiving disabled in the past, you’re doing something right if you’re feeling a little guilty.

Wouldn’t you know, it totally worked!   I gave back to him as our relationship progressed, but only when came from joy and love rather than guilt and obligation.  I started practicing this with everyone in my life.  My poor barren emotional tank slowly squeaked to life, a miracle after the way I’d forced it to keep working beyond empty for all those years.

Asking – the Best Way to Take Care of Yourself if All Your Loved Ones are Not Psychics

In the example I gave you with my boot camp instructor, you’ll notice that he not only accepted the body bar but asked for the mat.

It’s lovely when people spontaneously offer to give to you, and you deserve to take it and enjoy every last drop.  To really fill your well, though, you need to learn how to graciously ask for what you need.  Unless you live in some kind of mind reader colony.

If you’re terrified to be an asker, I definitely understand!  But try thinking about it very logically for a minute, okay?  The worst that the person you’re asking can do is say no.  You’re not going to be a bitch about it, you are going to ask politely for what you need, and graciously accept the other person’s yes or no.  You have no control over the other person’s response, but you win no matter what because you behaved like a self-assured, confident woman who loves herself and deserves to get her needs met.

I’ve been working on this for a few years.  It’s still hard, but it gets easier every time, like building a muscle.  I still get a little bit teary eyed when I ask for something and I’m turned down.  It’s not because I’m so heartbroken about not getting what I’m asking for.  It just feels so vulnerable to make my needs known, like I am wearing my guts on the outside of my body.  But I never, ever regret that I asked.  Vulnerability beats treating myself like I don’t matter any day.

Next Steps for the Challenged Receiver

Does reading this overwhelm you?  Let’s talk about easy actions you can take today to get some happiness juice in that tank of yours.

  • Take some time to observe your current levels of receptivity.  How do you react, both internally and externally, when someone gives to you?  Do you react differently if it’s a stranger versus a loved one?
  • Find yourself a girlfriend who needs help with this too.  You guys can beef up each other’s courage when it comes to asking and swat away each other’s guilt when it comes to receiving.  Email me if you can’t find one, I am totally here for you.  Unless that feels like elementary school gym class when you can’t find a partner and have to be partners with the teacher.  I always hated that.
  • Make a list of what you’d ask from the people in your life if you had absolutely no fear of it.  Start with the least scary thing, and work your way up.  Take your time and move forward when you feel ready.  It’s not a race.

Does receiving come easy for you or does it make you feel like Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island?  Let’s talk all about it in the comments!

24 Responses to On the Vitally Important Art of Receiving
  1. Emily
    January 21, 2012 | 12:23 pm

    This is one of my favorite posts you have written. It really hits home for me, and being truthful and asking for what a really need has been a struggle for me for a long time. Keep it up with your great advice, love you!

    • Marla
      January 21, 2012 | 7:14 pm

      Love you too and thank you, I’m so happy that you liked it! I know how hard it can be to speak up. But trust me Ems, you are one of the most loveable people on this earth and you so truly deserve to get what you need. xoxoxo

  2. Linnette Dooley
    January 20, 2012 | 8:42 pm

    What a wonderful story – I am always moved when anyone shares what has been true for them, and then the journey forward. I agree, it is always OK to ask! When I think of receiving I think of allowing (Abraham), and am I able to allow what I have asked for.

    • Marla
      January 21, 2012 | 11:20 am

      What a great point, Linnette – I like thinking of the process of receiving as ‘allowing’ rather than ‘taking’. You (and Abraham) are very wise!

  3. Tanja @ Crystal Clarity
    January 19, 2012 | 11:34 pm

    Another awesome post, Marla! I especially liked the reminder that my loved ones are not psychics! It’s funny – expecting other people to “just know” is something I’ll often notice friends doing, but I’m not always so good at noticing it in myself.

    On the plus side, I’m slowly getting better at it – my journal’s a major ally in the battle there :-)



    • Marla
      January 20, 2012 | 10:05 am

      Thank you so much, Tanja. Accepting that my loved ones are not mindreaders can be a tough one for me, too – I know it intellectually but in the moment I can forget and get all worked up. I love that your journal helps, that’s a great idea. <3

  4. Sharon Knight
    January 19, 2012 | 5:39 pm

    Excellent post! Asking is so very hard! I always find it helpful to remember ow good it feels to give, and that we need to allow others the chance to give as well. Receiving is so much harder.

    • Marla
      January 20, 2012 | 9:58 am

      Thanks Sharon! That is such a good way to think about it – allowing others the joy of giving.

  5. Petrea
    January 18, 2012 | 11:24 am

    I’m working on this one. I agree it really does take some practice. I have been allowing myself to recieve more and more since starting my online businesses.
    Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Marla
      January 18, 2012 | 9:55 pm

      I love that you’re working on it and that you keep getting better at it! Thanks so much for stopping by, Petrea!

  6. I’m so glad you addressed the biological makeup of women. Our inherent nature is to receive. Receiving is our GIVING! I remember an elder telling me that men are always asking for our favor (by showing off, dressing well, building big things, making impressive toys, etc.) Their nature is to gift us their essential gratitude (which usually looks like material things + doing things) and our job is to receive it. When we’re in our flow/cycle of give/get, we are all more harmonious and happy.

    • Marla
      January 17, 2012 | 8:00 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more! Especially about the being in flow part – often when I’m feeling really cranky/off, I realize that I’ve been doing too much giving and not allowing myself to be filled up. Helps with compulsive overeating too… being fuller emotionally always makes me feel less hungry!

  7. Loran
    January 17, 2012 | 1:30 pm

    Brilliant! Since I started my own business, I have been working hard at asking for and accepting help because absolutely I can not do it myself.

    • Marla
      January 17, 2012 | 3:25 pm

      Thank you and good for you Queen Loran! You so deserve the help, you give so much to others. xoxo

  8. Jenn
    January 17, 2012 | 1:13 pm

    Hi Marla! I LOVE everything you write. This one especially hits home after a recent ending to a bad six year relationship where I was always the giver. I work in a service field where I am also always the giver and I am a single mom. I know what you say is true and you have spelled out some good steps but I can’t even fathom taking them.

    For christmas a co-worker mentioned that she had something for me. I did not have anything for her and I panicked and bought small gifts for everyone I work directly with to make sure that no one was giving me something when I did not have something for them. (I know – crazy right?)

    I am not sure how to bridge the gap between knowing logically that I need to do this for myself and actually doing it.

    You are an inspiration and I find strength in all that you write.

    • Marla
      January 17, 2012 | 3:24 pm

      Jenn, thank you so so so soooooo much for your incredibly sweet and honest comment. I got all weepy reading it because I can so empathize with how challenging this is, especially for people pleasers like us (I say ‘like us’ because of your work in the service field and your story about the Christmas gifts – I know my own kind when I see it! :)). I also know intimately well that frustrating feeling of ‘I know I should do what this person/book/blog post says, but for some reason I just can’t.’ I have some few thoughts I’d love to share with you on getting from here to there:

      1) I hope you can give yourself credit for all that you have already done. You’re aware of this pattern in yourself. You are out of the bad six year relationship. You read my blog where I spout on topics related to this all the time, which shows that you are willing to learn a different way of going about things. This is a lot of stuff and so awesome!!!!
      2) I don’t know what your spiritual beliefs are, but I bet you that even thinking, ‘okay universe, I want to work on this but I am really terrified and need to go slow. please send me gentle, easy ways to receive so I can build up my strength’ would open your eyes to many opportunities to work on this in a non-scary way.
      3) one thing that my therapist has shown me that is incredibly useful is finishing out the thought and seeing if the worst case scenario is all that bad. Using your example above, what are you afraid would happen if you didn’t buy people gifts who got them for you? If it’s that they might think that you’re a tightwad or something, is that really so bad? You know that you’re not. So is making sure that everyone thinks well of you really worth the stress you incurred from running around getting gifts? If you honestly decide that it is, at least it is an informed decision, rather than a knee jerk reaction of overgiving. Know what I mean?

      Okay, now I have turned this into a novel, but I was so touched by what you shared that I couldn’t help it. Hang in there and you will get there, in your own perfect time, in your own perfect way that feels good to you. Thanks again, honey!

      • Jenn
        January 19, 2012 | 7:08 pm

        Thanks Marla for your sweet and genuine response. I want to tell you that a dear friend stayed with me this week and when I came home today she had cleaned my kitchen before she left. I wanted to say “Oh my god you shouldn’t have done that” but I said “Thank you!”
        And thank you for making me stop and think and realize I may need a different way than the road I am traveling. Much love to you.

        • Marla
          January 20, 2012 | 10:03 am

          Jenn, that is soooo awesome and I am so impressed by your bravery – changing stuff like this takes real cajones! I hope you will keep me posted on how things go. Much love right back at you, have a wonderful weekend. xoxo

  9. Gina
    January 17, 2012 | 12:52 pm

    Such a great story and article Marla! love it and another piece of life’s puzzle that needs to be put out there…….keep sharing sista!

    • Marla
      January 17, 2012 | 12:55 pm

      Thank you so much sweetie! I’m thrilled that you liked it! <3

  10. Cat @Breakfast to Bed
    January 17, 2012 | 9:57 am

    I am a totally shitty receiver. I REALLY need to work on it.

    • Marla
      January 17, 2012 | 12:50 pm

      You can do it! You totally deserve it! It’s gotta be especially hard as a mom of two small kids… but I think it also makes it even more important.

  11. Goddess Anne
    January 17, 2012 | 7:37 am

    WooooHooooo! Thank you!!!

    For me it’s not so much the guts on the outside of the body feeling when I get turned down after having been so brave to ask for something….it’s more of a chin drops, shoulders drop & I slink away, shuffling my feet, into a dark corner….

    Off I go to find a friend to encourage me along this bumpy journey!

    Cheers to you!

    • Marla
      January 17, 2012 | 12:52 pm

      Cheers to YOU! I know the tail between my legs feeling after asking intimately well. It’s so worth it to push through it. Please keep me posted on the journey, I’m excited to hear about it!

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I'm Marla Hamilton, and this is my blog. I write it because I want to make it very easy for you to feel healthy and great about yourself.Read more about me here.
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