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Learning to Receive: 5 Steps to Opening Up

Arms Open

“We must never forget that it is through our actions, words, and thoughts that we have a choice.” ~Sogyal Rinpoche

I grew up deep in the “Bible Belt” in Texas, and along with that came the teaching that certain beliefs were never to be questioned. This kept life simple and reduced choices, but it also left me with the baggage of dogmas I no longer accept.

One of the mainstay beliefs was “It is better to give than to receive.”

Somehow, this one has held on in my head, in my heart, deep in my innermost belief system. Never mind that it makes no logical sense—to give requires someone to receive, so for someone, it must be better to receive. I just don’t know who that person is.

All my life, I have practiced giving religiously, even while longing to receive. I even wound up with a career in the “Gift Industry”—talk about commitment!

I could be counted on not only to give material and monetary gifts, but also to give my time, my support, and my skills. And then I would be angry for feeling depleted, all the while still giving.

No one ever taught me how to receive. Not a compliment; I am a master at countering any comment with insight about all my faults. Not a gift; I immediately feel the need to give something in return, preferably bigger. Not a kindness; I wave people away from helping me in a grocery line, no matter that I am dropping bread as I speak.

How could I have gone through so much life and have no experience with such a fundamental act as the ability to receive?

As I begin to examine this, I realize for me receiving involves vulnerability. When I give, I feel in charge. When I receive, I feel less.

Give feels like an action word; receive feels like something passive. Yet I can see how mistaken I am. Giving and receiving are yin and yang, the equivalent of the infinity symbol—looping back and forth, neither side larger than the other, both integral to the larger whole.

I’m learning to practice this shift into comfortable receiving, slowly, one baby step at a time. I receive a compliment with a simple “thank you,” no matter that inside I am discounting the words.

This is a learned skill. I can learn this. I can let the words sink in and fill my empty spaces. I can accept a gift with a “thank you” and let that be enough, sitting on my hands to keep from jumping up to return the favor.

I can let others help me with grace and the profound gratitude that someone wants to be of service. I can let others have the fun of giving.

And ultimately, this is how I can give more easily: by learning to refill my needs through receiving.

I am also learning about giving—that giving to quench my own need will never be enough.

When I give, not from a full heart but from an empty space that needs recognition, I’m exhausted. Giving from my own need leads to resentment, victimhood, and financial distress. Yet, I know that giving from a full heart is replenishing and sustaining. It brings joy into my own life.

For myself, I have created five reminders to help me as I learn this new skill.

1. To begin, I must accept the basic premise that I am enough.

That before I give a thing, before I receive anything, I am enough just standing here. The act of giving or receiving doesn’t change this at all.

2. I am becoming more discerning with giving.

I’m learning to examine my needs, as well as the needs of others. To see when my gift is truly given from love and when it comes with expectations. To see when the expectations are self-imposed and when they come from others.

3. I am making room in my life for receiving.

This includes being aware of all the ways I can receive, whether it is accepting kind words or a stranger’s smile, or being let into the stream of traffic. I know that as I receive, I am becoming more comfortable with the art of receiving. I am staying conscious of how my receiving empowers those who are giving to me.

4. I am relaxing into the feeling of receiving.

I’m becoming okay with the feeling of openness that is necessary to truly receive. I allow this open space to be available to receive.

5. I remind myself that this is fun and joyful.

There’s no reason not to join in the fun!

How do you  open up to receiving?

Woman with arms open image via Shutterstock

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About Karen Mead

Karen Mead is an alchemist, an explorer and a fellow traveler on this journey of life. Visit her blog, The Peaceful Journey , or check out her website, A Peaceful Path .

Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Let go of the past and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Spencer

    perfect post for me today. Live with an open heart, even if it hurts.

  • Elizabethsadhu

    Oh my darling……this is fabulous and so perfect and exactly what we women (esp) need to hear! Bless you for saying it!!! Wahooooooo!!!!!!!!

    love you!

  • Meredith Murphy

    A truly sensational gem. Thank you.

  • ggirl

    thank you for following me on twitter, tiny buddha!!! i wouldve never found you, but i am SO glad you found me. :)))

  • ettevik

    thank you, this was the perfect post for me

  • Twohawks_1

    Hi Karen, A wonderful Christian friend of mine told me one time that receiving was giving the giver an opportunity to put more stars in her/his crown. Did you ever think that to not receive cheated others out of that giving feeling that we enjoy so much? I hadn’t before she said this. Like you, I find it difficult to receive, but I have learned to say “Thank You” and hold that warmth in my heart for at least 10 seconds. This is a beautifully written piece, and so meaningful to me. It would be great if everyone would remember to both give and receive. Love You! Helen

  • Amber Easton

    Inspirational post. I stumbled upon this site via Twitter and truly enjoy it. As for this post, it has made me think about ways to incorporate more fun into my life. I am going to make some changes! Thank you!

  • sarahneanbruce

    Dear Karen, yet again, I love and empathize with what you have experienced and written! Your writing is so eloquent yet simple – an amazing balance. I hope others will be inspired by your words in solving their givereceive conundrum. As you may know, I have recently re-tuned my life to be in balance with this natural ebb and flow process. Bravo for stating it in such a succinct, personal and heartfelt article; & thanks Tiny Buddha/Lori Deschene for publishing it! :-D

  • Bill Burkholder

    Good article! I was a youngest child and grew up with the opposite problem!

  • Anonymous

    Ah, Amber, this sounds just like my life! When I remember that letting someone else help is a gift to them and not proof of all my inadequacies – life is so much sweeter!

  • Jbussell9

    A lot of people may not understand this post but it is fantastic. It really opens my eyes to the number of ways that people give to me and I don’t even realize. Even just a smile and a “hello” from a stranger passing on the street is them giving a little bit of energy your way.

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  • Jeff

    Well written! This article is relevant to a reforming “nice guy” like me. From my experience, people with the so-called nice guy syndrome tend to deny receiving and this act comes across as being ungrateful and superficial to others. It took me a while to realize this but it’s an important lesson I went through and am now the better for it with my relationships. Many thanks for your article reinforcing this important aspect of our relationships with others! :)

  • Bess

    How wonderful that someone has finally put into words how hard this can be for some of us – thank you!

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  • Iseuld

    I really appreciate this. I grew up with a mother who was mentally ill, and everything we needed was too much. She was single, and we were poor, and even asking for our basic needs could result in a fight or a torrent of tears, or a lecture on how awful we were for our “selfishness.” As the oldest, I had to care for the needs of the younger ones, and as I got older, my mother as well as best I could.

    I never got over the idea that to need was to be selfish, if it was me who needed. I finally hit rock bottom, when internally, emotionally, physically, I realized I was empty. I had nothing left to give anyone, and I felt like I was dying from lack. The weird thing about being a giver is also that while you are bleeding yourself dry, (literally in my case, I responded to every call to give blood as well, even when I was still fatigued from the last donation) is that everyone praises you.

    Everyone will praise you for giving until you are an empty, miserable husk. Somehow you have to realize that that is not ok, no matter how popular it may make you. Its not ok to give until you dont exist.

  • Taketotheoars

    This was incredibly well written! I’m definitely going to take a look around your site

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  • sarah

    wow, you’re story gave me goosebumps. what a powerful lesson – i can so relate to being raised by someone who saw my needs beyond food & shelter as selfish. and the more i gave – the more i even praised myself. that was the most difficult trap for me to get out of. i’m still retraining my mind to ask for the things i need.

    it’s not ok to give until you don’t exist – you’re right and thanks for that reminder!

  • Zak

    Seriously this I completely relate to and it’s only until now that I’m actually anxiety ridden and depressed that I’m yet again having to learn this lesson the hard way, I need to clear out my head and understand that I have needs to and depleting yourself by giving all the time never helps, you get to the point that there’s nothing left, no love for you or the things that you do. My lesson right now is to get rid of those takers in life because right now I’m surrounded by them but I’m coming out strong! Thanks so much for sharing your post it, it’s definitely not easy to admit these kinds of things in life also this blog post gave me an idea for a new t-shirt for my website! Passion for passion man! much love, thanks for the inspiration!!

  • Jaime Pfeffer

    Great article, Karen! Thank you!

  • Devika

    I know it is silly,but how can one receive without fear of having to give. Because I feel I do not want to receive as I do not want to be in obligation to give.