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

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 .

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  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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! 😀

  • 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!!

  • 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.

  • Danielle S.

    I really enjoyed this blog! Being open to receive is important for women and I think society pushes us to be independent and giving. So we tend to forget how to sit back an just receive.

  • Amazinglyso

    I love your insightful article and the whole concept of ‘giving’ and if only this worked in terms of recieving when in need.

    My background is full of horrific childhood and adolescent experiences, as it is for a great many other responders to this blog. I have always been a giver despite seeking the free and unconditional genersoity of others, and there really are very few givers out, who will donate their charity to individuals. A huge part of the problem is that many wealthier people are specifically aligned to certain and chosen charitable groups and organizations as oppossed to actual individuals seeking charity.

    Charitiable trusts and organizations on the otherhand, will have their own ‘fingers in many pies’ and not willing to necessarily share this information or refer their clients to them on the basis of individual need alone. I had to find my own ‘free’ furniture in desperate need, yet pay for collections and deliveries and so not free to the point of ‘free’ alone. My own tiny bhudda would like a world wide philosophy and practice of ‘give-and-take’ yet this is an impossible idealism in a capatilist reality.

  • Amazinglyso

    You shall seek and never find the giving riches of wealthier people. I too went through some horrific life experiences all throughout my childhood, and totally empathize with your situation. However, wealthy people who should be the givers to people like you and me, will not share their fortunes because of the charitable group organizations they are entirely betrothed. They do not give to individuals, only the committed charities they are directly involved. Individual need is a tough one and in which immediate society members are not always apt to donate their own wealth unless we show that we have something to contribute to society worthy of their attention.

  • Amazinglyso

    Lori Deschene tells us that knowledge is power and earns us some degree of earned wealth. If this is truly what the Tiny Bhuddah summounts, then please instruct my intricate spiritual wisdom of what it means to attain abundance of enlightened monetary ownership ?. I am well versed in the subject domain of Bhuddist prophecy and practice and of non receipt of non-generous charitable individual assistance who tend to be committed charity-group led recievers and not individuals.

    I am selfish for personal achievement and aspiration yet never have the means by which to fulfill my goals and objectives without monetary aid. I have a unique non-expressed major contributon to the arts fields, yet cannot ever find benevolent funding as an indivdual – even though I am a disabled and very unique individual with artistic talents living in supported housing. I am also a long-term survivor of horrendous child abuse and most incredibly insighftul of dysfunctional human nature; neglect and indifference. Who and what wealthy individuals are willing to donate to my cause for fulfilled potential can I apply as an individual outside of mainstream charity to charity giving processes?

  • Nika

    I believe there is vulnerability in receiving. As in receiving love. Loving is relatively easy. Being loved/receiving love is a totally different experience. At times, feeling someone else’s love for you is very difficult to let in. Feeling loved is the ultimate letting go. It is an access point to a dangerous spot int he human spirit. Many people think if you let someone love you, you have to give something back. When you let love in there is a danger point. What happens at the danger point is a kind of fusion of souls. Someone else has gotten in. You are no longer the skin-encapsulated ego “you”. If they leave, they are not just leaving like someone you have given love to leaves, they are leaving like someone who loves you leaves – someone you have received love from. At an adult level if a person wants to experience beauty they should let the love in and receive. It is easier to give love then to let love in. Letting love in, receiving love is where the souls connect. Thank you Karen for the article it has been helpful and brought receiving into the forefront of my consciousness. I am more aware.

  • Pearl

    This is very beautiful advice – and I agree that we can open to receiving. BUT I’m sorry, there are definitely people who simply DON’T give enough. If a person hates oranges, and their partner only gives them oranges – this is NOT giving ! And sure, we can play mind games with ourselves and find ways to appreciate the hated orange – but really – I have found that it’s the rare man (especially men) who are mindful enough to give their loved ones what THEY like !!!! To care enough about giving their mate what she or he wants.

    In other words, there are people who just do NOT give ! They’re takers.

    I have actually known at least 3 men in my life who refuse to give their women flowers !!! Imagine that insanity? They don’t want to make their women happy ! They actually hate giving flowers ! And it’s not because the guys gave a shit about saving the flower polpulation !!! I have actually known men who TOLD ME “I don’t give flowers”! Insane. Selfish. Awful people

    Lastly, I do think there are those of us who are OVER GIVERS. In general, women are often natural nurturers (givers). We can often OVER GIVE to people who take. The only way out of this cumpulsion is to STOP GIVING so much. Pull back on giving. This is not easy – which is why it’s better to be with a giver who enjoys giving as much as we do.

    I do NOT believe all people can become natural givers. And to try to make a mate change to be a giver – is very difficult. It’s better to find a partner who is a natural giver. AND who gives a person WHAT THEY LIKE.

    I agree that over givers can work on opening to receive – but that’s not enough.

    If you’re with a man who is not giving you enough of his time, affection, compassion – there is NO WAY to get that man to change ! You can try but he’ll resort back to his selfish ways.

    Really not easy. Sorry to be blunt – but I’m experienced plus I’ve been with both takers and givers – there is a difference.