One would think that receiving is as easy as someone giving something to you. Don’t we all wish we lived in a world as simple as that? The reality is that regardless of whether or not someone gives something to us, we cannot always receive it. All the various positive things that people give to us could fall under the category of love. Attention is a form of love, gifts are a form of love, help is a form of love and the list goes on. So when we recognize that we can’t receive, the thing we have to acknowledge is that the thing we really can’t receive is love. We can’t receive love because we were never loved unconditionally. There were always conditions placed on love and conditions placed on receiving. This makes love and receiving feel bad instead of good. The first ingredient to learning how to receive love is recognizing the barriers that we have to receiving love. For people who have a hard time receiving, the number one barrier to receiving is distrust of the giver’s motives. When we distrust the giver’s motives, we fear the consequences of letting down our defenses and so; we cannot open up to receive anything from them. For a thing to be given genuinely, the motive behind it needs to be pure. For so many of us who have a difficult time receiving, the people in our early lives did not give love freely and in pure ways. They hurt us instead. This makes it so we either do not see or feel love at all, or when we are offered love (instead of feeling good), we feel a sense of panic or vulnerability. To let ourselves be loved and valued for who we really are would be to violate our parents' verdict that we are flawed. Their belief that we are flawed (a belief which we adopted), justifies the way they treated us and helps us to believe that we were not victims and were instead loved to the degree that we deserved. To let ourselves be loved and valued for who we really are, we would have to admit to the reality that we were not unconditionally loved. To let ourselves be loved and valued for who we really are arouses our fear that if we do, feel, or think certain things, we'll be neglected and abandoned and in the most primal sense, left to die. "So to receive love is to both face a grim retrospective reality as well as to risk death"
People, who can’t receive, have an especially hard time with help. They don’t ask for help and they don’t get much help, not because no help exists for them, but because they feel like the world is against them. They feel as if to get what they want, it will be an uphill struggle alone. This belief blinds them to even seeing help when it is offered to them. And on the off chance that they do see help being offered, they distrust it, thinking that there is a dangerous anterior motive. In other words, they see help as nothing more than a drawback disguised as help. Deep down, they feel unworthy of help or as if help means that they are incapable.
All too often, our motive for giving love is selfish. We give because we want to get. In other words, giving is our way of taking from others. Selfishness is defined as concern only for ones own welfare, benefit and interests regardless of the impact on others. Selfishness is not a natural state. It only occurs when a person is focused on and convinced of the lack in their life. We often confuse self-love and selfishness. But there is a big difference between the two. Selfishness is created when a person, who does not know how to love themselves and meet their needs, feels that internal deprivation and then spends their lives trying to fill in that hole externally. It is very uncomfortable to spend time around a selfish individual because it will constantly feel as if that person is taking and taking from you. They do not know how to get or create what they want without taking it from someone else. They do not know how to love themselves, so their life depends on getting you to give them those things. If you don’t, they are at a loss of what to do, they feel powerless and they get angry because they are scared. But when we take a step back, compassion will show us that they come from a space of internal starvation. Expecting them not to jump at the opportunity to take what they are starving for is like expecting a starving child to not steal food.
Most of us who struggle with receiving love spent time around selfish people growing up. Now beware, the most selfish people will often pride themselves on being the most selfless. Self sacrificers, people pleasers and helpers will have you believe that they are doing everything for you; when in reality they are doing things for you only to get what they want. Maybe what they want is a sense of goodness or your indebtedness to them or something else they want you to owe them. Basically, selfish people have awesome disguises so you’re going to need to look beyond the façade. I’m going to give you one example of thousands that could create a person that can’t receive love.
Brian grew up with a mother who told him that she sacrificed everything for him. This caused Brian to feel a sense of guilt and debt to his mother. She would often use that guilt against him when she wanted him to do something for her or for the family. When Brian left to college, he was excited to start a new life. But a few months in, Brian’s mother called and said “I need you to move home to help us with the family business”. Brian did not want to. When he resisted initially, his mother retorted by saying “I fed you and clothed you and gave up everything so you could have a better life than I did, I did it all for you; why can’t you do this one thing for me, you’re so selfish.” Brian’s guilt and sense of debt forced him to quit college and go home to run the family business, where he was ultimately miserable, all in the name of love.
This example highlights a truth. Love that is given to get something back is not love. In fact when people teach us that love comes with a catch or an expectation, it makes us confused about love and it makes love a dirty thing.
There are five main barriers we have to receiving love. I’m going to list them now for you. All of them are the byproduct of being hurt.
We can have a barrier to receiving love because when people give us things, it feels like they have power over us and we are vulnerable to them. We feel this way when the people in our life used love as leverage. We have this barrier to receiving if love comes with a side dish of guilt, duty or debt. We saw how this plays out in the previous scenario with Brian and his mother.
You know the saying, “with strings attached”. This saying is exactly what we are talking about when it comes to our first barrier to love. When someone gives something to you with strings attached, it feels like entrapment. And in truth, even if it happened on a subconscious level, they gave something to you, so that they could have power over you and guarantee that they would have the upper hand. If you suffer from this barrier, let yourself feel a sense of compassion for yourself because the people in your world made love like a Trojan horse.
We can have a barrier to receiving love because we feel unworthy. When our parents treated us in any way that was short of loving, we came to the decision that something was wrong with us. After all, unless something really was wrong with us, why would we be treated that way? Because of this, we do not feel good enough for someone to love. We do not feel good enough for someone to love enough to give their energy to us.
This barrier goes hand in hand with the previous barrier; we can have a barrier to receiving if we think that we don’t deserve it. Those of us who have deserving issues when it comes to love think that we have to earn love or achieve something in order to be loved. We think that if we didn’t earn something enough to deserve something, we are bad and will get punished by the universe for it. If we do not understand what we did to deserve something that someone is giving us, we start to panic. For those of you who suffer from the deserving barrier to love, watch my videos on YouTube titled “Deserving vs. Entitlement” and “Strike Deserve From your Vocabulary.” And also ask yourself this question, “What is wrong with getting something you don’t deserve?”
We can have a barrier to receiving if we are addicted to reciprocity. Reciprocity is the idea that something must be exchanged for mutual benefit. If you are addicted to reciprocity, you believe love must be equal. As good as it sounds for love to be fair and equal, it is a misunderstanding of how love works and it is not done for good reason. For example, for a person who fears that love is leverage, reciprocity guarantees that the other person does not have the upper hand and cannot guilt or entrap them later as a result of showing them love. We can know that have a barrier to receiving when someone gives us something and we automatically consciously or subconsciously think, “what can I give him or her in return?” or “what do I owe them in return?”
- We can have a barrier to love if we fear loss. A common reason for being unable to receive is previous experience with losing a loved one or losing someone’s love. Whether it is someone disapproving of you, or someone withdrawing from you, or losing someone you love to death, or experiencing a break up or something else, one of the most painful experiences we can have is having love and then losing it. This experience creates a scar and on a subconscious level, we believe that it is better not to have love at all than to lose it. We believe that it is better not to accept something at all, which could be taken back.
If you distrust love, do not expect yourself to trust love when it is given to you. The idea of trust is a nice idea, but you can’t just decide to trust. You have learned not to trust because people have hurt you. If you say, “I trust this love I’m receiving”, you will be lying to yourself and a part of you will be saying, “You must think I’m some kind of absolute idiot”.
The rehabilitation process of receiving begins with total and complete transparency. Make it your practice to get people to OWN what they are getting out of giving and OWN what you are getting out of giving. This makes it safer to receive. It also allows us to be able to decide whether or not to accept something that is laced with motives other than love. Beware that mixed motives are a possibility. It is possible to do something because you really like seeing the other person happy, but also because you want something in return. Let me give you an example of how transparency works in a relationship.
Let’s say Graciela made me some homemade chocolates. If I asked her to expose her true motive for making them for me and asked her what she hoped to gain from the gesture, it would be tempting for her to just say, “I want you to be happy”. But if she was really honest, she would say, “I want you to feel good because you have been wanting chocolates all week and also, I’ve been jealous of how much time you’ve been spending with Lauren and I figured that if I did something like make you chocolates, you’d feel like I was a better friend than she is.”
Now lets say that I made breakfast for Graciela. If Graciela asked me why I did it and what I hoped to gain from it, it would be tempting to say, “I thought you’d like it”. But if I am totally transparent, I might say “I knew you would like it and I also have been feeling super guilty about the things you’ve been doing for me and so, I figured that by doing something for you, I could get rid of that guilt.”
Make a habit of exposing what people hope to gain from giving, what people want you to gain by receiving, what you hope to gain from giving and what you hope they will gain by receiving. Often, even if the motives are not completely pure, knowing those impure motives makes it so you are safe and able to receive.
We have to begin to recognize the specific ways that we turn away from receiving. Some examples of how we turn away from receiving are: I only get things from others by giving first, I get stiff when people hug me, I withdraw emotionally, and I deflect attention away from me by changing the subject. I assure you the list of ways that people turn away from receiving is endless. If you have a difficult time receiving, ask yourself “How do I turn away from receiving and love and support?” And “How do I undermine love?”
It is important to note that all people must get love in some way. If we can’t receive, we try to go through the back door to receive. We think we must give to get. So we may help others to get love or we may look our very best to get love or we may achieve to get love or we may act super nice to get love etc. What are you doing in order to get love?
Once we find out why we don’t recognize love, why we can’t take love in and why we can’t hold on to love; learning to receive starts with three basic steps, the first step is recognizing love, the second is taking love in and the third is holding onto love.
Recognizing love. Think about what love in its purest form means to you. Think about the ways that people show love to one another. For those of you who really struggle with recognizing love, I suggest reading the book “The Five Love languages” by Gary Chapman. Pretend that you are like a birdwatcher, but a birdwatcher for demonstrations of love. All day, keep on the lookout for love being given to you as if you have to count and keep track of it. Solicit the help of another person to help you recognize love. Sometimes, when we don’t recognize love, having a friend observe us in our lives and tell us, “this is love” or “that is love” helps us to become aware of it. Some time ago, I had solicited the help of a friend to assist me in recognizing love. That day, someone came up to give me a long hug. I unconsciously emotionally recoiled from the hug as usual. And my friend said, “that’s love” under her breath. Without her help, I would never have seen that gesture as love.
Taking Love In. Once we recognize love being given, we have to consciously allow it in. To do this, we can practice feeling the somatic experience of it. Spend time in the feeling of it. I spend a lot of time talking about the value of feeling your negative emotions. It is also important to feel your positive ones. This means when someone shows you love, experience the feeling of that experience in your body. This can begin with the question “What might it feel like if I could feel (fill in the blank)”. For example, what might it feel like if I could feel that compliment or feel the feeling of having done a good job? Where in your body is there a sense of accepting the love being given as true or real? While your chest may have a resistance to it, your hands or knees might be wanting and accepting of it. Allow the feeling of acceptance of love to permeate your body. This means, once you identify that your hands feel wanting and allowing of the love, consciously imagine spreading that sensation all across your body. Spend time immersed in that good feeling, abundant sensation. The longer you experience that sensation, the more it becomes ingrained in your brain and the easier it will be to receive in the future. Another good way to take loving gestures in is to consciously imagine taking it in. If someone gives you a gift, close your eyes and imagine pulling that energy straight into your heart. If someone compliments you, take a deep breath in and imagine breathing that compliment into the core of your being, like a drag off of a positive cigar. If someone hugs you, imagine yourself softening to let that embrace go all the way through you. Chose to mentally dissolve your own barriers to let love in.
Another aspect of letting love in is to find your missing experience and allow yourself to get it. This begins with a universal truth. You can get what you need and want and you deserve to have your needs met. On a side note, one of the best things you can do for another person is to discover what experience in life they are missing and provide it for them. For example, I might be missing the experience of knowing that it is ok to be exactly as I am. Or I might be missing the experience of having my emotions validated or I might be missing the experience of being helped to achieve something or I might be missing the experience of play. My job is to take steps toward having that missing experience.
Spend time observing people who are good at receiving love. And remain open to hearing new and different opinions about love so that you can begin to see love differently. This will untangle love from what love isn’t. One of the best ways to learn how to receive love and gain insights about love is to watch children. Small children are still living in a state where giving and receiving love is natural and pure.
- Holding onto love. Once we take love in, we need to learn how to hold on to love. For some of us love is fleeting. It is as if there are holes poked in our being and the love leaks out the minute it is put in. When we feel unloved, we tend to withdraw. When we do this, we cap off our ability to receive love and all the reserves of love that were within us, drain way. Instead of withdrawing and isolating yourself when you feel negative emotion, seek out connection. Don’t lie and say, “I am fine”. Express yourself. Practice the art of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. This ensures your internal love container will not be like a water well in the middle of the Sahara desert. One aspect of holding onto love is developing self-support. Self-support is something that you can permanently rely on. Some examples of self-support are: Showing love to yourself, taking good care of yourself physically, being who you really are, processing, seeking insight, surrounding yourself with people who are loving and who increase your self worth and Initiating finding help. Remember that you are helping yourself by finding support. A good way to develop a long-term hold on love is to learn to love in another what you hate in yourself. If you begin to open your mind to approving of what you hate in yourself by approving of it in them, you will automatically feel more lovable and thus be able to take in and hold onto love.
Keep reminders of love near you. Even if someone does die and even if you do break up with someone, the love between you was real. The love is not nullified by the passage of time or by changing circumstance. What reminds you that you are loved? Is it a picture, is it an item, is it a quote? Keep anything that reminds you that you are loved within plain sight. Look for proof that love is not scarce and is not going to go away. Is there love in your life that is permanent? Is it possible that if someone withdraws their love, someone else will fill their space and offer you even better kind of love? Those of us who have a resistance to receiving love live lives of desperation and deprivation. Even people who are perpetually starved of food and water do not suffer like those who are starved of love. You deserve to live a life free from deprivation. As the legendary Sufi mystic Rumi once said, “Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”.