When I was still living in the Czech Republic and working for Oskar, I had a stroke on December 6th. This was a huge health crisis and was made even worse by being far from my parents and siblings. But one of the things that I remember worrying most about was that I didn’t get my Christmas shopping done and was going to show up to celebrations without gifts for some people.
This fear wasn’t born out of nothing. I have always worried about the gifts that I give to people, usually worrying that they are not enough or not the right thing. I have been known to buy more gifts that I should because I believe that if I get someone three, five or even more gifts that there will hopefully be one among them that is what they deserve and want from me.
I learned my lesson after my stroke and started Christmas shopping months in advance. It actually ended up serving me well throughout the years, as I was diagnosed with Blastomycosis a couple of years later in November and then three years ago was diagnosed with cancer on October 5th and was in the hospital right up to the week of Christmas. Both of those times I had all of my shopping done and didn’t have to worry about it. And one year, when my dad had a heart attack in December, being done my own shopping early allowed me to take on the task of shopping for them.
The rational side of me knows that, especially in times when my health has not been at its best, no one would think any less of me or be offended if I wasn’t able to give them a gift during the holidays. But I love to show my gratitude and appreciation. There is something that does make it feel necessary for me.
The irony is that I don’t get the same sense of need out of receiving gifts, and might be perfectly happy to give gifts but not accept any myself. There are so many different ways that we add stress into gift giving from both sides. I wanted to look into why we love giving but accepting gifts can cause anxiety and shame.
Why Do We Give Gifts?
I feel like after the holidays are over, many of us have that moment of fatigue where we wonder why we put so much thought, energy and money into the gift-giving portion of the season. We all know that the moments together are much more precious and long lasting. And while many of us parents use the holidays as a time to get our kids something extra that they want but don’t need as well as some things that do need, the best gifts are usually those that are attached to a great sentiment rather than those that are the biggest, best or most expensive.
So why do we always go through the cycle of saying we will dial things back next year and then winter comes around again and packages of gifts start showing up at the door? In my research, I found that there are two main reasons we give gifts: to make others happy and to strengthen our relationships. And I think that there is something in both of those things.
We all want our loved ones to experience as much happiness as possible. But we all have our own problems and dark days. And while you likely know what your friends and family are going through, we are all faced with the reality that we usually can’t fix each other’s biggest problems. But we can give them a moment of happiness if we can find them the right gift. This might be something that can make their life a little easier or joyful as well. If we can spend a little money to make someone else happy, why wouldn’t we do it?
It also makes sense that we look to gifts to help us strengthen our relationships. Sometimes it’s too difficult to say exactly what we’re feeling and it can feel easier to sum up how we feel in a gift. It also can be such a great feeling to know someone so well that you know just the right thing to get them that others might not think of and they might not even realize they needed themselves. I especially love finding that unexpected gift.
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart.” – Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
I found this amazing article on Oprah.com by Martha Beck all about “Why It’s Harder to Receive Than Give”. She suggested this experiment where you take a bill from your wallet, drop it somewhere public and wait to see who will take it. While you’re waiting, what thoughts are going through your head? If you think you would find yourself judging who you want to find the bill and measuring that some “deserve” it more than others, it might be that you put the same level of judgement on yourself when you receive a gift.
This spoke volumes to me, as so much of my feelings of anxiety, shame and depression are tied to feelings of worthiness or what I believe that I do and don’t deserve. A few weeks ago, we talked about how courage comes from open heartedness and this is the same place that allows us to receive gifts from others without judgement. Graciously and genuinely accepting gifts is something that comes after to realize that you are deserving and open yourself up to the love and generosity that others have ready to give to you. I recommend reading the rest of the article, as the author has some great points and suggestions if you’re someone who isn’t great at receiving gifts.
Looking more into why I have gift anxiety, there were lots of articles on how it can be related to not wanting to release control, a fear of intimacy or fear that there are strings attached or that you won’t be able to properly reciprocate. But it all comes back to this same thing of remaining closed off at a time when you need to be open.
I know for me, being able to accept gifts without judging myself is not something that is going to happen overnight. But this year, I am going to try to appreciate the thought and energy that went into anything I receive and genuinely enjoy the love that I share with friends and family.