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The human race has had a long experience and a fine tradition in surviving adversity. But we now face a task for which we have little experience, the task of surviving prosperity.
Women Reject the Very Things They Say They Want the Most
Years ago some friends offered to treat my husband, John, and me to dinner for our wedding anniversary. As we were preparing for the evening, I started to fret. "Now we have to find out when their anniversary is so we can take them out to dinner," I said to John.
I wasn't thinking about how much fun we would have with our friends, and I wasn't grateful for their thoughtfulness. Instead I turned their gift into a debt that would have to be paid.
But John had a wise response. "Did you ever think that just having your company at dinner is enough and that you don't owe them anything besides that?"
The idea that I could relish a gift without worrying about reciprocating was new to me.
Accepting what someone offered simply for my enjoyment made me uncomfortable. Dinners. Theater tickets that a friend couldn't use. A bottle of wine from houseguests. Neighborly offers such as a ride to pick up my car or the favor of rescuing our mail while John and I were away. A birthday phone call. Anything that was meant to bring me joy or to make my life a little easier and nicer would flood me with anxiety and a suffocating sense of obligation.
And I'm not the only one. One woman described feeling stressed out when her husband invited her for a romantic Friday night dinner. Accepting his invitation meant she had to focus to finish her work, call a baby-sitter (and clean the house before the sitter arrived), and get the kids fed and bathed. Not only that, she figured that her husband would want to have sex with her after they came home when she knew she would be exhausted.
Ah. Superwoman Syndrome in its purest form.
This woman could have asked her husband, the babysitter (who is paid to feed and bathe children), and even her oldest child for some help instead of doing everything herself as if she were a superwoman. She could have kept the perspective that her husband just wanted to show her a good time instead of feeling obligated to him.
Like me, she had a hard time receiving without feeling indebted.
Favor offering and repaying and gift giving and receiving were column headings on a giant scorecard I kept in my head, and I never wanted to lag behind. Worrying that I wouldn't be able to afford to reciprocate heightened my distress.
All that anxiety and worry was the knife that severed my connections with the people who loved and cared about me. Ultimately, my incessant rejecting of gifts whether they came wrapped with a bow, arrived in the form of favors and help, or appeared as kind words uttered just when I needed a pick-me-up signaled to my friends and family that their offers weren't welcome. Eventually, they dried up. And so did the friendships.
When I said that I didn't need help after a dinner party or claimed that I really was in need of a haircut when someone complimented me on my appearance, I was unwittingly keeping my friendships at arm's length. My friends didn't see me as independent and self-sufficient but rather as someone who, in rejecting their offers, was rejecting them.
I felt alone. Without support and the warmth of hearing that I was beautiful or had done something well, my self-esteem flagged. And I was completely exhausted because I had trapped myself in a corner where I had to do everything single-handedly. I didn't realize that I was rejecting the very things that I and every woman I know wanted most: more time, help, understanding, prosperity, and validation.
I didn't realize my isolation was self-imposed I just thought life was overwhelming.
All of us at certain moments of our lives need to take advice and to receive help from other people.
I Thought I Was Superwoman
Feeling as if I had to be a superwoman who didn't need anything from anybody also put a strain on my marriage because I didn't know how to receive from my husband. When he offered to take me away for the weekend, I argued that we couldn't afford it. Instead of showing gratitude when he washed the dishes, I found fault with his work and mumbled that I could have done it better myself, which discouraged him from helping the next time. I said, "That's okay" when he offered to make dinner because I figured I could do it faster. After I snarled, "Yeah, right" when he told me that I looked great before an important meeting, he stopped complimenting me. Then I was mad because I felt unnoticed and unappreciated.
What a mess.
And that's not all. I felt guilty when I was relaxing or doing something I loved, like walking along the beach or buying a new pair of shoes, because not only was I intolerant of other people's kindness, but I hadn't yet developed a tolerance for treating myself well. Instead, I worked long hours at a job I hated because that felt useful and important, even though it didn't make me happy.
No wonder I was always cranky.
I am a reformed poor receiver.
Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.
Sydney J. Harris
What to Do When the Easy Times Hit
Most people know what to do when tough times hit circle the wagons, hunker down, and try to get through as best you can. If tomorrow is the big deadline for a project that's not ready, you'd probably make a pot of coffee and plan to work through the wee hours. If money's suddenly tight, you ration what you have for groceries and other necessities. If you lose your job, you network like crazy until you get another one. When the goal is survival, it's not hard to figure out what to do next, and you don't feel guilty about it. But when you suddenly have a free afternoon with no responsibilities, get a nicer car than you've ever had, attract an amazing guy who falls in love with you, or get promoted over three people who have been at the company longer, what do you do?
You try to enjoy it, of course.
But that can be tricky.
I knew one couple who lived meagerly until they received a substantial inheritance. Before long, they had spent it and returned to their paltry lifestyle. They understood how to struggle, but they had not developed a tolerance for living much beyond that. Having extra money didn't fit with their picture of themselves, so they unconsciously returned to their low but familiar standard of living. We do the same thing with gifts.
When I first became self-employed, I was so used to working from eight AM to five PM Monday through Friday that I felt as though I wasn't working hard if I slept in on a Tuesday. No one but me was expecting me to get up at a certain time, and I had never been a morning person, but my Protestant work ethic dictated that I should stick to that familiar schedule. If I stayed up late at night writing, I judged myself harshly for being undisciplined and not getting my work done in the morning. I wasn't focused on my excellent productivity (I was writing two books) but rather on the fact that I was abusing the privilege of being self-employed.
Now I recognize that I enjoy writing at night I feel alert and rested in the evening, and there are fewer interruptions. I've finally developed a tolerance for something that's really great for me the ability to set my own work hours.
But it wasn't easy.
We have to reprogram ourselves to be comfortable with more love, free time, success, confidence, money, or a situation that is better than we already have, but it can be done.
Receiving is the key.
If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.
You'll Feel As If You're Getting Away with Something
Focusing on being a good receiver will help you override any temptation to dismiss or reject the things that you say you want but that you can't seem to get. Chances are, having them makes you feel uncomfortable. In other words, when you change your behavior to become a good receiver when you tolerate having what is good and pleasurable for you you will have more peace in your life. If you're like me, you'll feel delight and surprise that life can be so easy.
When you discover the bounty of time, love, and everything else that is good that comes as a direct result of receiving, you increase your capacity for more wonderful, surprising, exciting, tender things to happen to you.
Learning to receive will at first be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. But this book will show you how to ride out the awkwardness.
In the following pages you will learn simple, practical steps that will help you make receiving your habit. You will learn how to choose confidence and graciousness over insecurity and guilt. As a result, your romantic relationship, friendships, and family connections will be more intimate and enjoyable. You'll have more free time and less stress, and you'll develop an acceptance a tolerance for what you want but have unconsciously rejected in the past because you didn't think you were deserving.
When you master the art of receiving graciously, magical things happen. Instead of doing the dishes by yourself the morning after the party, you have a splash-fest with the friend who stayed late to help you clean the kitchen. Leisure time becomes more abundant. Instead of having leftovers and watching TV on Friday night, you let someone take you to a romantic dinner and a movie. Compliments you would have dismissed serve to make you feel more confident, and you connect more deeply with loved ones.
Adopting the habits of a gracious receiver will help you draw things to you with minimal effort instead of struggling to pull them toward you by force or manipulation. Becoming a gracious receiver will also make you more attractive. If you learn to receive, you'll have more energy to devote to the things you've always wanted to do learning French, cultivating a garden, getting in shape, taking care of a child, or running a corporation.
All of this will happen just as soon as you discover and develop your receiving muscles, so keep reading.
Copyright © 2004 by St. Monday, Inc.