by Jenny Smedra
In our home, we grew up believing it was better to give than receive. Birthdays focused on family dinners and Christmas always included a lesson in service and charity. Although gifts were included in special occasions, my mother taught me to share the spirit of generosity with others. While it instilled a selfless attitude towards giving, it also made it difficult for me to accept gifts. I have always felt uncomfortable receiving them, especially if they were expensive. I felt as if it was too much, or I didn’t deserve it. Over the years, I have created ways of setting limits on gift-giving that made it easier to receive gifts without guilt. With my birthday just a few days away, I found myself revisiting these methods in preparation.
Expectation When Accepting Gifts
Any time there is a holiday or special event, buying gifts has become an expectation. While I know it is important to mark these occasions, I personally hate the emphasis put on the gift itself. Although I know a lot of the pressure is self-induced, I stress over finding the perfect gift, how much to spend, and second-guessing my choices.
These feelings only intensify when I’m on the receiving end. It becomes even worse when I am the sole focus. During birthdays, graduations, and work anniversaries, I become very self-aware as all eyes are on me, waiting to see my reaction. After several strange or unwanted presents over the years, my first concern is that my initial reaction (or lack of enthusiasm) will hurt someone’s feelings. I don’t want anyone to feel bad if I don’t give the response they were hoping for. I have practiced my reactions extensively, but it has happened before. So, I still worry it will happen again.
The second source of anxiety comes when I receive a gift that I feel is too expensive or that I don’t deserve. Rather than a simple thank you, I usually respond with “It’s too much,” or “You shouldn’t have.” It’s hard to accept gifts I couldn’t afford myself because I don’t want to be a financial burden on people I care about.
Setting Limits on Gift-Giving
I have discussed my hesitation to accept gifts with many good friends over the years. While I logically understand that most people give gifts from a sincere desire to make you happy, it cannot remove the guilt or anxiety for me. Therefore, I developed a few coping strategies when I receive them. However, the single greatest change came when I took over the party and birthday planning for myself.
Instead of viewing my birthday as an event focused on gifts, I would put together large parties or outings with my friend. I have done everything from renting out restaurants and boats to themed parties and even group vacations. Everyone seems to enjoy themselves and I get to share the experience with the people I like the most. Rather than receiving personal gifts, I usually ask friends to contribute alcohol or food for the festivities. This gift aversion tactic has four important benefits:
- It takes the pressure off me.
- Specifying what to bring limits how much people spend.
- Buying gifts becomes much easier for my guests.
- It reduces the cost of the parties.
I have received mixed reactions to my strategy over the years, but all in all, I feel it has been a positive coping mechanism. Although it isn’t perfect, it has decreased the number of gifts I receive and my anxiety over accepting them.
Finding Ways to Make Accepting Gifts Easier
No matter how uncomfortable it makes me, gift-giving is a social custom that won’t be going away any time soon. And, even though I have taken measure to limit how many I receive, you cannot avoid them entirely. So, it’s important to find way to make accepting gifts easier.
1. Accepting gifts gets easier with practice.
As with anything, learning to accept gifts gets easier with practice. Although I felt foolish, rehearsing my expressions and reactions in the mirror made it easier. I felt I had more control over the situation. That meant I was less likely to have an involuntary or negative response that could hurt someone’s feelings.
2. Open your gifts in private.
While this seems like common sense, you wouldn’t believe how many people pressure you to open gifts in front of them. I usually oblige them, but prefer to open my gifts in private. This allows me to go at my own pace, away from watchful eyes and judging stares. It also gives me a safe place to react to my gifts without worrying how my responses will affect other people.
3. Create a gift registry.
This trick achieves a similar result as when I plan my own party. It makes it convenient and easy for your guests who want to get a gift, but aren’t sure what to buy. Furthermore, it sets limits and manages expectations of how much people should spend.
4. Recognize your false conceptions of gift-giving.
Another important step is recognizing my own false ideas or conceptions of gift-giving. As many people have pointed out, giving gifts is some people’s love language and way of connecting. They buy gifts to show they care or because they think it is something that would bring you joy. So, if you do receive one, accept the gift for what it is without searching for ulterior motives.
5. Give yourself permission to accept gifts.
Although it is the simplest piece of advice, the last tip is also the hardest. However, it is important to give myself permission to accept a gift and understand it is not something that needs to be earned. When you let go of your own feelings about accepting gifts, those you love you most can give freely to show how much they care and want to make you happy.
Over the years, these strategies have made it easier for me. Am I alone in this, or does anyone else have the same internal struggle of receiving and enjoying gifts?