Steen mug shot

Steen

“Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” — Brené Brown

He was quick to fend off any offers of assistance. He was a pretty healthy fella, after all, especially for being as old as he was. He could climb that ladder and repair the broken window on the second story of the house. He could ... until he lost his balance and began a fall that he couldn’t stop. 

He survived, but with a broken back, he was going to require much more assistance than just letting a younger person climb that ladder. Was he a conditional, judgmental giver? Maybe not in his own mind, but thinking on Brown’s words we might decide that for him and for ourselves learning to receive might be one of the most important lessons in becoming a better giver.

Are you a good giver and receiver? For instance, it’s much easier for some of us to pick up items for someone else when we’re at the store than it is to ask others to pick up something for us. That receiving business is tougher. Why are people that way? Do they (we) think others aren’t capable of helping or doing a good enough job

A few reasons consistently arose in the studies and reports I found.

  • Many times, a person won’t ask for help because they fear they will appear to be weak.
  • Often, people who won’t accept help worry that they’ll lose control if someone else is helping.
  • Who can do it better than I can? is a frequent thought of those refusing help.

And then there is the self-deprecating reasoning that comes into play.

  • I’m not worthy of their help.
  • Other people don’t seem to need help, so I shouldn’t either.

The task for each of us who struggles with asking for or accepting help is to first figure out why we refuse and then to look at the opportunities we are denying others when we get caught up in this “Do it all myself” way of thinking.

For years, I didn’t see it this way at all. I just knew that I didn’t want to burden anyone else with my needs that weren’t all that important. (I’m hoping some of you have felt that way.) When I first heard Brown’s take on my not allowing others to help, I was a bit offended — I loved helping other people and didn’t judge them for needing my help. Or did I?

The most painful view can be the reflection we see when we must look at our hidden thinking.

I didn’t attach any judgment to the help I offered, but just maybe I did feel differently when people needed my help. It came as a surprise to me when I examined myself, and it completely changed how I behaved from that day forward. I didn’t even know I needed to change.

It was a strange turn of events for me — a person who thought she was always a joyful giver. When I began allowing other people to help me, when I began letting people know that I just couldn’t do it alone, I immediately began to feel a sense of gratitude when I was able to help them. Maybe there was something to this thing of not having to do it all on my own.

There are plenty of bootstraps stories — you know the ones, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” And it’s great to be able to take pride in what we accomplish on our own, but what if you stop for just a minute to realize that your needing to do it alone is hurting someone else? What if you could make one change in yourself and change everything for someone else?

This is where we truly discover the power we hold. It just requires a little vulnerability and humility to peek around the corners of our “do it ourselves” exteriors. The risk might seem great, I know. 

What if your neighbor sees you as a bit of a wimp for asking for a hand on a project? What if your spouse sees you as lacking in carrying your own weight in the relationship because you expose your need for help with tasks you used to manage on your own? What if your co-worker sees you as the weak link in the department because you asked to have another pair of eyes look at the report? I’ll tell you what ...

If other people see you as “less than”, it’s because they still have the problem that you might have had at one time, back before you came to understand the gift of asking for and accepting help from another person with an open heart.

I love doing things alone, it’s true. I enjoy walking alone, driving alone, and even sitting at a quiet table in a restaurant eating a meal and reading a book all by myself. I recharge when I am alone, and I look forward to having someone to share conversations with later.

We are humans, wired for relationships. It’s good to be happy doing things on our own, but we are typically happier humans when we balance the solitude with shared experiences. Sometimes, those shared experiences come because someone asks us to spend time with them or help them, and other times because we do the asking. 

Open your heart to receive from someone else this week, and I’m betting you’ll discover a whole new level of giving. With holidays around the corner, why not think of ways to allow others the opportunity to help you so you can practice being a better receiver and giver. 

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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