Receiving Love Is Just As Important As Giving Love

Insights From The Field* written by Doug Miller, PhD

receiving love

We’ve all heard “it’s better to give than receive.” While giving has many rewards, when it comes to our love lives, the biggest, often overlooked and obvious factor in relationship fulfillment is one’s capacity for receiving love.

It can be difficult to fully receive love because in the past, it was not the love we gave that hurt us most, but the love we didn’t receive, and so it can be more risky to open to and receive love. The source of this goes back to childhood and the various ways we were not loved or even acknowledged as children.

To be loved as a child includes having most of your experiences and emotions acknowledged. This doesn’t mean that your parents approve of “bad behavior.” Rather, your parents help you realize that your behaviors are either appropriate or inappropriate while acknowledging your feelings and desires. This can occur in statements such as, “I know you want Johnny to share his candy, but it is not right for you to grab it from him.” In short, with this acknowledgement of the child's desires, her wants get mirrored back and integrated with the appropriate behavior.

In contrast, if the parents respond saying, “stop that, don’t be a bad girl,” this shames the child and the child will take it to mean that her feelings and desires are “bad.” When such messages are repeated, as they often are in a shaming parenting style, over time, the child will have difficulty asking to have her needs met, or even allowing her needs to be met, including in adulthood. She may also come to believe “there is something wrong with me, I am unlovable.”

When emotions and needs are not mirrored, met and fulfilled, it hurts, and so those emotions and even parts of ourselves are cast away. 

Because of the pain, those emotions are then protected. So we don’t dare risk exposing the needs, and this keeps love out. Giving love involves much less risk, and so it is easier to give than receive love, but it is only half of the equation and leaves us unfulfilled. 

So, what can you do? 

You can tune into the ways you do not let love in. For example, when you are with your beloved or close friend, you can look inside and notice when you put up a wall, detach, don’t accept a compliment, and generally don’t settle into and receive the good things that are being offered. 

With long-term relationships, both partners can get into a habitually distant pattern with one another. There can be a sort of agreement “not to go there,” into the deepest of heart's desire for love. It’s best when couples work on this together as both are contributing. Because there is a lot of sensitivity and vulnerability around the issues involved, often professional help is needed.

When your lack of receiving persists, you may become aware of childhood memories of emotional neglect, shaming, and other negative interactions with your caregivers. These are the actual source, and can be worked through in Experiential Therapy and other approaches that directly heal those experiences. You may know that you are more open when the receiving causes you to feel a bit childlike and vulnerable. When this happens, just pause, relax and receive, let it really sink into your heart and belly. Know you are loved. Because it is so satisfying and fulfilling, it will get easier over time. It will also get easier to ask for the love you really want.

To learn more about these and related topics, listen to our Intimacy Hour Radio Show.

* “The Field” is meant in two ways: First, from the professional field of Transpersonal Psychology, how psychology and spirituality interact. Second, it is my lived, often felt and intuited awareness of myself and others. Many of these insights come from my own personal experience and my “growing edge,” i.e., insights I am realizing for myself, about mine and other’s growth, and my interpretation of the realities of being human.

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