Receiving, especially receiving help, has been on my mind a lot lately, as I recover from ankle surgery. My recovery has kicked off with a month of zero weight on my right leg, meaning crutches and a shower stool (oh, the horror). So the simplest of things, like carrying a coffee cup upstairs, is far beyond my ability making me reliant on others for a lot of little tasks I took for granted.
Forgot my Tylenol on the 3rd floor, but now I’m in the kitchen? Oh well, that Tylenol may as well be in Utah.
When Michael is home, it’s all smooth sailing. Getting his help feels like getting help from the Creator— it’s selfless, kind, and full of compassion. He never lets me know that my needs are inconvenient, even when sometimes I’m sure they are.
Not everyone has been so gracious. Some of the assistance I’ve received was offered with resentment bordering on hostility and just left me feeling bad and like I was a burden. It’s so easy to feel when someone is giving from a place of true care… or not. I realize experiences like that reinforce my negative thoughts around receiving help, cementing the false belief that help comes at too high of a price and will leave me feeling hurt and disappointed.
I don’t think I’m alone in having some complicated emotions around receiving help.
But on the other hand, the few forays out in public that I’ve made on my crutches have been met with an unbelievable amount of kindness. New Yorkers always seem to get a bad rap for not being the nicest or the friendliest (which has never been my experience) but introduce crutches into the mix, and New Yorkers are angels. It’s really something to see. And I have welcomed the kindness of strangers, wholeheartedly. They race to open doors, they clear a path with a smile on their faces, and they take a moment to offer their empathy and compassion. That part of this experience has been really heartening and uplifting.
Through acts of sharing, we are transforming into our very best selves. We all know the opposite of giving is receiving. Without anyone to receive, how can we share? Perfectly sensible, yet, I have a real block when it comes to receiving. It’s laughable when you think about it; I believe that the purpose of life is sharing, and yet I don’t want to find myself on the receiving end of generosity. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to receive kindness and love from others, but I have found it is easier for me to receive from people I am not as close to. The people I hold nearest and dearest to my heart are the most difficult to accept help from. Seems like it would be the other way around. But maybe it is because I want those relationships to be on equal footing. Which is punny, considering I am down to half of my footing.
Help sounds deceptively simple, but it’s actually a multi-step process from asking for help to receiving help, and finally, the most complex aspect of the whole process, sorting through my feelings about having been helped. I dislike having to need help, and that’s where it all starts. No one likes to feel dependent on other people. I don’t love asking for help, either, but until people start becoming better mind readers, I suppose I will have to start getting more comfortable with it.
Yet, I love being asked for help! I genuinely enjoy helping other people. When we give, we do it voluntarily, we choose with whom to share, when we want to share, what we are going to give, where, and how much or how frequently. We are completely in control of our giving.
When we receive, we are not in control. We can’t control what people offer us or how they show kindness. This is a major source of discomfort when it comes to receiving. You only have two choices, accept or reject. Often we reject. Think how many times someone has offered to pick up the check or tried to take a heavy bag and carry it for you. “No, no! I’ve got it, but thank you!” we exclaim.
Of those times we do allow ourselves to accept a kindness, often it’s given and received at face value. Other times, there’s an aftermath.
I remember a certain relative who, if she gave you something, at some point, you were going to have to pay her back. No matter how small the gesture, you were going to OWE her according to the detailed tally she kept in her head. I personally do not ascribe to the reciprocity dynamic of giving and receiving, but many people do expect to receive at a later date a gesture of equal value. However, as with my relative, some people have a skewed perspective on what constitutes an equal gesture; in her case, it means doing anything she wants at any time. There are a lot of scorekeepers in the world, and I don’t want to incur the judgment of someone who is keeping track and perceives me as indebted.
Sometimes, people have agendas and give to prove something either to themselves or someone else. Others thrive on martyrdom. If at all possible, I decline help from them. It’s far too complicated.
Before my surgery, I was having a conversation with my Mom and contemplating the kind of help I might need. And she said something I thought was really powerful.
Accept any kindness offered. Any kindness from anyone.
It struck me in its simplicity.
So I’ve been trying it. One of my friends offered to do a bodywork session for me as a friend to help with my recovery. I was moved to tears. I decided to accept her offer and am grateful I did.
When it comes to asking and receiving help, I have options, and you all know how I love options.
A I can accept that there are so many people in my life that would show up for me if they knew I wanted them to. All I have to do is ask.
B Still knowing that there are so many people willing and kind who would love to help, but if I refuse to ask for help (especially when I really do need some support), in essence, I am just pushing people away, which makes me feel lonely. AND is completely unnecessary, as made obvious by option A.
It’s pretty clear when I put it like that.
Option A. Accept any kindness. Final answer.
Wish me luck.