Accepting compliments and other gifts often makes us uncomfortable because we are not in charge. Receiving is, by its very nature, passive. We don't ask for compliments, and so when they arrive, we may feel as if someone just made us appear immodest. Or we may fear that an unsolicited offer to help means that someone perceives us as weak.

My wanting to maintain a sense of control caused me to reject the things that women like to receive-compliments, apologies, help, gifts, and emotional support. I bucked up when I was overwhelmed instead of leaning on a friend because I imagined that doing so would threaten my independence. I hid my sad feelings because I didn't want to be perceived as weak or emotional. I avoided people who would have gladly supported me when I felt vulnerable because I worried that they might see an Achilles heel and-who knows-use it against me some day, which, of course, was unlikely.

At the root of my discomfort when anyone gave me something before I became a good receiver was fear of being out of control. To receive, I had to give up control, if only for a moment, which fueled my fear by reminding me that life is unpredictable and wouldn't always go according to my tidy plans. That meant I couldn't tell my friends and family not to spend a lot of money on me or to give me gifts only on my birthday. I couldn't be certain that they weren't sacrificing their own enjoyment for mine when they offered help. I couldn't ensure that they would give me something that I felt I deserved. Most frightening of all was the thought that their gifts would betray what I believed about myself, like when John said I looked beautiful that morning before my important meeting and I just felt stiff and frumpy in my old suit. Hearing something that contradicted my feelings about myself made me fear I was being patronized or mocked. I mistrusted his compliment-and therefore my husband-because I was so sure it wasn't true.

My desire to be in control was costly. It cost me the opportunity to receive compliments, gifts, help and many other things I like. But the highest piece I paid was in losing out on the emotional connections we gain when someone gives us something; intimacy is forged when we are pleasantly surprised-and flattered-by getting something we didn't expect.

In the old days, I passed up the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with just about everyone. I chipped away at the intimacy of my marriage every time I snubbed my husband's offer to take me out to dinner, protesting that we didn't have the time or money. I skipped a pleasant connection with the man at the dry cleaner because I rebuffed his offer to help me carry my bedspread out to my car. I passed up a chance to laugh and talk and to get to know my friend better when I rejected her offer to help me paint my kitchen. Naturally, the level of intimacy I missed out on varied depending on my relationship with the giver, but on lots of occasions I passed up a pleasant connection that would have made both my life and someone else's sweeter.

You might not think that it's so important to have a pleasant connection with the guy at the dry cleaner-and you're right, it's not going to drastically rock your world. However, it is important to your happiness and well-being to feel a part of the community, which is what happens when you receive from everyone in your community-even if it's just a neighborhood vendor.

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