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.