My birthday was a little less than a week ago. I figure it’s a good time to talk about gifts. We give gifts for various occasions and no particular occasion at all.
I enjoy giving gifts. Seeing the joy and appreciation on a family member or friends face is fantastic. Giving anonymously feels good too, though, even when you’ll never know whether it was even appreciated.
So, given that I enjoy giving gifts, it’s odd how uncomfortable I am with receiving gifts. I know that the person giving me the gift likely gets the same kind of pleasure I do from the act of giving, but it doesn’t make it easier for me to accept gifts. And I’m not talking about any particular gift or any particular gift giver. It’s pretty consistent for most gifts.
I don’t know when it started or what did it. But nearly every time someone gives me something outside of an exchange, it makes me uncomfortable.
I know gift giving isn’t usually reciprocal, at least not on the occasions I have in mind. On my birthday, in this culture and my family traditions, I’m not expected to give gifts to guests. I receive birthday presents. But even on Christmas when it is usually expected to be a gift exchange, I’m uncomfortable receiving.
I can’t really explain the exact feelings. Sometimes I feel a little guilty when receiving a gift. Sometimes it’s because I feel like I should reciprocate, even when the occasion doesn’t call for it.
And sometimes it’s not so much guilt. I actually feel indebted. I know there’s no expectation in most of the cases. I still feel like I owe them some sort of debt. Sometimes even on Christmas when I have reciprocated, regardless of comparative monetary values.
It also makes me feel a little like the way I feel about asking for help. I don’t like to ask for help, even though I like helping people, and I know other people feel the same way about helping me. But I’m working on becoming better at asking for and accepting help.
I read a book on gratitude last year that was sort of an academic look at the history of gratitude in different cultures throughout history. In some cultures, gifts have been used to put another into your debt. Gifts have been used to signify power structures as well, with gifts flowing in either direction. And in other cultures gifts nearly always require reciprocation.
So perhaps it’s partially an inborn trait. Or if you accept the idea of genetic memory, maybe that explains at least some of it.
I just know that gifts have made me uncomfortable for a long time. But like I’ve been doing with asking for and accepting help, I’ve also been working on my feelings about accepting gifts.
They’re related too. Giving help is one kind of gift, and it’s given without expectations, beyond maybe gratitude. So as I get better at accepting help, I think I’ll get better at accepting gifts as well.