To be loved and nurtured by others is a basic human need. It is one of the main experiences in life that helps us grow into the best versions of ourselves. To receive another’s love means we can allow ourselves to surrender to their care, kindness, respect, praise, encouragement, and commitment. Many of us can forget that receiving love is just as important as giving it.
Why is Receiving Love Difficult?
For those of us who are natural givers, receiving love may not come naturally or may even feel uncomfortable. According to authors Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt (of Receiving Love: Letting Yourself Be Loved Will Transform Your Relationship), the root of the issue most often is self-rejection. This can go back to our childhood experience of love, in which the love given to us was not unconditional. If we feel as children we have to meet certain conditions to receive love, we may develop a core belief that we are not worthy of it just as we are. Therefore, when others try to give us love, it can trigger this core belief of unworthiness and undeservedness, making us feel uncomfortable receiving affection.
Of course, there can be many different reasons why we may find it difficult to receive love. It could be past trauma, unfamiliarity with receiving, feelings of unworthiness, and much more. Regardless, it is very common to feel resistance to receiving love in compliments, affection, accepting help, and more.
Learning to both receive and give love is hugely important for deepening our relationship with others and building our own sense of self-esteem. Here are five tips for allowing yourself to receive love this holiday season (or any time of the year!)
1. Be Aware of How You Feel When Receiving Affection
The first step to making progress with anything in life is to become aware of it. Psychologist Nathaniel Branden has said, “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” If you think (or know) that you have resistance to receiving love, notice exactly what resistance comes when you receive affection from another.
When you notice it, take a breath and remember to be patient with yourself. There are many reasons why you may feel uncomfortable receiving affection, but it likely could be related to a past relationship or childhood experience where receiving love was rare, uncomfortable, only given with conditions, etc. Be understanding with yourself as you notice what discomfort or resistance comes up for you, which will bring you one step closer to accepting you may have issues receiving love. Remember that noticing is the first step to progress!
2. Talk Openly with Loved Ones About How You Feel
Being vulnerable can be difficult, especially if you have resistance to receiving love. However, being open about how you feel with someone you can trust is a great way to open yourself up to receiving affection and reassurance in a safe environment. Let a loved one know that you have noticed you have a hard time receiving affection. This can open up the space for you to explore why you feel this way and create space for compassion and reassurance.
Having someone you love and trust understand your resistance may bring you closer and create the space for progress to be formed. Sharing how you feel with a loved one is also great practice for communicating your needs, which ultimately leads to you receiving love in the way you need it.
3. Notice How You Prefer to Receive Love
Just like we prefer to give love in certain ways, we also have preferences in how we like to receive love. Some of us may particularly appreciate a nice warm hug, while others of us prefer receiving a heartfelt gift.
These different ways of receiving love are known as the five love languages: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts, and acts of service. There may be one or two ways of receiving love that you are more comfortable with than others.
It can make a huge difference to recognize how you prefer to receive love and to communicate this to the people in your life. This can make receiving love feel easier and allow the people in your life to show their affection for you in the way you best receive it.
4. Seek the Help of a Professional
Receiving love can feel especially uncomfortable or difficult for those of us that have experienced sexual or relationship trauma. There is absolutely no shame in this, as trauma dramatically changes how we interact with our external world and relationships. Healing from trauma is a lifelong journey and it can be extremely helpful to work with a specialist who can assist you on your healing journey in the way you need.
Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, a marriage and family therapist and forensic psychologist, discussed the importance of addressing sexual trauma on the Dear Sex Podcast: “Because its [effects of trauma] are transcending to other areas of our lives… [if we are] not being able to function because of what happened to us, we have no choice but to address it”.
We all deserve to receive love, and traumatic events can make it difficult to open ourselves up to trusting and being vulnerable. One of the first big steps of healing from trauma is addressing what happened to us, and it may be best to do this with a licensed professional who can provide a safe, compassionate, and non-judgmental space.
5. Accept That You Are Worthy of Love
Realizing you are worthy of being loved, just like any other human being, is ultimately the biggest step to allowing yourself to receive love from others. There are many different ways to go about developing self-worth, like catching yourself in self-deprecating thoughts and changing the story, seeing a therapist, being vulnerable with a friend, etc.
Remember, there is no right way to develop self-worth. Feeling worthy is not an overnight process, so it’s essential to have patience with yourself and take it one step at a time.
For many of us, giving love comes naturally. This is a beautiful thing, as showing our love for others brings us closer to them and allows us to brighten another’s day. However, it is equally important to open yourself up to receiving love from friends, family, or partners. Ultimately, realizing you are worthy of being loved is a big step towards a happier and more fulfilling life.