How Men Can Let More In

HOW MEN CAN RECEIVE MORE & BETTER

A male client asked me this week for any resources I could point him to that would help him expand his receiving capacity.

At first I was frustrated… I haven’t  come across a great book for this, but it NEEDS to be written!  Then I realized: maybe I’m the one to do it!  So I promised him I’d sit down right away and capture the first pass.  Then, I thought I’d share it with you.

THE IMPORTANCE OF RECEIVING FOR POWERFUL PEOPLE:

Your capacity to receive is the ultimate constraint on your capacity to give, to create outcomes and impact, to succeed, and to be sustainable and nourished while you’re doing all that.  

Put more simply:  You can only give as well as you’re willing to get.

And the only fuel you have with which to produce good is the fuel you’ve taken in.

If you’re great at giving others attention, care, help, money, gifts, and time… but not at letting those things come to you from others?  You eventually run out of steam.  And all along, even when you think you could keep going, that this is the only way to be, you’re also training those around you to be in an uneven relationship:  you’re giving and not letting in.  It’s honestly not their fault when they acquiesce to your terms and take more than they give.  It’s them complying with the request you make through your every deed, if not your words.

A frequent complaint I hear from partners of men whose “receiving muscles,” as I call them, are weak:  “He won’t let me give to him.”  

IT’S DIFFERENT FOR DIFFERENT MEN, BUT HERE ARE SOME OF THE SIGNS A MAN ISN’T GREAT AT LETTING GOODNESS IN:

  • He’s happy to help others (move, complete a project, solve a problem) but won’t ever ask for help with his own projects.
  • It may not even OCCUR to him that he doesn’t have to do things by himself or with his own resources.
  • He sometimes feels frustrated or spread too thin by all the different requests he gets from different people… because he feels like he has to say “yes” to each one, or each request from someone he cares about, even if he doesn’t have the time, energy, money, or attention to fulfill the requests with ease
  • He won’t let his lover give him pleasure – or he puts limits on it or reflexively “returns the favor” rather than just savoring the pleasurable gift
  • He’s uncomfortable receiving attention or service
  • He doesn’t want people to talk about his accomplishments, his appearance, or how funny or smart he is; he quashes such comments
  • He chokes back his actual needs or legitimate requests at restaurants or when receiving services like haircuts – he doesn’t want to be a bother, and he thinks asking for something different or more IS making trouble for someone
  • He doesn’t want anyone making a fuss over his birthday or special day, no matter how big a deal HE makes over THEIRS

Did you recognize yourself or a man you care about in some of those examples?

He has a very good reason for resisting receiving.  Our culture has lumped receiving — an obviously good thing (just ask someone whose life has been saved by CPR!) — together with greediness and/or weakness and/or neediness, all of which are seen as BAD.

WHILE I CERTAINLY DON’T ENDEAVOR TO DEVELOP OR HELP CLIENTS GROW GREED, WEAKNESS, OR GRASPING, THOSE ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH THE VERY GOOD QUALITIES THAT RECEIVING IS ACCURATELY ASSOCIATED WITH.

Receiving IS vulnerable, because it compromises our control.  Staying in control is actually impossible, but so often, we try to keep control in an effort to be invulnerable, to feel safe, to get an accurate, detailed map of the future.  In truth, though, the richest rewards of life come from taking responsibility for the things we haveinfluence over, accepting the truth that most things are beyond our control, and embracing the potent experiences that come with vulnerability.  

FOR INSTANCE:

  • Going for a goal you KNOW you can hit has a certainty about it, but going for a goal you CARE about and are not at all sure you can hit, but that you’re committed to absolutely running toward?  That’s vulnerable.
  • Letting yourself love someone deeply and thereby giving them the power to break your heart, even inadvertently?  That’s vulnerable.
  • Letting them love you BACK, even though you know all the things about yourself you’re afraid are unloveable, and even though every time they give to you, they remind you that you’re not in control?  That’s EVEN MORE vulnerable!
  • Creating something that expresses your authentic self – whether it’s a heartfelt note on someone’s birthday or a song you sing while playing your guitar on Periscope, even though doing so means that people could not like it or not receive it and let it in?  That’s vulnerable.
  • Letting others care about, help, or serve you… Letting them see your needs and meet them… Letting them really pay exquisite attention to you… And really letting in all that love and beauty and abundance….Even though doing so means that you can’t manage THEIR emotions while you’re letting it in, and that your own emotions will well up and crumble your veneer of control if you really feel it? THAT is REALLY vulnerable.

Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, writes beautifully about this kind of open-hearted living.  Hey!  Come to think of it, THAT is a good book for my client, not directly about receiving, but about these fundamentals of what it takes to expand your receiving capacity.

Now that we’ve differentiated receiving from weakness and greed and neediness, let’s do talk a bit about our patriarchal culture’s messages to men regarding vulnerability and emotion.  The patriarchy may appear to benefit men with privilege and status, just because of their gender, but it also exacts a harsh toll on them by painting them into a corner that presumes to bound a limited set of options for “being a man.”  If you don’t toe these lines, the patriarchal story goes, you’re not a “real man” and therefore inferior, undesirable, and a failure.

BEFORE YOU READ THIS LIST, THINK OF SOME OF THE MESSAGES YOU KNOW ABOUT.  MEN ARE TOLD:

  • Make things happen; don’t wait for other people to help you:  that’s for damsels in distress.  
  • Hold doors, lift suitcases, throw your cape down across puddles… a man is the one who GIVES help, not one who accepts it
  • Women are supposed to be emotional (and their emotions can be erratic and destructive and they make women irrational, even though being RATIONAL is the highest aim of being human) and men are supposed to be objective, cool, and in control of any emotions they might feel.  
  • In particular, joy, pride, and satisfaction are reasonable things for a man to feel, but fear, uncertainty, grief, sadness, or loneliness should be pushed aside and their existence denied.  They will only get in your way.

I recently saw “Inside Out” with my kids.  It’s a genius animated creation from Pixar, starring the voices of Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, and other great voice talents.  Poehler plays “Joy,” one of the emotions inside a girl named Riley.  Joy is Riley’s most prevalent emotion, which is lovely, but in the film’s dramatization of an actually scientifically-sound, evidence-based way of thinking about our inner world, Joy is the DOMINANT emotion, running roughshod over Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust when she thinks they might stop Riley from having a GREAT DAY.

The plot line is such a great commentary on our culture’s bias toward being “happy” — happy here being a synonym for “JOYFUL AT ALL TIMES” rather than a more robust view of happiness, which might be seen as equanimity amid all life’s unavoidable emotions, including sadness, anger, fear, and disgust as well as joy.

Joy learns, through mistakes and struggles, that Riley’s best moments all have twinges of sadness in them.  This is for several reasons.  First, because the most precious things are scarce and impermanent.  We only have so much time with friends or children or lovers, and that scarcity makes the time all the more meaningful.  Second, sadness is often the SEED of our best moments, because in our vulnerability, others can open their hearts to us and show us profound love.  

This is also, of course, true of joyful moments:  when you win the game or sign the deal or reach that milestone birthday, others can lavish love and praise and celebration on you.  But if you’ve ever given to someone who wasn’t good at receiving, you know what a bummer it is to pour out your heart to them, only to have its contents spill on the floor at their feet as they stare down at it, uncomprehending.

SO RECEPTIVITY IS KEY EITHER WAY:  WHEN OTHERS GIVE YOU ATTENTION OR SERVICE OR CARE IN YOUR GOOD TIMES, YOUR RECEIVING IT IS UTTERLY SUFFICIENT PAYMENT FOR WHAT THEY’VE GIVEN; IT COMPOUNDS THEIR JOY IN GIVING TO YOU.  

And when others are inspired by your sadness or challenge — or the powerful call of the project you’re working on — and they want to contribute and you allow them to do so, your receiving is what allows the project to be a success or for your pain to be healed by the limbic connection with others.

If you’d like to get better at receiving, it’s simply a matter of practice.  You’ll need to practice both new thoughts and new actions.

WE’LL START WITH HELPFUL THOUGHTS TO INGRAIN:

  • Receiving is not intrinsically uncomfortable; it’s only been made uncomfortable by the meaning I’ve attached to it.  I can change what I make receiving mean.
  • I sometimes feel awkward receiving because what’s being given stretches my receiving capacity.  At those times, I DO know what to do and say.  I can just say, “This means a lot.  It’s so generous / kind / helpful I’m kind of at a loss for words. Will ‘thank you’ suffice?”
  • It’s a gift to people when I let their generosity, caring, attention, love, influence, and action in.  It’s not greedy or needy of me.  It’s receptive, and that’s kind.
  • I will practice asking myself in all kinds of situations, “how could I receive input, help, support, inspiration, or companionship in this?”
  • When I’m uncomfortable receiving, I’ll imagine the tables turned:  I’m in the other person’s shoes, they’re in mine.  How does it feel now?  If it makes sense to me when I stand, hypothetically, in the “giver’s” shoes, I’ll just presume it makes sense in the actual situation, even if it feels strange.
  • When I learn to receive more, it only expands my capacity to give, serve, create, and love.
  • I already know I’m vigilant against being greedy or needy, so I’ll let that vigilance reassure me that I’m not going to veer too far across the line in that direction.

NOW, LET’S LOOK AT ACTIONS YOU CAN PRACTICE TO EXPAND YOUR RECEPTIVE CAPACITY:

Look for “driftwood”:  long before sailors of yore could see land, they knew they were approaching a continent by the appearance of driftwood.  Keep your awareness attuned to evidence that everyone (particular people, your whole family, your whole team at work, or the entire world!) is engaged in a conspiracy to give to you, pay attention to you, and help you.  When you notice it, say “thanks!”  That’s all that’s needed

  • Look for “driftwood”:  long before sailors of yore could see land, they knew they were approaching a continent by the appearance of driftwood.  Keep your awareness attuned to evidence that everyone (particular people, your whole family, your whole team at work, or the entire world!) is engaged in a conspiracy to give to you, pay attention to you, and help you.  When you notice it, say “thanks!”  That’s all that’s needed
  • Pick something you do receive but get uncomfortable receiving: sexual attention, physical touch, questions, compliments, help…  While it’s coming in, imagine it filling you up like a fuel tank, or charging you like a superhero.  Use your breath to relax into it.  Yes, it might feel stretchy or “burn” like lifting heavy weights, but that’s just your capacity growing.
  • Think of something you’d like to get more of.  Look for ways to directly ask for it and make a request once a day.  Be curious as to how you might have avoided or blocked receiving this in the past, and gently open the gate.  And notice that, like a flexible “rush hour” lane that can go either direction, maybe you’ve been hogging all the “giving traffic” by giving and giving and not letting any giving come back toward you.  You don’t have to reverse it 100%, but find ways to share the lanes.
  • Make a list of the people in your life who you give to and/or would like to receive from, personally or professionally or otherwise.  For each one, note:  
    • How much do I try to give to, support, love, touch (or use another form of generosity toward) them?
    • How receptive are they?  How do I know they’re letting it in?
    • How much do they try to give to me?  In what forms?  
    • How much do I let it in? How do I demonstrate I’m letting it in?
    • How much do I shut out or shut down the generosity?  How do I signal that?

THEN CHOOSE ONE SMALL ADJUSTMENT TO MAKE, SO YOU CAN BE MORE RECEPTIVE AND/OR BALANCE THE RELATIONSHIP IN ANOTHER WAY.  

Some clients have needed to start saying “no” — for example to an adult child who’s over-dependent or to an “old friend” who always comes with a hand out to ask, but never with a hand full to offer anything of value.   A “taker” may or may not change when we do this (though we HAVE trained them to expect us to give and not to give to us!) but our receptivity will expand.  When we start to set better boundaries in one place, we often find new energy and receiving flowing in from someone else.

Finally, look for all the simple little places you could receive:  letting someone hold the door when they offer.  Taking an offered smile and receiving it warmly.  Answering a sincere, “how are you?” with an authentic report, however brief.  Drinking in the attention of someone in your family, however young or old.  Every one expands your capacity.

I hope this helps expand your receiving capacity.  I know I speak on behalf of those who love you:  it is a gift when you let us adore you and take care of you and give you pleasure.  Please be generous in this very rewarding way, okay?

Much Love,

Michele