Recently, a friend and I had a great idea. Both of us had projects, close to our hearts, that had been on the back burner for a while. We were feeling stymied in our ability to bring them into the light and we thought meeting with like-minded others might spur things on, add a little momentum.
So we cleared a few hours on a Saturday, invited another couple of women, and had what we called a creative brainstorming session. There was tea, there were snacks, there was stimulating conversation, and for me, there was also a bit of an epiphany.
I was in the middle of explaining what I hoped I might get out of this gathering. It all sounded very logical. We could offer each other good ideas for moving forward with our projects. We could be supportive and encouraging. And we could hold each other accountable.
And then it hit me. What I was actually looking for. To not be alone.
I wanted to not do this on my own. Let me add: I wanted to not do this thing, too, on my own. Because for the last handful of years, I feel like I’ve been tackling things largely (with the exception of parenting a child with a supportive ex-partner), on my own.
In business for myself. Owning a home alone. And when my parenting hat is on, doing that solo too.
I am not complaining. In fact, I have prided myself on being a strong, independent, capable woman.
I am the daughter of a mother who seemed to have superhuman abilities. She did it all and she did it all well. And she still does! This experience in my family was also mirrored in the world. Growing up, there was a great deal of not-so-subtle messaging that it was not only expected, but admirable, for women to have ten thousand balls in the air and to perfectly balance home and work and volunteering and kids.
For many women of my generation, doing all of this without asking for help has become a point of pride. Assistance of any form is something we’ve been taught not to expect, and certainly not to need. Several of my friends are the most excellent “givers,” and would be the first to drop off soup when you’re sick, but when it comes to accepting some help back, they insist they don’t need it.
I have a theory about this. If you think about what an offer of help really is, it is a person reaching out with their energy and time to give you something of themselves. This person is someone who cares for you, so it’s not a stretch to say that their gesture is one of love.
In his book, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, John Welwood says that “receiving love is more threatening than giving it because receptivity requires opening, which feels vulnerable.” When we are the ones giving love, we are in control. When the love is in someone else’s hands, it is out of our control and therefore subject to doubt and insecurity and fear. It could ebb or even be fully taken away.
Welwood says these are the fears of a wounded heart and he believes that we all have one. In fact, he contends that all problems in human relationships and all of the world’s troubles too can be traced back to what he calls “the mood of unlove” – our shared human suspicion that we are not truly lovable, “just for who we are.” This undermines our capacity to give and receive love freely.
This might explain why it can feel so loaded to accept help, why so many of us are uncomfortable with it, and in my case, why the acknowledgement that I wanted to “not be alone” made me feel so vulnerable.
Think about your own microcosm of the larger world. Here’s a simple and common way that we, women especially, often block the flow of love: through a refusal to accept compliments. We deny. We demur. We deflect. Even if we politely accept a compliment, we often don’t truly believe it.
If you think of a compliment as a little bit of love flowing your way, from someone who cares for you, in denying it, you’ve effectively built a wall. You’ve literally blocked the flow of love coming to you from another human being.
But our wounded hearts don’t have to run the show forever. I like Brene Brown’s approach to what she calls a universal fear. In the face of feeling unworthy of love, she advises something counterintuitive. She recommends that we lean into this fear and rather than armouring up, allow ourselves to be honest about what we are feeling.
Which brings me back to the brainstorming group. Admitting out loud that I didn’t want to do it all alone definitely felt vulnerable, but the roof did not fall in and the floor did not peel away under my feet. In fact, the experience made me reflect that over this past year, I’ve been getting better at this. Having a wonderful partner and very generous friends certainly makes it easier. I am learning that asking for help doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. I am learning that I don’t have to do it all my own. I am learning to trust the love that comes from other people who truly see me.
We live in a world where giving is lauded, where it is “better to give than to receive.” But if we think of love as ever-present and always in flow, giving it is important, but receiving it is equally so.
Dear reader, what can you do in your own life this week to keep this cycle of love flowing? Can you accept a compliment and really take it in? Can you say yes to a friend’s offer of help? Can you maybe even risk vulnerability and ask for something you need?
Be brave. Magical things can happen when we open to receive.