I have a conflicting relationship with gifts and exchanging gifts in general. Growing up, observing gift-giving in my familial relationships, it felt like gifts were obligations or transactions. Receiving a gift came with a hidden agenda or an expectation; a deposit made for a future favor. I like to receive gifts, but they make me feel very uneasy. What did I do to deserve this? What does this person now expect from me? Will they hold this gift over my head? What do I have to give them in return? It’s a struggle to release projecting these beliefs onto other people; it turns out some people genuinely express their appreciation for your existence with gifts. My partner, for example, is a wonderful gifter who may be entitled to compensation for the rejection sensitivity dysphoria I have activated over the years. Giving and receiving gifts is a love language. But, if it’s not your primary or preferred mode of expressing your affection, it becomes more of a stressor than a treat.
Challenges with gifting include cost, meaning, memory, timing, need, and creativity. In my mind, gifts should be authentic expressions of love and affection, not a sense of duty or obligation. A lack of gifting should not equate to a lack of existing love or commitment. The holidays can make us feel like we must give gifts; if not, we do not appreciate our loved ones. Simultaneously, we must accept all gifts no matter what, or else we’re ungrateful. We are taught that we can not disappoint others and we must keep our disappointment to ourselves. I find that gifting for many people, intentionally or unintentionally, is an ego boost. It can also empower or sustain power dynamics that are abusive, unhelpful, or dissatisfying. Gifting can complicate our interpersonal relationships and confuse situations we’re trying to process.
I feel so much pressure! I feel pressured to like the gift, pressured to react perfectly, pressured to utilize it, pressured to keep it, pressured to reciprocate, and pressured to get it right. When I plan on giving a gift, I spend hours, days, even months considering my options. I can be a bit obsessive. I want the recipient to feel warm, cared for, heard, and appreciated. If I don’t find an item that fits, I prefer not to get a gift at all. Though the procuring process can be tiring, it’s gratifying to see them feel good and smile especially knowing I gave it a lot of thought and effort. When in the reverse role, my trauma brain tells me that I am not worthy of receiving this type of attention and effort. I will receive an incredibly thoughtful gift and grow stoic as I process the gesture. I feel so guilty when I react to a thoughtful gift by trying to convince the giver their time and money are better served elsewhere (however, that means I love it!). If I receive a gift that I don’t particularly like, need, or feel is representative of me, I find myself overperforming gratitude and people-pleasing. I can feel the discomfort growing in my body- clenched jaw, confusion, tightness in my stomach, and fidgeting- I wish they would understand me, my interests, or my love languages better. I am grateful for how they choose to express their care, but it’s not in the way I need. It can feel like a lose-lose situation.
More meaningful to me than gifts around the holidays, or other special occasions, are acts that support my full presence throughout the year. Thought-provoking conversations, listening, planning activities, sharing a meal, belly laughing, emotional support, making memories, and encouraging my dreams are so impactful. These gifts communicate that I am important, valued, and appreciated. I think expressing your genuine care for someone in the form of gifts, especially ones that truly have them in mind, is beautiful. I think folks need to be careful and evaluate their treatment of gifting and putting unfair expectations on themselves and others. We also need to keep in mind that not everyone has the same relationship or needs with gifting and listen/observe how to care for others. Let’s try to become more curious about what works best for the people in our lives. Sometimes, the best gifts are intangible or no gift at all.