The sounds of jingle bells and of family parties are once again around the corner, but with the merriment that the holidays bring, so too does this time of year tend to raise anxiety levels in those who experience what is known as gift guilt.
The definition of guilt (psychologically) is that it’s an emotion – particularly a sad one.
Guilt is an internal state.
Cognitively, thoughts cause emotion, thus guilt is also the result of thinking that you’ve caused someone harm.
In this case ( gift guilt ), the harm is the feeling of inconveniencing another person, or of being unable to return the favor on the same level as was received.
There are a multitude of reasons why people may experience anxiety when it comes to accepting gifts (and in some cases giving them).
Most commonly, experiences of gift guilt occur when:
You are unexpectedly receiving a gift, thus were not prepared for reciprocation.
You aren’t particularly fond of the gift you’ve received.
You feel indebted to the person (often seen in situations where the gift has a higher value, whether monetary or otherwise).
In this instance, guilt is due to feeling inadequate in being able to equally reciprocate the gesture.
Why do we experience these types of feelings?
Interestingly, feeling anxious about receiving gifts can actually stem from a fear of intimacy, because both giving and receiving brings connectivity between two parties, thereby helping people to bond with one another and form or maintain healthy relationships.
In this context, guilt is a way to protect oneself from wanting to accept kind gestures, by keeping others at arms length so to speak.
Additionally, many people were taught as children that to receive is to be selfish, equating reception with taking.
Whatever the cause, here are some things to remember so that you can effectively manage gift guilt, thereby allowing yourself to graciously accept gifts from well-intentioned loved ones.
7 Ways to Conquer Gift Guilt
1. Acknowledge the intent behind the gift.
Giving is meant to be a kind gesture of love and appreciation from one person to another.
Allow yourself to focus on the intention of the other person in wanting to express their appreciation of you, and by doing so you will be able to more graciously accept their offering.
2. Appreciate it
While you probably do in fact appreciate that this person has gone out of their way to do something nice for you (in all likelihood because they care about you), it may not be reflected in your reception of the gift if your mind is focusing on thoughts such as “I can’t afford to buy them something this nice.”, or “This gift is so much more sentimental than what I got them .” for example.
You can conquer these thoughts by pulling yourself into the moment.
Look at the other person’s face and notice how happy they are about giving you this gift.
Look into their eyes.
They are giving you something to show that they care, and are rewarded by your appreciation of their token of love.
3. Thank them, sincerely.
Even when faced with a gift we don’t particularly like, although it may be difficult to hide displeasure (depending on the circumstance and the gift), remind yourself that this person is giving you a gift because they were thinking about you and wanted to reflect that.
Give them a genuine “thank you” for having thought about you.
4. Remind yourself that giving feels good for most everyone.
By rejecting kindness from others (even if your intentions for doing so are in courtesy to them), the message being sent to the giver is that they made you feel bad despite their intentions of wanting to make you feel good.
If we are constantly rejecting the thoughtfulness of others we are, in a way, acting quite selfishly because we are taking away their opportunity to feel good about making us smile.
5. Take Note and Listen Closely
Observe the person’s words when you’re speaking with them and take note of any mention of wants or desires.
Avoid over-thinking about what it is they might want as this tends to lead us into the wrong lane despite our genuinely heartfelt intentions.
The most important component to gift-giving is that you cared enough to think about them in the first place.
6. Don’t place too much pressure on yourself
Remember that the act of reciprocal giving was never meant to carry an obligation of meeting or exceeding the value of the item you were gifted.
The intention of reciprocal giving is to show the other person that you too were thinking about them and that you also care about them.
Furthermore, financial situations differ from person-to-person and household-to-household.
It’s okay if your loved one gave you an iPad and in turn, you gave them a home-made batch of their favorite cookies.
If they genuinely care about you, they’ll appreciate the sentiment.
On the other hand, if they are upset because they were expecting something more along the lines of what they gave you, you’ll know the type of giver they actually are.
7. Don’t Overthink Gifts
When faced with buying gifts for multiple people, it’s easy to start feeling bad if you got your mom something exceptionally sentimental, while giving a generic gift to your father and cousins, for example.
This might feel like you’re being unfair in some way, but the reality is that we won’t always find the “perfect” gift for everybody all the time.
Remind yourself, then, that this is okay.
The fact is that you thought of everybody, and even though this year your mom might have received a “better” gift than your father did, it might just turn out the opposite way next year.
Gift guilt is an interesting (and common!) phenomenon experienced by people from all walks of life, and the good news is that we can rid ourselves of this negative emotion.
Thoughts cause emotion, and as such, we create these (unnecessary) guilty feelings within ourselves.
So this year, arm yourself with the aforementioned thoughts and allow yourself to gratefully, graciously, and selflessly accept tokens of love from those whom you care about, and turn the act of giving and receiving gifts from stress, into the joy it was always meant to be.
How about gifting a sustainable and eco-friendly gift this year?
Do you experience gift-guilt around the holiday season? Share in the comments below!