Deck the Halls with Psychoanal Gifts

This is part one in my series on Giving and Forgiving…

You can only control your own feelings about gratitude and generosity.

Christmas gifts.

Image via Wikipedia

Gifts often come with a price tag, but perhaps not the one you would think of at first. I’m talking about those passive aggressive reminders that can keep you making payments indefinitely.

For the first few years of marriage, I would say, “I love you,” fully expecting “I love you, too,” in call and response style. I distinctly remember one day when my husband and I were cleaning out the garage, and I said it. I know he heard me, but for whatever reason, my husband didn’t respond.

I flew off the handle. I was yelling at him about his insensitivity, until I realized something. He was frozen in place like prey before a loaded gun, deciding whether to fight or run. And I began laughing in my head at the absurdity of what I was saying, while I was still yelling.

Then, I couldn’t hold back the laughter and out it came mid-sentence. My husband paused for a moment, and then joined in as I gasped my apologies through tears of laughter.

It was a laughter epiphany (my favorite kind.) I realized that I wasn’t saying “I love you,” to my husband. I was saying, “I need reassurance of your love.” I expected him to read through my words and give me what I needed in this passive aggressive transaction.

When I didn’t get my payment, my insecurity started tantruming in a way that would give a three year old pause. I should have said what I meant, instead of expecting a specific reaction. There’s nothing wrong with needing that reassurance, unless I expect him to figure it out without me telling him.

Laughing couple.

Image via Wikipedia

But, here’s the thing. I didn’t want to get married for a lot of reasons, including the idea of marriage as a contract for love. I believe that love should be given freely or not at all. If I can’t say, “I love you,” to someone without expectation of the affection being returned, then it’s not really love.

If I can’t stay or leave without legal ramifications, then I’m not staying freely[1]. It was in this laughter epiphany that I made the connection between my views on love, friendship, gifts, work, service, parenting, teaching, et cetera.

Have you ever asked, “How Much Will this Gift Cost Me?”

There is an appropriate level of gratitude to be displayed when gifting. To a certain degree, some surprise and gratefulness that you were even remembered for a gift is appropriate. Taking the opportunity to mention appreciation of a gift at later times, especially when an opening is made in a conversation to drop it in is encouraged. And, of course, bringing up the continued gratitude for the gift over the next few weeks or even years can be expected in both written and verbal interactions.

Giving gifts also exacts a cost. The appearance of humility in the offering, whether feigned or real is expected. The giver should seem as though no thanks are necessary, that it was purely a selfless act, and that any received gratitude is a welcome surprise.

This dance is exhausting. It is difficult to know exactly how much appreciation or humility is required because the price is set by the other person. Often, it is difficult to tell whether you got a bargain or were ripped off until after you are finished with the transaction.

Traditional envelope containing money as a gif...

Some gifts are given with the explicit or implicit expectation of getting a gift or a favor in return. Again, the payments have to be commensurate, or you’re looking at a lifetime of being beholden. The pressure is even greater when gifts are exchanged in a group or even simply in public. The judgments, weighing of social standing and envy can add to the unknown final tally.

I used to respond to any of these passive aggressive transactions in one of two ways: in a giving situation, I either opted out of the giving entirely or I gave too much. And on receiving, I made a huge deal out of everything I received. I remarked on the thoughtfulness of the gift-giver, for all the time they spent choosing something so exquisitely tailored to my wants. Actually, the less personal a gift was, the more I tried to act like I adored it.

This is the same exchange of payments is expected in the “I love you” scenario. The need for reassurance, misplaced in the giving and receiving of gifts.[2]

Where was the joy in giving? Where was the enjoyment in receiving? Where was the connection between the people who were giving?

This type of gifting certainly sucks all the spirit of giving and receiving out of it. There is no way to enjoy something freely with all the baggage tied to it. I don’t want to be charged for a gift at any price. It is a gift.

Gift (noun) A thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present

So, I removed myself from the market. I wanted to enjoy gifts freely or I wanted to purchase them myself. If I was giving a gift because I wanted a reaction from someone, I didn’t give it. If I was given a gift and I couldn’t receive it freely, I gave it away. If I was being charged for a gift, I firmly, but politely said, “I like that you remember that experience we shared.”

Part 2 will be up tomorrow and cover the balance between manners, freewill, and filling you bucket… (The Spirit of Giving and Forgiving)

Have you ever been charged for receiving a gift? Do you have expectations when you give to someone else? Remember, anonymous comments are always welcome. I’d love to hear from you.

NaBloPoMo 2011

[1] My thoughts on marriage are another lengthy post entirely. I realize these sentences here are limited. I’m not critical of anyone’s marriage. I spent a long time making peace with being married. I see it as a completely separate, although often, complementary part of lifelong commitment.

[2] How much of this discomfort with receiving, giving and directly naming needs is female and male conditioning in different approaches and for different reasons? That’s a good question.

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9 thoughts on “Deck the Halls with Psychoanal Gifts

  1. Pingback: The Mindful Holiday Giving Guide | TouchstoneZ

  2. I agree with the “dance” being exhausting. I have been in the uncomfortable situation several times of feeling like there was something I needed to do to reciprocate but not being in a position to. It made me want to avoid the person in question, to be honest, because I was so uncomfortable.

  3. I like that you had a picture of a Japanese gift. I remember standard gifts being in favor so you knew just how much you were obligated to give in return.

    I’m so thrilled we don’t celebrate Christmas anymore because for years I was so frustrated with all of the gift giving and obligations. The first Christmas when Lucas was born I was so busy agonizing and shopping for gifts that I was exhausted (my son not sleeping being the real cause but the gift shopping is what really put me over the edge) and even if shortly after we decided to drop the holiday entirely, I think I would have stopped the gift giving entirely.

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on receiving them.

    BTW – I’ve had the idea FOREVER to send you a scale but then I couldn’t decide on which one and if it would actually help or hurt you.

    PS – Has your blog always been on WordPress? I thought before I was posting under my Blogger handle but maybe I’m just losing it.

    • Thank you for commenting, Michele. I didn’t know you stopped celebrating Christmas. Would you mind sending me an email elaborating? I’m getting ready to write the section on Santa and it would be helpful to have another perspective.

      We used to go overboard with the gifts. too. It was not enjoyable. We’ve scaled back and everyone gets more fun out of it (well, besides a few minor complaints about not getting the entire toy store. ha!)

      That is thoughtful of you. I do have a scale that was given to me a few years ago. I pull it out whenever I know I’m not going to be judgy. For example, I was curious what would happen over Thanksgiving, so I weighed myself on Weds, then each day at the same time. 3lbs of pure stuffing and thoroughly enjoyed gaining it!

      Yup, always WordPress. I’m .com hosted currently and they did update the commenting system, perhaps it looks different to you?

  4. How about the expectation of Thank You cards for gifts?!

    I’m sure I offended some people by not sending cards to people I had already thanked in person for wedding and baby gifts. Receiving can be so exhausting!

    • Oh I totally agree! There was some drama during my engagement for some not-yet-written thank you cards and it’s made me much more stressed over them, years later.

  5. Your thoughts on gift giving really make me think of my mother in law. If we don’t offer enough praise and thanks for the gifts given….watch out. We are all in the dog house and it take some time to make it up to her. I’m looking forward to part 2.

  6. I think your post and mine (about not trusting my ultra-friendly neighbors) are related. Maybe it’s wondering what I’m expected to give in return that makes me wary around smiley people.

    I give gifts (material and otherwise) when I find something that I think another person would like. I do it spontaneously and most often not connected with a holiday or birthday or other event. I give out of the joy of giving to the other person, and if I don’t feel joyful about giving something, I generally don’t give it. I don’t expect anything in return for my gifts, at least not consciously (although I do like a thank-you, I’ve found I don’t really need it), and I pretty much treat gifts I receive as though they’re given in the same spirit. I think this might have led one or two people to think I take too much and don’t give enough back, but I might have read the situation wrong. Not that I can control how other people feel anyway.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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