Unless stipulated, gifts are given unconditionally - the problem of expectation
I recently read a thought provoking article by Dr Iskra Fileva on whether adult children owe a debt to their parents. While I do not necessarily mean this in the way that Bernada Alba (Lorca), expected her youngest daughter to care for her (in fact she was born for this purpose), or even as Fileva mentions, a woman who successfully got a court of law to agree that her adult daughter must send financial compensation and stick to a visiting schedule...if a gift was given it is my assumption it was done so unconditionally...especially if there was no agreement for a repayment or that anything was owed. As Fileva puts it "The cost of paying a debt of gratitude must not be a burden that makes the other wish you'd never done anything for them to begin with." She even goes so far as to say the very behaviour of insisting on gratitude or for it to be displayed in a specific way is enough to cancel the debt in any case!
In my work I speak a lot about expectations and how they can make for unpleasant interactions - often one person gives and realises that they are not getting in return what they had hoped. At this point part of working through the disappointment can be to consider whether the hope was reasonable...not because the other person isn't "capable" of such behaviour, but actually if it was really "fair dues".
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy would ask:
- What motivated you to perform the action?
- What did you hope to receive?
- Was that a realistic hope?
Although many people often veer towards anger with the last question - agreeing the hope was "unrealistic" because of some defect in the personality of the recipient, it is as important to consider whether the offer was made because of some underlying hope of a corrective experience ie: I felt neglected as a child so now, as someone in a care profession I offer you over and above my job role in the hope that your gratitude will make up for that neglect. (This may also happen in a relationship or friendship - giving over and above in the desire to fill that gap...even if it is an unconscious one!)
This premise is likely to fail on two counts - the first is any gratitude received will be in line with the expectation the other has of the relationship, and secondly, gratitude is simply not guaranteed!!
What is a "corrective experience"?
Someone may be driven by a desire to “help” others because of a lack experienced in their own upbringing. In some extreme cases, parents too may even choose to have children to have someone to love them. Riley (2010) calls this behaviour “seeking a corrective experience”. We seek to correct the past with the present even though the situation and those involved are very different. It is clear that this is not healthy, and minimising the negative effects of the past needs much more internal work than external fixes.
This sort of behaviour can manifest in many ways:
- People pleasing
- Over-giving in relationships
- Choice of career (eg going into a caring profession)
...this is not to say the generosity of spirit you have (especially if you have not had the best role models as a child), is to be derided - on the contrary, it is to be celebrated and praised, but you might need to practice boundaries, or at least be more discerning with who you are giving to and why. (The 3 ACT questions above will help you here). And this is also not to say that everyone who enters caring professions is driven by unmet needs!!
BUT, if this resonates and you find you are resenting what you had hoped would be a fulfilling relationship or job role - consider some self compassion.
Reminding yourself that the experiences you went through were horrible, and that you feel sad that you did not have the love or support you needed is a start. When we can accept that things were bad, we are able to better see that experience as a separate chapter in our lives, which, at the very least means we aren't bringing the losses to bear in our current lives through unrealistic or unfair expectation. Removing expectation may also mean that we can be pleasantly surprised by the behaviours of others rather than constantly disappointed.
Praise yourself for becoming the person you are with the people around you whom you love and love you, and if you do find expectation creeping in - after the ACT questions, also ask "How does this behaviour benefit me?" and "Is there something else I can do instead?"
For some, this might actually mean changing careers as you realise that your heart (rather than your unmet need) lies elsewhere as well as some soul searching - which the following may help with.
Forgiveness is for yourself not for others
This of course leads us to being able to forgive others for their treatment of us...but it is about YOU not them.
First of all we cannot erase what has happened, and secondly, when the emotional effect is reduced we might be able to learn from our experiences.
Forgiveness is about releasing some of the emotional control that event has over us and no longer allowing it to impact on our growth.
When we forgive we do it to release the negative control others have over us - we do not do it to condone, nor forget.
In Hawaii, many use the prayer "Ho'oponopono" for healing relationships with family, with deities, with people passed: Think of the thing/person you wish to forgive and say:
"I'm sorry, please forgive me, Thank you, I love you” (You may find it helps to thank for what you've learned, and then let go of any hold over you.)
…and I would venture that this is a lovely meditative reflection or affirmation you might wish to use for yourself as we often need to forgive ourselves too.
However another exercise adapted from CBT you might try for forgiving others may be:
- Identify who is the source of the resentment/hostility
- Observe the emotions, thoughts and sensations this generates
- List the reasons for those emotions, thoughts and sensations (this is important because no-one is saying your feelings are invalid)
- Reflect on tangible benefits of holding onto those emotions, thoughts, sensations
- Reflect on tangible benefits from letting them go
While this post seems to have meandered from the key headline - which is gifting comes without expectation, as always it is not enough to say it - hopefully if any of this article resonates with you, you now have ways in which you might be able to begin to address some deeper needs (and seek help should you need it), and in turn reduce some of the pressure on others, building healthier and more fulfilling relationships in return.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt Order The Leader's Guide to Resilience or The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness or Be A Great Manager Now Audrey's current fundraising links are: Diabetes UK - walk 1million steps (TEAM CHALLENGE! Jul-Sept) Dart 10k (Level Water) (Sept 3) Steel Magnolias (Diabetes UK) (Oct 21/22) For Tickets (here)