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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

Receiving: an act of love

In Cascãd’s Perspectives Post last month I talked about Servant Leadership as being the opposite of aggressive, egotistical leadership. ‘Servant Leadership is mooted as the counterbalance to aggressive, egotistical leadership. As a woman I slightly shudder at this. Serving is what we are trained to do from birth, to be the ‘Good girl’. My work with many of my female clients is to develop their voice, inner confidence and assertiveness. But if we substitute servant for champion, it has a lovely proactive and inclusive energy. This is what great leadership is’

I’ve been reflecting on this ‘good girl’ giving and I remembered the first time I experienced it consciously. I’m the middle child of 3 and the only girl. I was 9 years old and my brothers and I were staying during the holidays at my grandparents’ house. It was daytime but raining outside and we were told to sit quietly and read in the living room. I’ve always loved reading and would escape to my room and get lost in a book for hours if given the chance, so this was my idea of bliss! I happily opened my book and prepared to dive in… but to my bewilderment I couldn’t. I was constantly interrupted by my grandparents’ chatting to me. Out of context this depicts a homely scene with grandparents affectionately wanting to touch base with their only granddaughter. The reality is they weren’t asking about me…they certainly didn’t want me to respond...they simply wanted me to listen. It’s no coincidence that I became a psychotherapist! Many years later, another family member complained to me: ‘You’ve always been such a great listener. Why do you have to talk as well?’

I wouldn’t have noted the incident at such a young age, if my experience wasn’t in such stark contrast to that of my brothers. No-one disturbed them, not for a moment. It was as if they had an invisible sacred shield around them that only they could release and it was permitted, even encouraged by the adults. If I tried to create the same boundary, I was being rude and selfish. I was too young to be aware of gender politics, but I knew this incident was showing me something. I subsequently kept testing this divide in different contexts with the same results: men were encouraged to take the space/time/whatever they needed, and women were there to give and enable it.

Of course, there are exceptions. I know many men who have been raised as the givers: ‘From a very young age, high achievers are recognised/seen by our significant others not for who we intrinsically are, but for what we can do for them: effectively our achievements are an extension of them.’

So, from a very young age, I learned how to give and anticipate what others needed, even before they consciously knew it themselves, what is called ‘advanced empathy’. This finely tuned empathy is the essence of kindness and compassion, and I am deeply thankful I have it: it’s a key part of who I am.

But I’ve since learned that when I was coming from a ‘good girl’ dutiful place, I was not truly giving: it was conditional and controlling. Ironically the shadow aspect of overly giving to and caring for others is that it not only infantilises them, but it is a brilliant deflection from looking after our own emotional, physical and psychological needs, what I call the ‘Do-gooder syndrome’. I know when I go into overdrive in my concern for others, there’s something I’m not attending to in myself. A few years ago, I wrote:

If my 8-year-old had met my 39-year-old she would have felt ok about what I was doing but she would have been disappointed with the woman I had become. I had become very dutiful, over-controlling, fearful and was stuck in a victim mentality. I had also stopped dancing and writing, both childhood passions of mine. I’m not sure my 8-year-old would have liked me very much.

Life throws us many curve balls and I have since been forced to stop and face myself, making choices that have brought great change. It has not been an easy path and I have experienced many tough times as I have consciously changed from my ‘Adapted’ to ‘Authentic Self’. But, and this is what makes my heart sing, I increasingly experience the world as extraordinary and full of adventure. I would hope that if my 8-year-old met me now she would be happy enough with the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ I am becoming. Above all I think she would want to dance with me!'

What did I have to do to make this shift? I had to learn to love myself as well as others. It took me many years: lots of therapy and far too many experiences of what not loving myself does to me and to those I love but I persisted because the alternative was no longer an option. If we don’t love ourselves, not ego love but deep inner love, then we cannot begin to love others, embrace our life and create the future we desire. To paraphrase Ghandi, our Beliefs become our Destiny. If we don’t believe passionately that we are worthy and deserving of love, then we will inevitably create the self-fulfilling isolated future we most fear.

So, I focussed on learning how to give freely and cleanly: to myself as well as others. And I thought that was it. I’d got there! But, of course, I hadn’t. Love is only genuine when it is a two-way process. My focus on giving was out of balance and masking a blind spot in me, namely that I didn’t know how to receive. And so, I had to go down THAT rabbit hole!

Blind spots are areas we are not conscious of and that we can spend a lifetime evading until one day the curve ball hits us. This particular curve ball hit me last month during a video session with my brilliant Coach, Mary. She unexpectedly gave me a very generous gift and I was knocked sideways. I’ve always known I struggle to receive but it was shocking to see how visceral my reaction was: my dominant response was pure panic.

How can I spend so much time and energy creating the right mindset and conditions for the future I want, if I panic and potentially reject it when it comes in?

Feng Shui is an ancient Taoist practice aligned to the life-force energy, ‘Chi’. ‘Feng’ means wind and ‘Shui’ means water, wind and water being connected to good health and fortune. Feng Shui is essentially how we interact with our environment physically and also psychologically. All energy can get stuck, and we can feel overwhelmed and not know where to start to change things. The secret is to focus on one small next step. By changing that, we start to move it …like blocked water…in a different direction, full of flowing energy.

As part of my homework on receiving, I asked myself: what if I am the block? What if the Chi/life force is all around me and I’m stopping it coming to me? Or worse, it’s already there and I’m not feeling or seeing it? Am I getting in my own way?

Powerful questions indeed!

If I’m the block, then that is something I can influence and change. And that’s where I am now in my learning. I am consciously exploring my reactions to the gifts life brings me; I am noting and gradually understanding my resistance, my disbelief and sometimes my fear, and I am experimenting with what helps me open up to receive. It’s proving deeply moving and, surprisingly, great fun!

And this is why I have called this Perspectives Post ‘Receiving: an act of love.’ Yes, unconditional giving is always an act of great love from the giver. But it is also an act of love towards ourselves. To receive fully and with an open heart requires us to feel worthy and deserving of that love.

I was recently asked in a podcast interview: ‘How do you want to be remembered?’ This was my response:

When I was growing up, I always said I wanted to be remembered as someone who made a great difference to people. (Note the giving in that statement.) When I became a mother, my son observed those around me and would often say: ‘Mum, you are much loved’. And I would dismiss it/him, saying ‘Yes, but that isn’t important to me. I want to make a great difference.’ (Look at my refusal to receive in that statement!) As I grew more open to receiving, I amended my statement to ‘I want to be much loved and make a difference.’ And now? If I had to choose, I would always choose love!

Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood

Photo by Dom Nazeri


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