I came downstairs to take a quick lunch break and make myself a sandwich. My back was facing the door but I heard my mom walk in. She just got back from the grocery store and excitedly opened the freezer.
“Molly, look, I got you something!”
She held up a bag of frozen mangoes and waited for my reaction. I seemed confused, so she went on to explain herself. “You know, for your smoothies. You always freeze your mangoes after you cut them.”
Uh… okay, Mom, thanks.
I was dismissive and didn’t meet her with the same enthusiasm she gave me. I finished making my sandwich and got on with my day.
About a day later, it hit me while I was writing some other content, ironically, about making men feel good in your presence.
Shoot, I’m such a jerk.
I already knew from some of my previous relationships that this was one of my biggest weaknesses and yet I did it again, this time with Mom. My totally well-intentioned and very loving mother.
Was it about the mangoes?
Is it ever about the mangoes?
Is it ever about the flat tire? The spilled milk?
We can either make people feel brilliant or like total idiots in our presence. It comes down to one thing and one thing only: Our reception. How we receive the ones we love and that love us.
Receive? What do I mean? Like TV reception, receiving a delivery package?
‘Reception’ is how we acknowledge others when they offer us their vulnerability. How we notice and pay attention to all that they do, their acts of service that make it known they love us and pay attention to us.
It’s all a feedback loop.
Chances are, you may not know you have bad reception skills until it’s too late. That’s happened to me.
We like to have places to put our love—it needs to be received by something, someone. It’s an energy exchange. When we aren’t well received, we can be left feeling rejected or dismissed and the feedback loop can’t be properly completed. There’s a disruption and it can lead to disconnection.
Back to the frozen mangoes. It was actually a hugely generous offering of my Mom.
1. She had enough attention on me to notice how I like my fruit, how I like to make smoothies, and generally what I’m up to. She paid attention to what was important to me. (Fruit, juicing, and healthy eating is a significant portion of how I spend my time—in the kitchen, at least.)
2. She was at the store and saw frozen mangoes and thought, “Oh, Molly will like those,” and because she loves me, she went out of her way to buy them for me instead of passing them by.
3. She came home and excitedly offered them to me, vulnerably putting her heart on display. Which I took a crap on.
That is how you make people feel bad in your presence.
When you don’t receive them fully, you train them to stop showing up for your relationship. When you do something thoughtful and are met with “Uh, thanks.” Next. I’d imagine it doesn’t feel great. The question begs, would you really feel inclined to do anything thoughtful again?
I actually know not being well-received doesn’t feel great because I’ve been in her shoes. And yet I still dropped the ball. I think everyone can agree it feels good to be acknowledged and know that our love has someplace to land.
Reneé van der Vloot, well-regarded psychotherapist and Human Givens practitioner describes both our Primary Needs and Higher Needs. Giving and receiving attention is included in one of our ‘Higher Needs’.
The quality of your life is directly dependent on your ability to pay attention. Giving attention is just as important as receiving it. People need each other for the exchange of attention. You need to be mutually present for this to be an emotionally nourishing act.
If we continue to dismiss our partners and not have actual attention on how receptive we’re being, it can have an impact and create residue and resentment within the relationship or end relationships altogether.
“Think about how good you are at really being present for others, as well as whether or not you are good at receiving graciously,” Reneé adds.
1. Be Present
The problem with the frozen mango incident was that I was busy making my sandwich. It was midday and I was thinking about work and everything I had to do later. When my Mom was trying to get my attention, I wasn’t actually present or clicked into our connection. I honestly couldn’t really be bothered.
Had I taken the few seconds to fully redirect my attention and turn off my brain, I would have been able to give her a thoughtful thank you and express gratitude for how in reality, she was making my life easier.
This happens in relationships a lot. Over time, it may erode trust. As Reneé put so well, your attention is your biggest superpower. We only have a finite amount and it is the best thing you can give in your relationship.
I’d even go as far to argue it’s all we really want. Present, focused, exquisite attention when we’re with the people we care about.
2. Acknowledge And Recognize The Vulnerability Of Being A Human
It’s easy to forget how vulnerable it is to be a human.
An old teacher of mine said this quote during a retreat: “There’s something terrifying about living with an open heart.”
Being human is really vulnerable. Being connected to each other is really vulnerable. Offering yourself, showing up for a relationship, and choosing someone is really vulnerable. We’re never 100% certain how we’re going to be received or if we’ll be accepted and met with love, approval, understanding. We’re all just fumbling around hoping for the best.
Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. Some of us don’t ever recover from the scars we’ve gotten as a result of being hurt and not well received.
I think we could all use a little reminder of just how much it takes to be our authentic selves in a world that would rather us fit into a homogenized box that can be perfectly marketed and sold to. Recognize it’s a privilege to receive someone’s truth, vulnerability, and humanness if they decide to show it to you, and do them a favor by graciously receiving them with presence and kindness.
3. Don’t Treat People Like Transactions
Recently, a friend asked for a favor, which I was happy to do. I emailed over what she asked for, and to my disappointment, I wasn’t even met with a “Thanks!” email response. Or an acknowledgment that she received the said thing, or “Hey just seeing this! I will let you know if I need anything else!”
None of that.
Honestly, it felt super icky, bummed me out, and enlightened me to the reality of our connection, which is part of life and happens.
Don’t treat people in your life like transactions. They’ll feel it. It’s not that hard. It’s worth 30 seconds of your time to acknowledge someone when they’ve done something for you.
Your ability to receive others will either make them feel brilliant (and want to stay) or dumb (and check out) in your presence.
When people feel as though they’ve done a good job and are met with appreciation, this crazy thing happens where they want to show up and do more for you without a ton of buy-in or needing to be specifically asked. People become eager to be of service and help out in return another time.
That does beg the question: Why don’t we always receive people well? Why do we gloss them over? Being on the receiving end can be a vulnerable position too. It’s all intimacy that’s generated and being built. It’s the human experience of connection.
If you want depth and real meaningful connection, learn to openly receive others and learn to give freely even in the face of potentially not being received well. That’s freedom. If you’re not used to being treated well or having kind things done for you it may take some work. It may take some mindset and inner-belief shifts to feel deserving of it.
In the end, it will only increase your range and ability to hold sensation in your body, AKA allow you to continue to have more of what you want in your life.
4. Be Honest About What You’re Actually Available For
People feel “dropped” because we’re not actually honest about what we’re available for in our relationships. We don’t set proper boundaries.
Maybe we’re trying to do too much, or we’re actively choosing to isolate and shut those out that love us. Or we don’t want the level of depth and intimacy that others want to give us. Whatever the case, ignoring your behavior can cause harm to those that you’re connected to.
Self-awareness is key. Don’t keep people in a relationship with you if you can’t meet them with actual presence, time, and attention. Don’t lead people on, hook them with attention or approval just to use them and drop them later, when in reality you know you’re too busy or won’t be able to meet their needs but you want that thing from them.
Be clear about your intentions. Be kind. At the end of the day, as trite as it sounds, treat people how you’d like to be treated.