Do you attach strings to the gifts you give?

bad giftDo you attach strings to the gifts you give?

“Oh, how nice – just what I wanted. Thank you so much.” [Oh heck! How awful! What am I going to do with this thing now? It will have to be on display when she comes round or she’ll be hurt and annoyed.]

Have you ever been in this position? It can be very embarrassing, not to mention exasperating. It’s not fun to pretend you like it when really you can’t wait to dump it in the garbage or re-gift it to someone.

Getting the right gift for someone is also a difficult and stressful experience. I never know what to give JoAnn. And she’s no help. “I have all I need,” she says when I ask her what she wants for Christmas. (Last year she got a gift certificate for a spa day. She enjoyed it.)

But what is a gift? When is a gift not really a gift? There are three criteria for it to be a true gift:

1. You really do want to give it.
2. You are pretty sure that the person wants what you have to give.
3. No strings attached!

Let’s look at each one of these.

1. A very high percentage of gifts given at any of the feast days that include the exchange of gifts are given, not out of a genuine desire to give, but out of obligation. It is expected.

To the extent that you wouldn’t give the person a gift if you didn’t have to, then this criteria of a genuine gift is not met. It is a fraud. A cynical yearly ritual that, truth be told, most of us despise deep down.

2. Trying to meet the second criteria, usually, means hours walking around the mall or scouring the internet looking for the perfect gifts. This is extremely difficult and exhausting (except for those who just love to shop no matter what.) It is all the more galling when you have found something for some distant relatives you hardly know or like who just happen to be coming for the festivities.

3. The third criteria is emotionally the most difficult of all. Giving up your attachment to what the person does with it after you have given it is the one most people cannot achieve.   And yet it is perhaps the most important.

Let me ask you this. If you come bearing a gift for me that you really want to give me (Criteria #1), and you feel sure I will appreciate it (Criteria #2), would you be angry and hurt to learn that I had given it on to someone else who I felt would appreciate it more than me?

If so, it is not a true gift. You failed on Criteria #3. You set me up to feel obliged to keep what I really did not want, and you set yourself up for disappointment.

There is a parallel here with Radical Forgiveness. If you forgive someone and expect them to applaud you for your spiritual largesse, apologize for the harm they did, or even change their behavior towards you as a consequence, that is not forgiveness. Too many damn strings.

Just like a gift, having strings attached nullifies the whole thing. Forgiveness done with the expectation of something coming back is simply an attempt to manipulate the other person. It is not forgiveness.

Item number 5 on the Radical Forgiveness worksheet says this, “My discomfort was my signal that I was withholding love from my myself and _______ by judging, holding expectations, wanting ______ to change and seeing _______ as less than perfect.”

Do you judge your partner and expect he/she will change to fit your idea of how he or she should show up?

Somehow those expectations come into sharper relief during the period leading up to and during the holiday season. So, what kind of gift will you give your partner this year, if anything? Do you have any idea what he or she wants? Will you be able to satisfy those three criteria?

I can’t help you with that of course. Sorry. But I can suggest another gift you might give that he or she will know nothing about (unless he/she notices a big difference in you and asks what you have done). It will not only meet all three criteria, it will also do wonders for your relationship.

Think back and list all the things your partner has done that have pissed you off in some way. Issues around sex or money perhaps. Being let down or lied to maybe. Or, anything that continues to linger in your mind and still comes between you from time to time.

Choose the one to which you have the most energy attached. Then do one of the Radical Forgiveness processes. The 21-Day Program for Forgiving Your Partner would be ideal or one of the downloadable worksheets in the Free Stuff section of Colin’s Cafe. Then see what happens.

Primarily, of course, this would be a gift to yourself, but there’s no better way to say to your partner, “I love you, and I see the light in you. I know that what you did, you did not TO me but FOR me. Thank you. I demand nothing of you that you do not want to give. I bestow on you nothing you do not wish to receive. My love has no strings attached.”