Do you have difficulty receiving positive feelings from others?
Most of us, in some area of our lives, experience difficulty in receiving positive emotions or energy from other people. A seemingly simple example of this is when someone gives us a compliment and we get uncomfortable and dismiss the compliment in some way. We may verbally object to the compliment, minimize it, or mechanically say "thank you" without really taking in and feeling the compliment. Either way, we have not received the positive energy from the other person. Sadly, this kind of thing happens in many ways in our lives.
A more dramatic example comes from my weekly therapy group. We sometimes close the group with an "appreciation circle.” We take turns hearing things that the other group members appreciate about us. The goal is simply to receive and take in the positive energy. Most group members experience some difficulty in really taking in the appreciative statements from the other members. Some group members even say that they experience so much discomfort that they "hate" the appreciation circle! On the surface, this seems so illogical. What could possibly be bad or painful about hearing things that people like or appreciate about us? One would think that hearing appreciations would just be a good thing, giving us pleasure. However, that is clearly not everyone's experience. Some people have even had the confusing experience of breaking down crying when someone says something nice to them. Why would hearing something nice cause us to cry?
Finally, the most dramatic example is that many people find that they have a hard time fully taking in the love that they receive from their friends and loved ones. There seems to be some kind of wall or barrier to receiving the love.
There are a number of negative outcomes from not being able to take in positive energy from other people. First of all, we are missing the pleasure and nourishment that we could be receiving from the other person. Receiving and taking in positive feelings (energy) from others feels great and literally feeds us and recharges our batteries. Also, the other person is missing out on the pleasure of being received. It is very satisfying when a person wholeheartedly receives something that we give. There is a sense of completion and wholeness and connectedness. The receiver gives back in the receiving. On the other hand, there is a feeling of disappointment and sadness when our "gift" is not received. We can even feel rejected in that case. The ultimate outcome of not receiving and taking in positive energy from others is a feeling of disconnection, distance and isolation in our relationships. This is particularly poignant when the positive emotion that we are having a hard time receiving is the other person's love.
So, what causes this difficultly in receiving positive emotions and energy from other people and how can we heal it? There can be a number of possible sources, but we will focus on a few of the more common ones based on the previous examples. Ultimately, all sources of the difficulty in taking in positive feelings from others have at their root the avoidance of some form of underlying pain.
Negative Self Beliefs
Most of us have some negative beliefs about ourselves based on childhood experiences. The negative self-belief can be fairly narrow and specific, such as "I am stupid," or more global, such as "I am unworthy or bad.” When the outside world presents us with a positive message or experience that is in direct contradiction to one of our negative self-beliefs (e.g. a compliment or appreciation or expression of love), we face an internal dilemma. We cannot take in something that does not match what we believe about ourselves. Therefore, we will either retain the negative self-belief and discard the positive message or we will have to shift the negative self-belief in order to take in the positive message. As you can imagine, the second option is not easy, so we usually end up discarding the positive message or not taking it in fully.
Without EFT, shifting a negative self-belief is usually very hard. The belief has been entrenched within us since childhood due to receiving the negative message about ourselves many times growing up. We may have received that message explicitly (e.g., "You're stupid!") or implicitly through the way that we were treated. Fundamentally, those negative messages represent an unloving betrayal by our caregivers, and there is a lot of stored up pain associated with them.
In fact, the stored up pain associated with the negative messages helps explain the confusing phenomenon of sometimes crying when we hear something good about ourselves. There are times, when we feel sufficiently safe and trusting, where the positive feeling is able to get through despite our negative self-belief. When this happens, it opens our hearts, and the stored up pain associated with the experiences leading to the negative self-belief starts to come up and get released through crying.
There is a form of peer counseling, called Reevaluation Co-counseling, that makes use of this phenomenon as its main healing technique. It works by uncovering the negative self-belief and then having the client say or do something that strongly, positively contradicts the self-belief. This leads to a release of the stored up pain through crying or expressing anger, fear, shame, and so on. The expectation is that if the client lets out these feelings long enough, all of the stored up pain will drain out and the negative self-belief will shift and be healed.
If a person doesn't understand all of this, then receiving positive messages can sometimes be uncomfortable and scary. The person can feel the crying coming and the underlying pain rising and may want no part of that. She or he does not realize that this is actually a healing process and will instead try to block it out. If you are with a friend who starts to cry when you say something good to him or her, just reassure the person that this is a good thing and encourage her/him to keep crying. This goes for yourself as well.
Fortunately, EFT can be used very effectively to heal negative self-beliefs so that one can more easily take in positive energy from others. You can apply EFT in a number of different ways in this situation. The simplest and most straightforward way to apply EFT is to tap on the negative self-belief directly.
For instance, if the negative self-belief is "I am stupid," you would start be assessing on a 0 to 10 scale how true that statement "feels" in your gut, where 0 is completely false and 10 is completely true. Presumably, this would be a high number. Next, you would use as your set-up: "Even though I am stupid, I deeply and profoundly love and accept myself."
You would then tap on "I am stupid" at each point. Gradually, the negative self-belief may feel less true. In that case, keep tapping until the feeling of the truth of the statement goes down to a 0.
If tapping directly on the negative self-belief isn't sufficient in itself to clear it, you will need to tap on the original painful memories of receiving the message that you were stupid. Once you have cleared those, you can finish up by tapping on the belief itself (or you may already be done at that point).
One of the potential challenges in shifting the belief by clearing the original memories is that the person may be very emotionally shut down and defended against feeling the feelings associated with those memories. This can happen when we have a painful experience repeated many times, and we cope by blocking out the feelings for our survival. It's intolerable to keep feeling the same pain over a long period of time. Unfortunately, this can make it hard to tune into the energy disturbance to clear the underlying pain through tapping.
In this situation an interesting method is to combine the Re-evaluation Co-counseling technique of positive contradiction with EFT to bring out the underlying pain. For instance, if the person has some kind of "I am bad" self-belief, one can positively contradict the negative self-belief by having the person say things that s/he likes about her/himself. For example: "I really like that I am a caring person."
The key here is to not just say the words but to say them with a joyful facial expression and tone of voice. The facial expression and tone of voice is more effective than the words for getting past our defense and through to our hearts. However, using a joyful facial expression and tone of voice can be challenging in this situation, so it can take several repetitions with repeated encouragements to say it ever more joyfully before the positive contradiction breaks through the emotional shutdown and the underlying painful feelings start to be released. Once this happens, you can go right into tapping with or without saying any words. You can then just go with the flow of whatever comes up, including specific feelings and memories. It's easier to use this method with another person providing the caring support and encouragement, but it can also be done alone. You just have to keep reminding yourself to say the positive statement more and more joyfully each time until it works.
The positive contradiction method can be extremely helpful for getting at and healing the old pain associated with the negative self-beliefs. Once the negative self-beliefs are cleared, the positive energy can be received without facing an internal contradiction.
The Lack of Positive Experiences Growing Up
Another situation that can make it difficult to receive positive feelings from others is when we didn't receive those kinds of positive feelings growing up. For instance, a person may not have experienced much, if any, praise or encouragement or love as a child. There would be, in that case, a well of pain around not receiving those things. If someone were to offer us praise or encouragement or love now, in order to take in the positive energy, our heart would have to open, which would get us in touch with that wellspring of pain. Again, we may find ourselves crying when offered praise, encouragement or love now. Like before, this can feel very uncomfortable, and we may block out the positive experience instead of feeling the old pain.
This can be worked with using EFT in a number of different ways. One method would be to tap on memories where the positive experience was painfully missing. These would be times, in the above example, where praise or encouragement or love was wanted but not received. If there are clear memories like that, this can be a fairly straightforward healing experience with tapping. You would just tap on those painful memories to clear them. It might then be helpful to use the Choices Method to give oneself the praise or encouragement or love that was originally wanted. For instance:
"Even though Mom/Dad didn't praise me when I got good grades, I choose to take delight in my accomplishments now."
(If you are not familiar with the Choices Method, search for that phrase on the national EFT web site to learn about this useful technique.)
The healing process becomes trickier when there are no clear memories of the painful lack of some positive emotion. Rather, the positive emotion was never there to even want. There was just the life-long lack. Since there are no specific memories to deal with, it can be harder to figure out what to tap on. You might try tapping on "even though I never received love," for instance, but I have not found that to work too quickly. It's worth trying (maybe combined with the Choices Method), but that approach tends to be slow going.
Instead, the positive contradiction method can again be used to get at the underlying wellspring of pain, which can then be tapped on directly. If praise was missing, then either give the person enthusiastic praise or have the person give themselves the praise. The second option usually works better. It's important to keep repeating the praise ever more joyfully until the breakthrough happens and the feelings open up. You can then tap on the upsurge of feelings. This may also lead to tappable buried painful memories. Again, I would recommend using the Choices Method to help fill in what was missing growing up. Once this pain from not receiving the positive energy is sufficiently cleared, it will become much easier to receive it from others as well as oneself.
Fear of Being Vulnerable
Let's discuss the most poignant example of not being able to take in love from another person. There are a couple of potential causes for this problem. One cause is a feeling of unworthiness of being loved or feeling unlovable. This actually falls in the negative self-belief category that we discussed before and can be treated accordingly.
Another very common cause for the difficulty in taking in love is a fear of being vulnerable. We learned about love relationships from our original primary relationship with our parents. If there was a significant amount of pain and/or insecurity in those relationships, it may feel dangerous to let someone close to us now. We may feel afraid of re-experiencing the same pain we had growing up. This might have included being abandoned, engulfed, or abused or some other type of painful interaction with our parent(s).
In order to take in someone's love, we have to open our hearts to that person, which gets us more in touch with our vulnerability and the possibility of being hurt again. Subconsciously, we feel safer keeping the other person at a distance. Unfortunately, the end result is not being able to fully receive the other person's love.
The solution here is to use EFT to address the original painful memories of feeling abandoned or engulfed or other types of painful interactions. In addition, we can use the method of trying to take in someone's love and tapping on the specific fears that come up. Once these painful early experiences and current fearful discomforts have been cleared, it will be much easier to fully take in love.
There are many possible causes for the difficulty in receiving positive feelings from others, and we have discussed some of the most common ones here. One of the common themes in all of these examples is that the presence of underlying pain makes it hard to receive the positive emotional energy because opening to receive the energy would bring out the pain. However, this same phenomenon can be used to facilitate the healing process. The very act of trying to take in positive feelings will bring out the old pain that needs healing. If the person really stretches to take in the positive feelings from another person or from him/herself, the pain will come to the surface and can be dealt with through tapping. Once this is done, the positive energy can be received without hindrance.
Alternatively, if original memories can be found that are the source of the pain, then they are the best things to tap on. Used in combination, very deep and thorough healing can be achieved.
Not being able to take in positive feelings from others is an unfortunate limitation, sadly applicable to most people to a greater or lesser extent. The blocks to receiving positive energy are, however, readily healable using EFT, leading to a richer, more nourishing and connected life.