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The Gift Giving Dilemma:
What to do when you're giving
but not getting
by Coach Joelle

In the wake of the holiday hubbub, we received this e-mail from ClevelandWomen.com reader, Jean. Jean's question brings up a thought I am sure many of you have wondered; "What to do when your holiday gifts and cards do not get reciprocated?" Here is what Jean had to say:

Question: How I love your articles. I am giving a lot of thought to things I might want to quit ( read the article) and the new year seems such a good time to start.

One of my problems is card-sending and gift-giving to people I like, but who do not acknowledge them or ever send me one. Should I stop? It is time-consuming and costly. However I like to give. Should I just be myself and continue or give or should I wise up and quit.


Coach Joelle Says:

This is a really great question, Jean. The giving and receiving of gifts and cards is a place where many people find themselves confronted and unsure of what to do. I understand how it can be disappointing and sometimes even hurtful to give and not receive or to not be acknowledged for your giving.

Since this situation can apply to birthday gifts and any number of other occasions in addition to holiday gifts and cards, I decided to take this time to explore your question for the ClevelandWomen.com community.

To look closer at this issue I would like to begin by asking a question:

What is the reason you are giving gifts and sending cards?

  • It is out of habit?
  • Is it out of obligation?
  • Is it so people will like you?
  • Is it because it is fun and you feel self-expressed?
  • Is it because it feels good to give?
  • Is it because the gifts you give allow you to let people know that you are thinking about them and that you care?

If a person finds that they are giving because they "should" they "have to" or because of "what other people will think" (the first three bullets) then I invite them to seriously consider putting their obligatory giving on the "quitting list". Giving out of obligation takes the fun out giving, puts pressure on the recipient and can create feelings of oppression and resentment.

On the other hand, if they find that their reason is because it is truly something they enjoy (the last three bullets) then that take us to the next question:

What is distressing or disconcerting for you about your gifts not being reciprocated or acknowledged?

If you enjoy the giving, why does it matter when the other person doesn't acknowledge your gift or reciprocate? So I am clear, there is nothing "wrong" with feeling this way, I just want you to look at it.

Often the reason this would cause upset is because the "giver" may be interpreting the lack of response to mean something about them or their relationship. They may think this lack of response means something like:

  • They don't like me.
  • They don't care.
  • They didn't like the gift.
  • They don't appreciate our relationship enough to send something or even call.

If this sounds familiar, then my invitation is to consider that the lack of response may not mean what you think it means. In fact, their lack of response may mean absolutely nothing or at least nothing to do with you.

  • It may mean that they had a sick child and the holidays came and went and they were focused on other things.
  • It might mean that they did not have the money or the time to give gifts this year.
  • It might mean that out of an interest to conserve trees or rebel against growing consumerism, they have opted out of the card and gift-giving tradition.

That's the thing… we don't know what it means because we don't live in their world.

So now that we have that cleared up you might be thinking... "but it is just 'common courtesy' that a person acknowledge or reciprocate a card or gift received."

Well to that I have only one thing to say…Common Courtesy, like Common Sense… is NOT SO COMMON!

As the employers and managers I work with as a professional life coach often find out, the problem with unspoken expectations and relying on other people's "common sense" is that we each have our idea of what makes sense. We each have our own idea of the rules and it is when we expect our rules to be everyone's rules that we are often left hurt, resentful or disappointed.

So that is a long explanation to get us to the bottom line:

A) If you are giving out of pressure, expectation or to get something in return you may just want to stop because clearly some of the people on the other side of your giving do not play by the same rules, obligations and expectations. Free yourself from your obligation and free the recipients from the pressure and expectations being placed on them for accepting your gifts.

B) If you want to give but you want feedback, reciprocation or acknowledgement then I invite you to have a conversation with the people in your life who are not reciprocating. Tell them you care about them and that is why you send things but that when you don't receive a response it leaves you wondering - did they receive the gift? Do they value your relationship?

Ask them if they would be open to sending a note, giving you a call or sending an e-mail to acknowledge that they received your gift (or whatever else will leave you satisfied and whole in the situation.)

Once your request and expectations have been presented, they will either say "sure no problem" or they may say "I cannot commit to that" but either way it will open the lines of communication to heal some of the hurt and get you clear on what action to take for the future.

C) If you like to give because it feels good then give, give, give and once it is given, let it go. Your loving self- expression and generosity will find its way back into your life whether it comes from the direct recipient or from some other unsuspected source. Life gives back to you everything you give and more.

Thank you for sharing your question. I know it has made a difference for a lot of people.

Happy giving or not giving… the choice is yours.


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