On my better days, I like to think of myself as a generous person — because I find pleasure in giving.
Maybe you can relate to that. Have you felt that happy feeling that comes from being of service? I know that for me, for better or worse, there is a link between my perception of how useful & helpful I am, and my self-worth. I feel pleased with myself when I’m doing good. In other words, there’s some ego involved. I like, you know, cashing in brownie points.
Now, I’d like to make it very clear that there is absolutely no shame in feeling pleased with yourself, or to find joy in giving. Those make for wonderful win-win situations for both giver and receiver! But if you want to get geeky with me, I’d love to share with you a whole new level of spacious giving that I’m discovering.
I’ll use physical gifts as an example, before showing you how it applies to touch.
The Trojan Horse
Recently, I learned something about myself: when it comes to giving gifts, I sometimes give with selfish or confused intent.
Sometimes, when gifting a present to a loved one or a friend, I’ve chosen items that I enjoyed purchasing for myself. Other times, I had high hopes that my gift would elicit a certain kind of response from the receiver. And yes, I have even gifted things that were meant to help me achieve a larger goal with another person. Most often, my gift giving has been done out a sense of obligation. In those, situations, I’d confusedly pick out something that would be good enough for the occasion, not sure that it was serving either of us.
Have you ever been the recipient of such gifts? Perhaps you’ve noticed how it often ends up being something you didn’t really want or need. What was your response?
I know how I’ve responded: faked gratitude. “Oh thank you! It’s perfect!” I would feel obligated to learn to love the thing that I received. (I know I have a stash of things in my house I don’t love but can’t bear to get rid of because they were gifted to me by people I care about). The act of receiving in such cases is no longer about basking in the joy of getting to have something wonderful, but about making the giver feel appreciated.
Perhaps you have experienced all of those dynamics when it comes to giving and receiving touch.
Lessons from a Client
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about giving was from one of my very first clients. Let’s call them “Taylor”.
Taylor came to my professional cuddling studio in desperate need for touch, but because of a history of trauma, was barely able to even hug. They weren’t open to sharing about their trauma like I had wished they would. That wasn’t the intent of their session with me at all. What they were ready for, and specifically asked for, was that I stroke their arms in a very specific way – a very comforting touch that was a part of their childhood.
And so that was our session, 60 minutes of stroking their arm in just the way they asked. Much of the 60 minutes was spent in silence, with breaks only to ask for and receive clarification and directions. My entire focus was on making adjustments, figuring out how to get it just right. Up and down my hands would go, carefully, in a very measured way.
I noticed all throughout the session, how tough that work was for me. Not because stroking their arms was physically demanding, or something that pushed my boundaries. I was certainly very willing to do it. But it wasn’t something that I wanted to do for myself.
I didn’t get to offer touch to my client in the way I was trained in and wanted to practice. I didn’t get to have the deep, intimate conversations I love having. I didn’t hit the moment of confidence of knowing exactly what I was doing (not in that first session anyway). I didn’t get to hold them close, and break through all their barriers like I wanted more than anything else to do. Not much about what I was doing fed me directly because I wasn’t getting any ego points.
And yet, Taylor cried through the entire session. What we were doing was supremely helpful, and immensely important for them.
In order to get have been able to truly be of service, I had to let go of what I thought was best for Taylor. I had to really trust that they knew what they wanted. I had to stay present and humble.
That’s when it began to sink in that it really is not about me.
Who is the Gift For?
Betty Martin, a consent expert teaches that in order to dive into pleasure, we need the safety of choice and clarity. We have to very clear about who this space is for. If our intent is to be truly and generously giving when it comes to touch, we have to be open to being completely present to the other person and give them our full attention. It has to be clear on both sides, who this act is for. That way, what we are doing can be received in full. We will make room for the receiver to ask specifically for what they want, and to communicate any desire for adjustments to make it just perfect. When we’re able to do this, there will be no fake gratitude, or having to pretend to enjoy the touch we are receiving.
I’ve since had many more opportunities to refine my ability to give in a way that is truly about the person I’m giving to. I’m still not perfect at it, but I think I’ve figured out a few pre-requisites that need to be in place for truly generous giving.
1. Come with a Full Tank
If we’re feeling in need ourselves, it becomes difficult to turn our focus completely outward. Getting our own needs filled requires us to get good at taking care of ourselves, and learning to receive as well. If we have opportunities where we are allowed to touch for our own pleasure, then we no longer have to “sneak” it in during the time of giving.
2. Clearly Delineated Space
It’s not possible for any of us to be endlessly generous all the time. That’s why creating a space with the intent of fully giving helps create focus. Set aside a specific length of time, anywhere from 3-minutes to a couple of hours if you wish. Make it clear who the giver and receiver is, and allow yourselves to fully sink into each role.
3. Honor Your Boundaries
It’s difficult to be wholeheartedly present if we’re feeling compromised. If you want to feel truly generous, you have to make sure that you have practice knowing where your own boundaries are. Only give what you can with a full heart. Tolerating doing something for someone else can build up resentment and inhibits us from being able to access pure generousity
Get good at learning to communicate your needs, and to check-in frequently about the needs of others. When solid communication is in place, there’s no need for guessing, and you can feel confident that what you’re doing is just perfect.
Being in the role of a wholehearted giver takes a lot of internal work, but I hope you explore it. There is such a freedom in being completely attuned to another person. You’ll discover a whole new level of joy from knowing that you’re truly being of service.