A few falls ago, I found myself having the full attention of a group that intimidated me. As I sat stiffly up in a chair in front of everyone, I could feel the heat of 20 pairs of eyes on me.
Like every other professional in that weekend workshop, I’d been given a few minutes to share about my practice, and/or ask questions and receive support.
As a relative newcomer to my work, I was nervous. I wanted everyone to be impressed with me! But I was also struggling in specific realms and I needed support.
I braced myself and took a deep breath in. What came out after was one long exhale of quick-squeeze-in-everything-you-have-to-have-to-say-into-this-short-moment monologue.
Perhaps I was making up for the vulnerability of having to be seen in my struggle by talking about it really quickly.
“Pause, Fei,” my mentor gently interrupted a couple of minutes in.
I looked up, embarrassed that I didn’t do something right.
“Take a breath," she coaxed. Her voice was steady and calm. "Notice the people here in the room, giving you their attention.”
I complied, gingerly scanning my audience, taking in one set of eyes at a time. I’d been so afraid to find out what everyone thought about me that I had shielded myself from them. With my attention turned defiantly inward, I had been in dialogue only with myself.
Allowing myself to feel the pulse of the room for the first time, I now discovered that there was a softness here for me. The fierce presence created by this circle of humans pierced me right through the heart. I spent the next minute spilling tears of gratitude.
When I finally resumed speaking, I allowed myself to truly feel heard and supported for the first time that weekend.
Do you experience attention as a demand to perform?
Have you ever felt awkward in the face of receiving attention?
Maybe you’ve felt like a deer in the headlights, obligated to say something interesting so the attention stays, or to -quickly now!- offer something of value in exchange. Perhaps you feel guilty for taking up space in lieu of someone else who might need more, or maybe you feel put on the spot, and protective of yourself from having to perform vulnerability.
This has happened to me on more than one occasion.
I've come to learn that when this occurs, I am making the attention I receive to be a request or a demand (i.e. it's for them), instead of experiencing it as a gift, invitation or offer (i.e. it's for me).
When I show up in a scenario where I view attention being for another's benefit instead of mine, or if I’m unable to receive the attention as a gift in and of itself, I end up being in a performance. This turns my listener into an audience (instead of a source of care), and I find myself trying to earn favor and attempting to please in order to indirectly meet my needs for belonging and approval.
If I can see this attention as inherently for me, however, the space then becomes a resource I can use for my benefit and healing.
Learning to receive is an essential skill for leaders
Of course, not every scenario is one where the attention is for us. When giving a speech, facilitating or teaching a class, for example, we are receiving attention, but we hold it with the responsibility to those we’re serving.
It becomes particularly important that we have access to a counterbalance of environments where we get to be the recipients of care. Learning to receive in spaces that are explicitly about us (and where we can pause our giving) is paramount in avoiding shadow giving: the kind of “giving to get” that can muddy our role and lead to misuse of our power.
When I show up in leadership with my needs met, I can be much more confident that I’m not subconsciously doing what I do as a way to smuggle my needs for attention/approval/respect in, and I can spend my energy focused on my stewardship instead.
And how can we have our needs met unless we learn to receive?
As I learned from my experience at that workshop, however, there are many levels of receiving.
By the time I arrived in that one workshop, I had already personally developed the skill of using containers of attention to turn my own spotlight onto my needs. Whether I was in the room with a friend, and therapist, or a group, I had gotten very good at finding my way into saying things that felt interesting or productive to me to explore.
But I had skipped over the part where I was actually absorbing the external attention, and letting it impact me. And that’s how I found myself in a room of people who were listening intently, while still being alone with my experience.
Consumption vs. Absorption
I like to think of this in parallel with the work of nutrition, and what goes into nourishing our physical selves.
One part of it is intake: the quantity, quality and consistency of what we consume are important when it comes to protein, vitamins, minerals etc.
But the quantity we ingest wouldn't matter if our bodies didn't have the capacity to digest and break down these foods and to store them as nutrients in our system. Gut health, microbiome etc. come to mind.
So it is when it comes to the act of nourishing ourselves emotionally.
There are at least two parts: i) doing the external work of receiving by resourcing ourselves with support, and also ii) doing the internal work of receiving: letting it in, and letting it count.
So often, we bypass the second half of this work. When we do this, our inner scarcity kicks in.
Then, it doesn't matter how much we receive or surround ourselves with support, it never feels like we can get enough. We become hungry ghosts, greedy and always feeding, but never filling up.
6 Tips for Deep Receiving
So what can we do to increase absorption when it comes to receiving attention and listening? We can increase our skill level.
Yes, just like being a thoughtful giver takes skill, you can also master the skill of being a gracious recipient of care.
Here are a few tips:
1. Slow down and be present
Just as you might take the time to chew your food and notice what you’re eating, you don't want to miss the exquisite nature of the care you're given. Decreasing your internal pace allows you to be present and actually see the buffet of offerings in front of you. Take a moment to pause and notice how abundant it is.
2. Lean into trust & let your giver do some work
What would change if you didn't need to generate interest for your listener, or to earn their respect and approval? How much more space would you take up if you knew that your giver could be 100% responsible for their boundaries and never overgive? What if you don’t have to watch the clock because they are? See if you can arrive with the assumption that they've got all those parts of giving handled - or check with them to make sure they are. Then, let them do their job of providing that so you can focus on yours: receiving.
3. Practice basking
Think about a cat in the sunshine; this is going to be you. Let the attention feel like warm sunlight on your skin. Bathe in it, lap it up. And yes, you’re going to have to learn how to let yourself feel good - blissful, or even ecstatic - about it. Cats don't think "But am I worthy enough? Do I deserve this?" or "What if I'm taking away from someone else?" or "Will I look like an idiot if I purr nonstop and reveal how stupidly happy I am?" They know what they want and they know when they're done. Be cat-like when it comes to receiving.
4. Challenge your Upper Limit
If you're genuinely receiving, you are guaranteed to come up against your edges of worthiness. We all have a ceiling of how good we allow ourselves to feel before we turn it off or put the kibosh on it in some way. This is true no matter how skilled of a receiver you are (it just might take longer for you to hit it)! Whether it's a creeping in of guilt, a shame bomb, a sudden desire to pass the attention to someone else, or simply feeling full, see if you can push past that just a little. Be with that discomfort of receiving too much, and stretch your capacity for goodness.
5. Ask for what you want and need
There's no way around this, I'm afraid. If you want to be a fulfilled human, you're going to have to master speaking up for your needs. This can look like making a request for more, stopping what's happening that isn't working, adjusting what you're given, or declining offers that don't match up with what you actually want and countering with a request that does instead. This is incredibly vulnerable and takes a lot of practice - both to verbalize your wants, but also to be ready to hear a "no". As you increase your skill and empowerment here, you'll develop trustworthiness with yourself in navigating your needs. This increases abundance, which will make accepting the "no"s you'll get to be much easier as well. It all starts with taking the first step of advocating for yourself.
6. Feel your appreciation & gratitude
Finally, when you've been the lucky recipient of a bounteous meal of attention and care, make sure to not skip the dessert! Let yourself be grateful for what you received, and toward the person or people who offered it to you. This can sometimes feel like an encore as you get to relive and replay the felt sense of those blissful moments. As a bonus, thanking your giver and passing your genuine gratitude onto them, will also be nourishing (especially if they’ve done their work at receiving gratitude too!) and can support them in continuing to give sustainably.
There is so much for you to receive!
Go ahead, pick your favorite form of attention aka your love language:
Having full presence and attention and being deeply listened to (Quality Time)
Receiving a delicious massage or cuddle (Physical Touch)
Being gifted the most thoughtful gift you could’ve asked for (Gifts)
Getting a slew of perfect compliments (Words of Affirmation)
Receiving tangible help & support that actually makes your life easier (Acts of Service)
The skills of receiving apply in every scenario. Bonus points if you can learn to apply this to the care and attention you give yourself too!
I challenge you to notice the ways that you subtly decline the loving care and attention that comes your way (yes, even from yourself). See what making a shift and practicing these skills can do.
When I am able to turn on my receptors to max, I find that even the tiniest bit of attention - just a single moment of an eye-gaze, or a “Hello sweetie” from myself in my journal - can cause my words to dissolve and my cup to overflow.
“What? I thought I needed to be listened to for 2 years before I could feel full!” I have thought to myself on more than one occasion.
It turns out, I can fill up with much less than that, and leave with having much more to give too.
About Fei Wyatt:
On a mission to bring people closer, Fei Wyatt has been deep in the study & exploration of human relating for nearly two decades. Fei sees connection as an art form, her main craft, and a primary source of joy. Through her work as a cuddle therapist & intimacy coach, she revels in helping humans unlock more safety, empowerment, and abundance when it comes to love and connection.
Some of Fei’s favorite words include: heartfelt, embrace, vulnerable, authentic, and badass. You'll find her facilitating connection wherever she goes, but particularly in Los Angeles where she is based. https://feiwyatt.com/