When it comes to gift giving, you know the saying: “It’s the thought that counts.” Well, for some people, it’s not that simple. Choosing and purchasing the perfect gift can be an experience that leaves them overwrought. Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and “Today” contributor, was invited on the show to help you figure out if you’re giving gifts out of love — or guilt. Here are her suggestions for finding out your true intentions when you give a gift.
Gifts can be a wonderful expression of thoughtfulness, caring and love. We give birthday presents, holiday gifts, wedding presents, anniversary gifts, care packages, and even “just thinking of you” presents to express our feelings. But how often do we give gifts to assuage our feelings of guilt or remorse? When is a gift no longer a gift, but a substitute for our feelings?
When gifts are given out of a sense of guilt, it is no longer an act of generosity, but rather one that’s self-serving. It is not uncommon for people to give gifts as substitutions for their time and presence. Parents, especially divorced ones, may buy extravagant gifts for their children because they feel guilty they’re not spending more time with them. A husband may buy his wife an expensive gift if he feels like he has to make amends for not listening to her concerns or if he wants to side step an argument. Some people will even give their friends and family members presents to avoid conflict.
This kind of gift giving, however, rarely works out well. Sure, the conflict may be deflected for a little while, but the underlying issue will only fester and bubble up in an even bigger way later on. And gifts never ever take the place of your time, effort, concern, or love. You really can’t “buy love.” You’re fooling yourself if you think that a gift will mend the problem. Inevitably, resentment and emotional distance will enter your relationship and ruin it.
To find out if your gift is given in love — or out of guilt — do a gut check. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where is the urge to get this gift coming from?
- Will I resent this particular purchase after I buy it?
- Do I really owe this person an apology?
- Am I actually angry or hurt about this relationship?
- Is this prospective gift receiver angry or hurt with me?
- Do I think this gift will make up for time not spent with them?
- Are you spending more than you can afford?
If you are answering “yes” to any of these questions, then take a step back and think about what might be healthier for the relationship than buying the gift. You may still decide to buy a token of your appreciation or gratitude. But, at least, you will have addressed the issue that is making you feel guilty. Finding out your true feelings, is the greatest gift of all.
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