Gift Anxiety: 8 Scenarios to Overcome This Holiday Season

Gift giving and receiving can often be a source of anxiety, a subtle yet powerful indicator that we need to heal some parts of ourselves. While gifting should come from a sense of expansion, sometimes it’s rooted in a sense of scarcity (I am not enough), a need for acceptance (I want to be seen) or a constraint (I should do it). At times, these feelings are a trauma response, pointing to people pleasing tendencies, a fragile sense of worth and a disconnection from the self. Let’s explore some of the most common scenarios, their underlying meaning and what can we do to reframe our perspective and take delight in giving and receiving this Christmas.

1.You dread gift-giving because you are afraid the other person will feel compelled to reciprocate.

You presume the other person is unable to joyfully accept the gift, and they will see it as an incurred cost (chances are you are attributing your own perception to others). Yet other people’s response is not your response-ability. Plus, you can always communicate your aim, emphasizing your delight in being able to surprise them rather than any expectation to receive something back: “I saw this and immediately thought you would love it – so I was happy I could get it for you!”.

2. You search the Internet for the price of the gift you received and compare it with the one you offered.  

You hold a hard-wired belief that validation comes from outside. If you deem the gift you received as cheap – it either says something about you (e.g. you don’t matter) or about the other person (e.g. they are disrespectful or stingy). If it’s too expensive, it means there may be a hidden agenda, an expectation to reciprocate or simply a display of opulence from the other person. Compassionately question your urge to place a price tag on the gift and give yourself permission to take delight in the gift itself without linking it to your personal value.

You may also want to know how the gift you received compares to the one you gave them. If the gift you offered was cheaper, you’ll feel guilty, ashamed and afraid you’ll fall off their pedestal. But gift offering is neither barter, nor an opportunity to control others’ perception of you. Focus on the intention behind the gift and on its non-monetary value. Acknowledge the discomfort within and its message: when you feel your gift is not enough, it’s never about the gift – it’s about you.

3. You tell the other person that if they don’t use your gift, they can give it back to you.

This implies the fact that you need this gift more or that you’ve invested so much and now you can’t even fathom they’ll misuse or waste it. You may be doing this from a hyphened sense of sustainability – you wouldn’t want it to go to waste! Or you might find it hard to let go of control. Either way, gifting means giving up not only a specific item but also the right to raise any expectation around it. Unless you do so, it’s called lending.

4. You are frustrated thinking you must spend a lot of money for a gift.

Nobody forces you to give more than you can afford. Yet you overspend because you try hard to live up to the expectations you think others have of you. By doing so, you pile up bitterness as if your own choice was forcefully imposed by others.

There may have been a time when you had to filter your own actions through the lens of an invalidating adult. Hence, you developed a set of “shoulds”, learning to habitually act against your own beliefs, needs and desires. Gently remind yourself that you are now in charge, not your inner critic. It will take a while to calibrate your compass – you may often think “I don’t want to buy any gift at all”. That’s okay. Once you convince yourself that you are in control and that you are able to face the consequences of your decisions, you’ll naturally move towards generosity. Remember – you can’t offer to others if you don’t offer to yourself first.

5. You want to keep for yourself the gifts you bought for others.

This usually happens because you tend to be more generous with others than with yourself – you buy items which you don’t normally buy for yourself. That bio face cream? Perfect for a gift, while you are using a regular one. You may say: “I can’t afford to buy that”. You can, otherwise you wouldn’t buy it for somebody else. Instead of paying more than you can afford for a gift, find something more reasonable and buy two items – one for you as well. Think for a moment: what message do you convey to that part of you who longs for that gift as well? That it doesn’t matter, that its needs come second and should settle for less. Yet I bet you often ask that same part of you to help you set healthy boundaries and get frustrated when it fails to do so. Do you still wonder why?

6. You over-gift yet deep inside you keep track of the fact they never reciprocate.

You believe that gifting is a way to secure approval and connection. You offer gifts because you want to be seen. You may think you are generous for over-gifting but as long as this is only a silent overdraft facility offered to the receiver, then you’re not. So, redefine what gifting means to you. Why do you offer gifts? If the answer is to receive something in return, that is not a gift. It’s swapping. And even if the gift was reciprocated, are you really comfortable with knowing you received it just because the other person had to do it? What you’re really after is connection and validation; instead of getting them on loan from somebody else, why don’t you access them from within? It’s like begging for money, when you are the Federal Reserve.

7. You are stuck on what gift to pick. For every idea, your inner critic responds with an argument.

Either you don’t know the person enough or you know them too well. Assuming it’s the latter, chances are the recipient is very critical, and you have internalized their voice. They always have a comment about everything – the choices you make, the ingredient in that hand cream or that awful perfume they received last Christmas. Reconsider how you feel in this relationship. Most probably you’re not only afraid to buy something they won’t like, but you’re also afraid to show up fully around them – you feel judged or are walking on eggshells. Remember you deserve to be surrounded by people who lift you up and embrace your authenticity – so instead of worrying about their likes and dislikes, gift yourself some kindness and a new perspective. And you can get them a voucher if you insist.

8. You are uncomfortable to receive gifts because you feel “it’s too much” or you haven’t bought them anything yet.

You find it hard to accept not just gifts, but also compassion, kindness and love from others. You believe that since you don’t deserve them (e.g. you’re not good enough), the only reason why they would act this way is because they expect something in return. You are uncomfortable to know you are “in debt” so you’d rather not accept the gift. Opening yourself to the possibility that you may be valued for who you are and not for what you can do in return is not easy but it’s worth trying. Gracefully accept the gift (if there are no ethical breaches e.g. in a work context) and realize that you are not “trapped” nor “in debt”. Were you asked for something in return? If the answer is “no”, then you are free. Only you can put your mind in prison and only you can break free from it.


If you’ve resonated with any of the points above, it’s okay. This holiday season, take a moment to reconsider what gift giving and receiving means to you. Ground yourself in wholeness. Gift from an outpour of affection, comradery, and kindness. Gift from the spillover of the same generosity you offer to yourself. Gift from the joy of seeing others’ smile and of making them feel celebrated. Gift without expectations. Gift without anchoring your self-worth in the sparkly wrap. Gift with the healthy part of you, not with your inner critic, people-pleaser, perfectionist or controlling side. Gift with curiosity towards your own healing. And remember, the best gift you can give to somebody is your presence and your genuine feelings towards them.

This Christmas, start small. Give a smile. Receive a compliment. And be patient with yourself along the way.

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