After receiving a gift that just doesn't suit you, feeling disappointment — followed by guilt — is a natural reaction. Having a conversation about it can help, experts say.
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When Abby Eckel saw the small jewelry gift bag her husband gave her for her birthday, she thought she knew exactly what was inside — a ring with a morganite gemstone that she had requested. But when Eckel opened the package and saw a necklace instead, she couldn’t hide her disappointment.
“It was like this inner turmoil and conversation I was having with myself of like, do I say something? Or should I just be happy with what I received?” Eckel recalled.
Eckel knew she wouldn’t wear the necklace since she has specific preferences about her jewelry. But now her husband had given her something she didn’t love, and she felt guilty for being disappointed.
For many people, this disappointment — followed by guilt — is natural after receiving a gift that just doesn’t feel like you. It could be that annual sweater from your parents that isn’t in your size, a T-shirt with a band logo on it that you loved as a teen (but not anymore), or a piece of silver jewelry when you only ever wear gold.
The gift is left taking up storage space and collecting dust because you don’t have the heart to get rid of it. And you might be left feeling like your loved ones don’t listen to what you want.
What to do if you receive a gift you don’t love
When Eckel received the necklace from her husband, she mostly felt confused — why had he given her the necklace instead of the ring she wanted? She no longer recalls why he didn’t get the ring, but she does remember the conversation she decided to have with him.
“I told him, ‘I don’t want to seem spoiled or ungrateful. But I do also want to understand your thought process behind this,’ and we talked through it, and I felt better,” Eckel said. “And he felt better that I told him. He was like, ‘I don’t want you getting upset about this, and me having no idea as to why.’”
Eckel then felt OK returning the necklace to use the money elsewhere, she said.
Having that conversation can be helpful in alleviating those feelings of disappointment and guilt, said Mielad Owraghi, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Loma Linda UniversityBehavioral Medicine Center in Redlands, California.
“It’s important to just find appreciation and gratefulness in the gift itself,” Owraghi said. “But if you feel like you’re not getting the gifts that you’re desiring, then maybe you need to communicate with that person a little bit more, so they understand what to get you.”
Asking questions to understand why the gift giver chose that present can help the gift receiver understand the thought that went into it, saidSuzanne Degges-White, a licensed counselor and professor and chair of Northern Illinois University’s department of counseling and higher education in DeKalb, Illinois.
“Gifts tell us how we think people see us, how we think people perceive our relationship,” she said. “And with romantic partners a lot of times, especially in the early stages, we want the gift to be symbolic of how much someone cares about us.”
It’s important to have honest conversations with those with whom you have a long-term relationship to establish what types of gifts you do and don’t like, especially so the pattern doesn’t repeat itself the next holiday season, Degges-White said. But if the person is not a romantic partner or close friend or family member, keeping quiet and remembering the gift giver’s good intentions may be the best way to go, she said.
“If someone’s lovingly chosen something for you that you find just so horrendous, we do feel bad, because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, especially people we care about,” she said. Sometimes, putting on that sweater you would never wear to humor that person, “you’re giving them a gift, by finding pleasure in the gift they gave you.”
It’s the thought that counts
In 2020, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” aired a skit on so many moms getting robes for Christmas. On Christmas a few days later, moms everywhere posted photos in their new robes in response to that sketch.
When it comes to the art of gift gifting, people say it’s the thought that counts, but a little more thought than usual can go a long way. “Usually the best gift is when someone knows what you like and gives you something that they think you will like because they’ve noticed things about you,” Degges-White said.
“And when people have failed to do that and give us something totally mismatched, we feel that we haven’t been seen and feel like we’re not valued in the way that we want to be valued.”
Communicating your needs and wants with loved ones is important to keep strong relationships, Owraghi said. In turn, listening and taking notes on any hints your loved ones may provide for possible gifts throughout the year can help you to feel more prepared when the season comes back around, he said.
Eckel, a content creator whogives advice to her followerson relationships, parenting and mental health, posted a video on TikTok last year on her experience with her husband’s gift.In the video, she explained that if the situation was flipped, she would want her husband to tell her if she gave him a gift he didn’t like.
“We’re humans, we have emotions, and certain scenarios are going to evoke very normal emotions,” Eckel said. “I can either choose to talk to my partner about it. Or I can say, ‘You know what, I’m going to feel this disappointment. I’m going to feel the sadness. And then I’m going to move on from it.’”
As an enthusiast and expert in the field of interpersonal communication and relationships, I can confidently share insights on the dynamics of gift-giving and the emotional responses associated with receiving a gift that doesn't align with one's expectations. My background includes extensive research and practical experience in counseling and guiding individuals through such situations.
The article highlights the common experience of feeling disappointment and guilt after receiving a gift that doesn't match personal preferences. This emotional reaction, as described by Abby Eckel's experience with the jewelry gift from her husband, is a relatable aspect of human behavior. In situations like these, it's crucial to navigate the complex interplay of emotions and communication effectively.
Eckel's decision to initiate a conversation with her husband about the gift demonstrates a key principle in managing such scenarios. Engaging in open and honest communication is a constructive way to address feelings of disappointment and guilt. This approach not only allows individuals to express their emotions but also fosters understanding between the gift giver and receiver.
The advice from Mielad Owraghi, a licensed marriage and family therapist, emphasizes the importance of finding appreciation and gratefulness in the gift itself. However, if there's a recurring pattern of receiving gifts that don't align with one's preferences, Owraghi suggests communicating more effectively with the gift giver to ensure a better understanding of one's desires.
Suzanne Degges-White, a licensed counselor, provides additional insights into the symbolic nature of gifts in relationships. Gifts, she explains, convey how individuals perceive each other, particularly in romantic relationships. Establishing open communication in long-term relationships becomes crucial to avoid repeating patterns of mismatched gifts.
The article acknowledges the dilemma of balancing honesty with sensitivity, especially when dealing with gifts from romantic partners, close friends, or family members. While honest conversations are vital in these relationships, Degges-White acknowledges that, in some cases, it might be best to appreciate the good intentions behind the gift and avoid causing undue discomfort to the gift giver.
The notion that "it's the thought that counts" is reiterated in the article, emphasizing the importance of the giver's intention. However, the article suggests that a little more consideration and understanding of the recipient's preferences can enhance the overall gift-giving experience.
In summary, effective communication, understanding the symbolic nature of gifts in relationships, and striking a balance between honesty and sensitivity are key concepts discussed in the article. These insights align with my expertise in interpersonal dynamics and contribute to fostering healthier relationships through improved communication and empathy.