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The Toxicity of Gift Giving in Today’s Society


Thu, January 11

Whether it's during the holiday time, birthdays, anniversaries, or any other significant milestone, people often choose to express their appreciation, love, and gratitude for others with the tradition of gift-giving. As one of the five love languages, many find it a meaningful way to express affection with a tangible item. However, beneath the surface of this seemingly heartfelt ritual, there are occasionally toxic behaviors being masked.

In certain situations, gift-giving can become a tool for manipulation or control, fostering a cycle of expectations and obligations that strain relationships. The pressure to exchange gifts can create a sense of obligation or competition, leading to stress, financial strain, and feelings of inadequacy if the gift isn't perceived as thoughtful or valuable enough. Soon enough, what was once considered a thoughtful gesture transforms into a transactional exchange.

Narcissistic Gift Giving

Narcissism is a personality disorder wherein individuals qualify themselves as being above others. Not only do people suffering from this mental health condition seek attention and view others as inferior, but they can also lack the ability to understand or care about the feelings of others. Because it can invoke an array of different behaviors, narcissism exists on a spectrum.

Many people don't have Narcissistic Personality Disorder yet are equally as guilty of exemplifying narcissistic traits. This is proven to be illustrated during the process of gift-giving.

Narcissistic tendencies can manifest in various ways that may carry subtle yet profound signs of manipulation, devaluation, and self-centeredness. This means that there are plenty of red flags to pick up on.

A narcissist's gifts often lack consideration, disregarding the recipient's importance or the occasion's significance. Even with the means to award someone with a considerate gift, they'll choose something of little value that is utterly unrelated. They might also offer items that cater solely to their interests, disregarding the recipient's preferences entirely, and possibly cheap or poor quality items disguised with tales of extravagant expense or charm.

The narcissist might also employ a present to chip away at someone else's self-esteem. These gifts might insinuate a need for self-improvement, however unwarranted. For instance, they might give gym memberships or diet pills, regardless of the recipient's fitness or body image, as a way to bring the recipient down. By undermining the victim, the individual demonstrating narcissistic tendencies will create a reality where they thrive.

They may promise gifts, which often turn out to be empty gestures or excuses, lacking follow-through or sincerity. These empty promises are yet another tool for the narcissist to garner praise or recognition while withholding genuine care for the recipient. Their lies will serve as a smokescreen to conceal other unpleasant truths or misdeeds.

If they do give a great gift, it is usually not out of kindness; rather, the gifts are intended to make others praise them. Because narcissists feed off admiration and submission, they might use presents to garner acclaim and distract from their faults. It's crucial for individuals dealing with narcissists to prioritize their mental well-being, build self-esteem, and establish boundaries in relationships to mitigate the impact of such toxic propensity.

Anxiety and Stress

Due to the altruistic nature of the beast, many people become aggravated with the process of gift-giving, spiraling feelings of dread and pressure.

Psychologist Jameca Cooper indicates that buying a gift for someone reveals "your feelings about that person and you expose your character, what you're thinking about that person, and your evaluation of them." This causes many individuals to feel anxious, fearing disappointing the recipient. The stakes feel higher because they're striving to convey a certain level of care, appreciation, or understanding through their gift.

They want the recipient to feel valued, understood, and pleased by the gesture, so they become wary of falling short of the recipient's expectations. They might worry about the gift's material value or appropriateness and how the recipient might perceive the gift. There's a concern about inadvertently communicating the wrong message or exposing personal sentiments in a way that might be misunderstood or unappreciated.

The process of gift-giving involves many possible stressors, as well. For example, according to a LendingTree survey, 56% of gifters were stressed about giving gifts in the 2022 holiday season. Further, the leading causes of this holiday gift stress were not being able to afford presents (28%) and not finding the right gift (24%).

The pressure to meet expectations, especially during festive seasons, where there's an implicit social norm to exchange gifts, can burden individuals who might struggle financially. This strain is further intensified by societal pressures to give lavish or expensive gifts, contributing to feelings of inadequacy or guilt when one cannot afford certain presents.

This stems from the fact that we, as members of society, often focus on the material value of an item rather than its sentimental worth. Further, the fear of selecting an inadequate gift can lead to uncertainty as individuals seek to balance pleasing the recipient and ensuring the gift aligns with their expectations.

The combination of these stressors often intertwines, exacerbating the overall anxiety associated with gift-giving. Financial constraints might limit the options available for gifts, making finding something suitable within the budget even more challenging. Additionally, the pressure to find the perfect gift within these limitations can intensify the stress, creating a cycle of worry and apprehension.

Image Credit: Inzmam Khan from Pexels

In reflection, gift-giving, revered for its potential to foster connections and express appreciation, can also conceal layers of toxicity within relationships. This toxicity, stemming from various sources such as the pressure to meet societal expectations, financial constraints, and the potential for manipulation, detracts from the genuine essence of giving. From the narcissistic traits observed in gift-giving to the prevalent stressors experienced by many, it becomes evident that the exchange of gifts isn't always a straightforward gesture of goodwill.

Julia Andrade Xavier
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Writer since Dec, 2023 · 4 published articles

Julia Andrade Xavier is currently a junior in high school. She loves writing, watching TV shows, and skiing during the winter season. Her aspiration is to major in journalism when she heads off to college and subsequently attend law school, aiming to become an attorney.