Aversion to Favors and Gifts

One of the leading principles of modern positive therapy practices is the lending of one’s own skills and support to another, and the seeking of harmonious and effective support networks for those going through difficult times emotionally and mentally. For most mental health professionals, it’s a joy to be of service to clients, whether it’s extending a favor or working towards the gift of mental well-being. But a new study has revealed that some people, especially in times of distress, are averted to gifts and favors, particularly for the sense of social obligation that these things carry.

The research, carried out by Jean-Sébastien Marcoux at HEC Montreal, was a long-term effort conducted over the course of ten years, and presents an impressive array of subjects and circumstances. Marcoux focused his data gathering on a certain situation in which we are frequently both distressed and involved in an activity where favors and gift-giving are common: moving. The researcher pointed out that while not all moving experiences are negative, most are stressful by their very nature, and a large percentage are necessitated by unsettling events such as a divorce, the loss of a job, or death. In these stressful situations, Marcoux found that people tend to decline offers of help and exhibit an aversion to gifts, often because they don’t wish to experience the social pressure and sense of obligation involved.

The research has many implications for related markets, as the reluctance to receive products and services as favors leads to the need to purchase these items directly. But the findings are important for therapy, as well; the notion that offering more when clients are upset or feeling indebted may not be the best practice.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Pearl


    September 18th, 2009 at 11:44 AM

    It’s a shame you can’t take a gift purely on face value without having to think about what the payback will be.

  • CraigH.


    September 18th, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    The first thing I do when I hear a friend is moving is offer to help and I don’t expect anything in return. Often times they will say no they have plenty and when the day arrives I get a call because of no-shows. I don’t get why people offer and then don’t go do it.

  • Yolanda


    September 18th, 2009 at 1:14 PM

    Hey, how about this for a reason to refuse help? Businesses you can count on turning up. Friends and family you can’t. They forget or just can’t be bothered. Using a company’s simpler.

    Obviously the no-shows don’t feel that sense of obligation the article talks about! LOL

  • Samm


    September 18th, 2009 at 3:27 PM

    Interesting find, according to me…but a true one too… people who are troubled and under stress sometimes feel like others are trying to do them favors when in fact they are just trying to help. This feeling stems from the fact that they are not able to do or acquire a particular thing themselves and get a false inferiority complex and any help in such a situation is viewed as a favor and they reject it in most of the cases.

  • Holly


    September 18th, 2009 at 9:01 PM

    Sometimes I do not like to recieve gifts or favors because then that makes me feel obligated to give something back in return even though I know good and well that this is probably not something that is expected at all. But when you feel obligated to give something in return and you do not necessarily have the funds to make that happen it can make you feel even worse!

  • Renee


    September 20th, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    Take the gifts for what they are probably meant as, tokens of love or appreciation, and you can always find a way to give back in ways that does not always have to revolve around money. Offer babysitting or pet sitting services, or even just send someone a quick thank you card. Most people are not so shallow as to always expect you to reciprocate.

  • Sara


    September 21st, 2009 at 7:32 AM

    You make a great point Renee. Most people are not expecting something in return and if they are then they are giving the gifts for the wrong reason to begin with and quite frankly that is not your problem.

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