How to Figure Out Your Unmet Needs
If I’ve observed a common thread to many relationship endings it would be women and men not asking for what they need from their friends or romantic partners.
Why We Go Through Life With Unmet Needs
Sometimes we don’t ask because we think it will be less genuine when they actually give it to us, as though their sincerity is linked to their thinking it up on their own.
Sometimes we don’t ask because we think it’s rude or intrusive or needy, as though we’re ignoring the fact that relationships ought to be mutually beneficial.
Sometimes we don’t ask because we don’t like to think of ourselves as ever needing anything, as though we drank our own Cool-Aid in our attempts to convince everyone that we’re amazing and never have any needs.
Sometimes we don’t ask because we fear rejection or don’t want to risk the other saying no, as though there would be no choice in that scenario except to take it personally.
Sometimes we don’t ask because we simply don’t feel worth it, as though we’re not good enough or significant enough to think we deserve to have our needs met.
All of these stories have been modelled to us in different ways, and we certainly each develop a lens that we then use to validate our reason repetitively.
But in addition to all these more deep-rooted belief systems we’ve made up in our heads, I’m finding that one of the biggest obstacles to us asking for what we need is that we often don’t even know what we need.
Figuring Out What We Need
I mean, we know when we start feeling resentful or frustrated, but we aren’t very practiced at pausing and saying, “What is it I need right now?”
And the answer usually isn’t what we think we’re mad at. We think we’re mad at the kids for not picking up their shoes, but really it’s because when they do that we feel something, a meaning that we have attached to that action. So it may be that we need some cooperation so that we feel more connected to the kids, like we’re all working together; or it may be that for our sanity we actually need more order in our lives to contribute to our sense of peace. Two different needs. Stopping to not just be mad at some action, but realising what need isn’t being met helps us better communicate and problem-solve. Is it really a peaceful space I need which I could get by making one room off-limits to the junk of others or by hiring housekeeping help? Or is it feeling like my family is all in it together which can be solved by articulating that need and having the family brainstorm ways that we can each contribute more? What is my need?
In the book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen!, by Shasta Nelson, it discusses the scene from the movie How Do You Know, where Reese Witherspoon plays a character whose entire life is turned upside down when she is cut from the professional softball team that has been her entire career. She obligingly goes to see a therapist but before the session starts she talks herself out of it, willing herself to believe she doesn’t need it. The psychiatrist, who knows nothing about the situation that his new client is struggling with, watches her walk out the door before any conversation occurs. And in what I think is the best scene in the movie, Reese sticks her head back in the doorway and basically challenges him to sum up his best therapeutic advice for life before she leaves. Without batting an eye he responds: “Figure out what you want and learn to ask for it.”
I think about that a lot. When I get upset at someone, I try to stop and think, “What is it I really need? Not just what action do I wish they did right now. But what does that action represent to me? What is it I’m craving and longing for?”
If we would do that, we’d probably realise that half of our needs come down to wanting to feel connected to the other person. Which could then better inform our response because I dare say most of us, when frustrated or hurt, are more likely to respond in some way that will actually leave us feeling more disconnected; in other words, less likely to actually get our needs met.
When we start the work of being responsible for knowing ourselves, it’s helpful to have a list that allows us to try on different words: Is it x or x that resonates more with me? With time, we become more familiar with the options, becoming more adept at naming what we’re craving.