I was absent last week in order to take a trip back to Colorado and finish selling my house. On the road, I thought about my last post and the second part of coming to terms with needs. Discovering, admitting and identifying one’s needs is, alas, just the beginning of what I suspect is a lifelong journey.
So, to recap my last post, we all have needs, and we’re all driven by our needs, whether or not we’re aware of them. If we’re not aware of our needs or those of others, great big elephants are standing in the middle of our living rooms, invisible to us until we run into them, or they step on us. Our relationships and lives don’t work well and we have no clue why.
One of the trickiest parts of thinking about needs is taking responsibility for them. If we look at the needs inventory, consent to recognize and admit our needs and make a list of them, it seems logical to begin to evaluate how well our needs are being met by others.
Here’s the thing, though. All the people around us have needs too, some identical to ours and some different. That doesn’t mean we’re responsible to meet all those needs, and they’re also not responsible for meeting our needs.
Newsflash! Having a right to get our needs met and understanding our needs are as important but not more important than everyone else’s doesn’t guarantee our needs will actually be met by … anyone.
This seems unfair to me. Excavating my own needs and acknowledging them, even to myself, was a lot of work. I was annoyed when I realized nobody much cared what my needs are. They’re too concerned with their own! What’s the point of this aspect of emotional intelligence, then?
First of all, it’s about adulting. Grownups know who they are, including understanding what they need. Those of us who aspire to adulthood are required to possess this kind of self-knowledge and accept responsibility for communicating our needs to others, not because anyone has an obligation to meet them, but because we’re willing to know ourselves and allow others to know us, too.
Needs are inextricably enmeshed with boundaries. I have a long history of ineffective boundaries, frequently resulting in me choosing the needs of whoever I was with over my own. Paired with another person with bad boundaries, this quickly becomes an unhealthy, unhappy relationship. One of the words we use to describe such a connection is codependent.
The second point about working with needs is understanding our satisfaction and enjoyment of connection with others is directly related to the degree to which our relationships help us meet our needs. This is complicated by the fact that feeling love for someone doesn’t imply our needs are well met in relationship with that person. For example, media-driven portrayals of romantic love don’t address needs at all outside the realm of sex, and sex is not enough to create sustainable, healthy long-term relationships.
Thirdly, we humans have a great propensity to self-destruct when our needs are not well met. We use strategies like substance addiction, sexual acting out, eating disorders and cutting to manage the painful dysfunction of not getting our needs met. Sadly, the culture focuses on fixing the behavior rather than the cause — the unmet need.
Fourthly, making friends with our needs connects us to our power. When we understand what’s not working in our lives and why, we’re empowered to make better choices on our own behalf and create the kind of life we want. We build boundaries. We learn to be more authentic. We learn to be responsible, which is another way of saying we learn to manage our own power.
Another aspect of needs is that they change. Our needs change as we age, as we grow, as we move through our lives. Not only do needs change, we can be wrong about what we think we need and discover, accidentally, needs we never recognized we had.
I said this was tricky, remember?
Having our needs met is not a black-and-white experience. No one person can meet all their own needs or all the needs of another, no matter how beloved. Expecting any single person to meet all our needs puts an unbearable burden on that person and the relationship. Human beings need healthy community because community helps us all meet most of our needs most of the time.
So how many of our needs must be met for a relationship or a life to be healthy and effective? I don’t think there’s a formula for this. I suspect every case is different, because we’re all unique individuals. We have several core needs in common, but we don’t all need the same things to the same degree.
For example, think about noise. I’m very sensitive to noise. Prolonged and unrelieved exposure to traffic, loud music, television, crowds, airplane and car noise or even a beeping alarm unhinges me. First I’m frantic, then I’m exhausted and then I’m ill. I have a primary need to control the noise in my environment. I hate crowds, parties, loud restaurants and cities.
Other people don’t seem to even notice noise levels. Many millions live in cities with a constant background of noise quite happily. I was struck by how many people live along the interstate system as we drove from Maine to Colorado and back again. I couldn’t live beside a freeway for a day without losing my mind. Life would literally not be worth living for me.
If my need for a low-noise environment doesn’t get met, nothing else will work for me. I can’t function in a noisy environment, period.
On the other hand, I’ve always believed order in my environment was also an essential need. I’ve lived in such a way that I’ve controlled housekeeping, cleaning, etc., except for private bedrooms and workspaces romantic partners and children have had. Before I came to Maine, I was sincerely certain I couldn’t live happily in disorder, dust and clutter.
Much to my surprise, chagrin and irritation, I’ve discovered I can, at least temporarily. The old farmhouse my partner and I are living in is falling down and loaded with (to my eyes) junk and clutter, most of it undusted for years. I often feel frustrated and resentful about this. However, our relationship is meeting my needs in ways they’ve never been met before, and getting so many needs met balances out the squalor (my interpretation) in the house.
Managing my needs has become a kind of dance. After much practice, I now maintain a friendly relationship (mostly) with my needs as they ebb and flow. I’ve learned to tell others when my needs are not met without apology or justification, as well as communicate what I need simply and directly. I’ve got some beautiful boundaries in place. I’ve learned to ask others what they need, not because their needs are my responsibility, but because I want to support them in getting their needs met. I’ve let go of expectations that anyone is obligated to meet my needs, but I treasure and nurture those relationships in which my needs are met naturally.
I also have precious people in my life whom I dearly love who don’t meet many of my needs, and that’s okay. Those connections are based on other things. I probably don’t meet many of their needs, either, but it’s not for lack of love and it doesn’t mean anyone is bad or wrong.
Managing needs takes a lot of mess and clutter out of my life. If something’s not working, I notice it right away and a little contemplation leads me quickly to the bottom line — what need is not getting met? Where and how am I feeling disempowered? What can I do to help myself and who do I need to have an honest discussion with?
Taking action when there’s a problem, communicating carefully and authentically and taking responsibility for my own needs invites those around me to do the same. Some people will accept the invitation and some won’t. We can’t control what anyone else does or doesn’t do. However, we can choose which connections to put energy into and which to bless and release, and we can commit to managing our needs effectively and appropriately for our own sake as well as the sake of others.
All content on this site ©2017
except where otherwise noted
© 2017 – 2021, Jenny Rose. All rights reserved.
“Needs we never thought we had but cannot do without once recognized” resounded so big for me tonight. I have always wanted to play a musical instrument of some kind. I tried a few times but I never made it ( playing an instrument) or myself enough of a priority to be successful. I didn’t know til now that I don’t just “want” to play an instrument …… I N-E-E-D to.
Tonight I attended an “If You Can Smile You Can Sing”, doing music with children, as it relates to literacy, workshop at the library, with guest, Amanda Panda. In 15 minutes she had us all playing the ukulele, actually playing it. My joy was so profound, and actually playing that ukulele was such a contradiction to the belief I had adopted that I was too old now to ever learn to play an instrument, that I couldn’t stop tears from sneaking silently down my cheeks amidst all the music and merriment. I wanted to just hug her and express my profound appreciation for the gift she had just given to me.
Then I gotbhome and another gift was waiting for me. As I was reading this piece tonight
(I had seen it was there earlier but I was saving it to savor) I realized… “I” NEED , not just music, but “playing” music, to be part of my life so,I can be truly happy. She said if we could play a C chord, which I now can, that we could play fifty songs with that one chord. 50 Songs!! I would consider myself a rock star if I could play one…. I am so excited and hopeful, and now, thanks to you, and the emotional work you so diligently do, and write about (so that it benefits all of us) I get to go buy myself a little ukulele at Buckdancers tomorrow, because I now recognize that my wish, my longing to ” play” music, is as legitimate a need for me as needs like solitude, books, writing, gardening, water, air, walking, and sunshine.
Thank you … friend of my friend. You nailed it again.????
When are you going to publish this extraordinary documentation of your examined life …so far.
Book lover that I am, I want it in my hands instead of onscreen. I would be thrilled to write one of your endorsements when you are ready. I think it would be a great companion read to Connection Parenting, because you are very successfully Connection re-parenting yourself, and parents so need your model of what that looks like.
Thank you so much for sharing this story! Now I have received a gift! What an exciting piece of self-discovery you’re engaged with. I wonder what the shape of your life will be when you fill this need, and if it will lead you to other neglected needs just waiting to be reanimated. I’m delighted and excited for you. I believe that any kind of creative play is one of the most essential experiences of life.
Thanks for your kind words about the blog. It’s been so much more important and interesting than I thought it would be when I started. I haven’t really thought much about publishing the material, but I admit I’ve noticed I have an ever-growing repository of emotional intelligence material that companions both Connection Parenting and Carmine’s work. I do have a completed fiction book manuscript (over 1000 pages) that I’m about to put in the hands of a developmental editor that also explores the issues I blog about in the context of characters out of folk and fairy tale and stories from different cultures around the world. I don’t know if it has any value or not, as I’ve not been able to find readers, with the exception of Carmine. We’ll see. I hope it’s worth something, as it’s the first part of a trilogy and I’m already working on the second book! Even if it has no value at all, I have to write. I can’t help myself. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.
Thanks again for sharing with me. I’m honored to be part of your process. You’ve been part of mine as well. Have fun playing!