As part of the on-the-job training of life, situations that hurt you make you aware of your needs. Spend enough time in a relationship subsisting on crumbs and you experience a painful awakening about your unmet needs.
Quite simply, some of us have no clue what our needs are. We might see them as indistinguishable from wants. The best description of needs and wants is by financial expert, Karen McCall:
“A need sustains you and a want entertains you.”
If, as a child, you experienced emotional, mental and/or physical neglect, you won’t have felt safe, secure and nurtured. This can cause you to train yourself out of having needs. You might do without. It could be settling for crumbs or filling the void with something else (e.g. food, shopping, sex).
It’s not that you don’t have needs. You do have them but have either forgotten about their existence or given up on trying to meet them. If, for example, your feelings weren’t acknowledged or what you had to say didn’t matter, or you felt as if you had to take a backseat to someone or everyone else, you figured, ‘What’s the point?’
If you think that your needs will go unheard or that even if you do speak up, that they won’t be met, you’ll reason that it’s easier to stay quiet than risk being ignored and/or rejected. To compensate, you take on a role (e.g. people pleaser, overachiever, caretaker, fixer, underachiever, black sheep) as a back door to trying to get your needs met without as much risk.
Notice me. Take care of me. Listen to me. Love me.
We need trust in our interpersonal relationships. When your habit is to hide your needs, in those situations where you need someone else’s input, for example, a romantic relationship where it takes two to row the relationship boat, you won’t voice them. Sure, you might hint and when you’ve finally had enough, blow up, but what you won’t do is be you. You won’t show and voice your needs by extension of your values and boundaries.
So much time is spent catering to other people’s needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions that yours are forgotten.
Any situation that has brought up pain and discomfort for you is flagging up your emotional needs. We all have them, no one is exempt.
Emotional needs are the things that we need to be, do and have in order to survive and thrive.
Our needs extend far beyond the basics of food, water, shelter, clothes on our back etc. They include:
- Safety and security
- Physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing
- To give and receive attention (e.g. acknowledgement, praise, to listen and be heard)
- To give and receive affection
Purpose and goals
- Connection to something beyond ourselves — community, ideals, beliefs
Everything that we do in life is about meeting our emotional needs in some way, shape or form.
Some of what we do is helpful… and some is harmful.
Your habits provides clues about what it is that you believe you need to be, do and have in order to have an emotional need met.
Let’s say that you desire status: you might think that the way to gain respect, reputation and stature is to focus on managing your body and your image or to attach yourself to certain types of people to ‘enhance’ you.
We all have an emotional need for status but when you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing in the way that you’re doing it for as long as you’ve been doing it, you run the risk of setting you up to fail.
You don’t know why you’re seeking something from a certain someone or something.
You don’t know your own agenda and will do things for the wrong reasons.
Back to the example of status: if your desire for status stems from an experience at school or within the family where you blamed what happened on you not being attractive or popular enough, this is why you will inadvertently seek status through your appearance. You might hang with the charming, narcissistic folk who blow smoke up your bottom and then bring you crashing back down.
The emotional need is temporarily met but what you’re doing doesn’t nourish or sustain you because it hurts you.
A similar thing happens with attention. Someone seeking attention in a healthy way might hang with a trusted friend or spend a day or a weekend focusing on doing things they enjoy. Someone else might go on Tinder, Plenty of Fish etc and collect attention. Same desire (emotional need for attention), very different aims and very different outcomes.
If your relationships don’t feel happy, healthy, harmonious and you’re not being you, every experience that hurts will be trying to call your attention to your emotional needs.
You might crave a relationship to feel safe, secure and to have a sense of belonging but if you saddle up to a Mr/Miss Unavailable, your emotional needs aren’t going to be met.
You might think that an educated, attractive, high-earning partner will meet all of your emotional needs but if you don’t share core values in terms of character and direction, you are incompatible and your emotional needs won’t be met.
I speak to so many ‘Cool Girls’ and ‘Good Girls’ and many of them pride themselves on being “low maintenance”. It’s like a badge of honour to not ask for anything. They don’t state their needs, ask for help or call out any bullsh*t. They don’t want to “make drama” like “other women”. It’s as if they think that having no needs should be an easy fit for getting what they want.
This is how we disappear. This is how we become invisible.
Of course, when their partners fail to be loving partners, they feel shortchanged and very confused. It’s even more aggravating when women they’re afraid to be like experience relationship success.
You have needs.
Pretending that you don’t, or acknowledging that you do but trying to get them met via a hidden agenda that spares you the vulnerability of speaking/showing up for your needs, doesn’t work. It’s like selling people in on a 0% introductory APR offer and thinking that you can prove and earn the right to have your needs met. It’s as if by them hurting and disappointing you, your anger becomes a justification and a claim for getting your needs met.
There’s no need to sell yourself short just so that you can be pissed off enough to then feel as if you’re in a position to speak up about your needs!
You have needs and it’s your job to represent.
You are your primary caregiver. Meet your needs through your treatment of you and your boundaries as well as the choices you’re making in people and relationships. Hiding your needs in your relationships means that neither you or the other party will be able to meet them.
Meeting your needs means that you don’t have to come from a place of lack. You’re not coming from a place of starvation.
When you treat you with love, care, trust and respect, you won’t accept less from others than you can already be and do for yourself.
Your frustrations about what others aren’t being and doing point to what you need to be and do for yourself. You will be able to take care of your own side of the street and meet your emotional needs and choose the right relationships (mutually fulfilling), things and opportunities to support you.