How to know and meet your needs with love and compassion
Emotionally sensitive people are wont to attracting the slur of being needy. It’s an often misused and dismissive term that can hurt people at a time they need empathy more than judgment.
The great irony is that we all have needs. Show me a person who has never had a need, and I will put down my pen as a writer today.
We are born with needs and spend most of our lives seeking to have our needs met. The question isn’t about whether we have needs. It is more about how we get our needs met.
Feelings have always been difficult for me, especially the darker emotions like sadness, anger, and grief.
It’s not that I didn’t ever feel these things though. There were times in my childhood where these emotions were so overwhelming, I thought I would be buried under their weight.
Somewhere in that journey, I learned to repress my feelings. It was easier to focus on positive thoughts, which is a temporary salve at best.
When someone would ask me how I felt about something, I would have to say, “I’ll get back to you.” It would often take me a week to figure out how I felt.
It turns out my process of trying to understand my emotions was difficult because I was trying to understand them through my head. I wouldn’t be where I am on my emotional journey without my friend, Heather. It was her empathy that most struck me when we met. It wasn’t just her natural ability to understand how I felt.
Heather helped me connect deeply with my own feelings and needs. It was hard, and a process I am still practicing on an almost-daily basis more-than-twelve years later.
A big lesson in it all was recognising that thinking about a feeling isn’t the same as a feeling a feeling.
Feelings are felt in the body. Deeply. They aren’t always predictable or show up in the same way.
And it’s still hard. I still go through the conscious process of asking myself how I feel. The biggest shift was probably recognising that it’s okay to feel negative emotions.
What has this got to do with needs?
Feelings are often a red flag for an unmet need. It’s our first indicator that we need to connect with ourselves.
Anger isn’t just anger. It can be an indication a boundary has been crossed or a sign one may need respect or appreciation.
Sadness may reveal a person’s need for connection or intimacy, with the feeling arising if that has been withdrawn.
Feelings and needs aren’t predictably connected like this. We all respond to situations in different ways and express our feelings and needs uniquely.
Getting your needs met
Having needs is perhaps the most humanly thing we do. Being needy is often a result of not having one’s needs met over a prolonged period.
Merriam-Webster describes needy as someone who is “marked by want of affection, attention, or emotional support.” Urban Dictionary gives it an annoying quality.
The catch is, if you know someone who is needy, the worst thing you can do is call them needy. The best place to start is with empathy and understanding.
It doesn’t mean you need to be the one to meet other people’s needs. Indeed, in its extreme, rescuing others from their feelings and needs can lead to dependence.
Practicing this over the past fourteen years has continuously highlighted the real work is with myself. It always starts with self-empathy.
A four-step process (that takes practice)
Heather introduced me to Non-Violent Communication (NVC). The power of NVC is breathtaking in its simplicity. It’s an easy concept to grasp, but something that takes a lifetime of practice to master.
The NVC process gives four stages using the acronym, OFNR:
Observation — cleanly or objectively observing a situation or experience without creating a story about it or applying judgment to oneself or others. What is objectively happening?
Feeling — what are you feeling? You might have a mix of different emotions, so identifying all of them is helpful. Tie it to the observation: “When this happens, I feel . . .”
Needs— what unmet need or needs does this feeing point to? Tie it to the observation and feeling. For example, “When this happens, I feel angry because I have a need to be appreciated.”
Request — This is where the need is translated into an action that can be taken by the self or as a request to someone else, to meet that need.
While it is a process that can be done with others, it is always important to start with the self.
My experience in working with this has shown that 90% of the time, the need is met by simply acknowledging its existence. This is the power of self-empathy. I almost never need to get to the request stage of asking someone to help meet my need. In most cases I can see what I need to do to.
If needing to make a request of someone, it is best phrased as, “Next time, would you be willing to …”
Asking for a lifetime commitment to behaviour change is not realistic. All I can ask of another in that moment is their willingness to help.
The power of self-empathy
This article arose out of an experience I was having where I noticed my feelings around some friendships were heightened.
It could have been easy to blame others or have high and unrealistic expectations of them. Momentarily, I even started to think of myself as needy, until I compassionately caught myself.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with having high expectations of friendships of course, but when I looked at this from the perspective of my needs, I could see that I needed appreciation, reciprocity, and communication.
Empathically connecting with my needs was empowering, as it put me in a place where I wasn’t a victim. I could make choices about how I could meet those needs.