On a scale of one to ten, how in touch are you with your needs? Choose a significant relationship–can you name three of your needs in that relationship?
In my own life and in talking to friends, I’ve learned that needs are a hot topic, and it seems that women are more likely to answer the above questions with, “Oh, I don’t really need anything.”
At the same time, the people who “don’t need anything” generally spend a lot of time complaining about how their needs aren’t getting met, so there’s clearly a disconnect happening.
Here’s a pattern that I was very attached to for decades: In my romantic relationships I felt very uncomfortable identifying, much less expressing, my needs.
A few of the reasons why this felt so difficult:
- I was so out of touch with myself that I honestly didn’t know, on a conscious level, what my needs were.
- I was afraid of being perceived as needy or high maintenance if I expressed my needs.
- I was afraid my partner would say “no” and that this would feel awful.
- I was afraid my partner would think I was demanding and naggy.
Clearly, there was a lot of fear swirling around and a deep disconnect from my own experience. Let’s talk about this disconnect, because it seems to come up a lot in my conversations with women. Culturally, we are taught to take care of others first–our partners, our kids, our co-workers, our community. Taking care of ourselves is often viewed as a form of selfishness.
Because we’re so consumed with what other people need, most of our sensors are picking up their radio stations and we’ve forgotten how to tune into our own.
This is why I believe codependency is so incredibly common. If you’re new to that term, here’s a short article that does a great job of defining it, and there’s even a little questionnaire to determine whether it’s something you struggle with. An excerpt (emphasis is mine):
Characteristics of Co-dependent People Are:
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
- A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy/boundaries
- Chronic anger
- Poor communications
- Difficulty making decisions
I have a metaphor that helps me visualize what’s really going on when I or someone else says, “Oh, I don’t really need anything.” First, a reality check:
Every living thing on this planet has needs. You are no exception.
The sooner we stop denying the presence of our needs, the sooner we can get them met, and oh baby, does it ever feel great! Far from feeling needy, naggy, and insecure, we feel empowered, confident, satisfied with our life, and comfortable in our own skin.
But back to that metaphor. Let’s envision needs like a potato. When you deny that you have needs, or you are so out of touch with your needs that you aren’t consciously going about meeting them in a healthy way, this is like playing a game of hot potato where you keep passing your needs, your hot potato, off to someone else.
The irony, of course, is that this is precisely the opposite of what the “no-needs” person wants to do: making their needs someone else’s problem. And yet, when we’re not conscious of our needs, this is exactly what we do.
Those needs don’t go away–someone has to deal with them–and when we’re not consciously willing to deal with them, we pass that hot potato off to someone else.
This usually results in other people being resentful of our hot potato needs and subconsciously (or very consciously!) trying not to meet them.
In my relationships, when I passed off my hot potato my parters would feel manipulated, because here I was proclaiming that I didn’t have needs, and yet I was dumping all of these hot potatoes on them. This led to them being very resentful and not at all open or giving–and understandably so. My worst fears of seeming needy and naggy were realized. Truly, it was a lose-lose.
I’ve been on the other side of this exchange, too, and I can attest to its suck-itude. I have a family member who claims she is needless, yet every interaction is a subconscious passing of the hot potato in the form of fishing for compliments, acting the martyr, false humility, and other icky behaviors.
As much as I love this person dearly, on the receiving end of this manipulation it is really, really hard to drum up the desire to acknowledge, much less meet, any of her needs, and oftentimes I don’t because it feels deeply unhealthy for me to do so.
And here’s the thing: People who are healthy and rooted in their sense of self won’t want to play this game of hot potato with you, so you will have less chance of maintaining relationships with healthy individuals if you insist on “not having needs” and passing off your potato.
We each have our own potato to bear.
(That was a fun sentence to write.)
When you assume responsibility for your own potato, you are saying to yourself and to the Universe:
“Yes, I have needs. I am a person of worth and value, and I have needs.”
Owning your needs and learning how to express those needs in a healthy way (books like Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself can be super helpful if you’re unsure where to start) opens the door to, well, getting your needs met, both through your own efforts and the support of others.
Asking is the first step in receiving, no matter who’s doing the giving.
We can’t receive if we don’t ask, even if we’re asking of ourselves. But once we do ask in an open, clean way (i.e. without subconsciously passing off the potato, martyrdom, and other energetically clogged exchanges), the Universe rushes in to meet that need.
I have been astounded time and time again at how much easier and more joyful clearly expressing my needs feels and how readily my needs are met, often far beyond my expectations.
When you ask for what you need from a place of self-empowerment, the universe joyfully responds.
Are you ready to take back your hot potato and ask for the life you want?