Our world is getting more and more complicated. We are affected by technical development and exponential increased knowledge. Yet the living together amongst people, human relationships seem to get harder.
The foundation for being in this world, for living together, is the attendance to our needs. Noticing needs, attending to them, and finding relief or satisfaction, follows in circular motions. For example, I notice a dry mouth, I am aware that I feel thirsty. So I get a glass of water and quench my thirst, then this need recedes, and another need arises. Needs and attending to them is part of living.
Not always is it easy to attend to needs. In particular social and emotional needs have often been rejected. We learn not to be needy, become ashamed of our needs. Most of us learn to suppress needs not to appear needy.
Expressing needs is often experienced as risky. Making ourselves vulnerable, which literally translates to “able to be wounded” requires trust, courage and safety and the belief that we are worthy of being given to. Sometimes expressing our needs is linked with painful memories and/or “scare-stories” that may sound like: “If I really tell him/her what I want she/he will judge or reject me.” I may feel rejected when the other says “no”. We often live in battle with our own needs pulled by different inner voices arguing their validity. It might feel safer to reject the need ourselves than risking having someone else do it. Sometimes we end up resisting what we most want. Getting our need met paradoxically can shock or confuse us, particularly when our familiar way of being is deprivation. The familiar, although uncomfortable, feels safer than the new, even more satisfactory.
However, the needs don’t go away. In the same way as my thirst doesn’t disappear by me ignoring it, needs ask to be satisfied so they can recede into the background. Unattended needs can express themselves as moaning, sulking, attack, procrastination, depression and compensatory acts like over-eating.
An important tool to simplify human relationships is to become aware of and acknowledge our needs.
What we are feeling can give us clues to our needs. When we begin to contact our feelings and are able to name and share them with somebody close to us, we take the first step to communicating our needs. We may recognize a feeling in our body as “something is stirring in my tummy” or “I am holding my breath”. Anger, sadness, shame or guilt may be at the root of it. Sharing what I feel and what I need in vulnerability can open paths that have been blocked by past hurts and misunderstandings, deepen communication and provide another with the opportunity to give or to make good.
Our needs will not always be met, yet the acknowledgment of them frees energy that otherwise would be tied with trying to suppress them.
In this light it is very unhelpful to argue each others’ needs. If I feel thirsty, I feel thirsty, and arguing that I shouldn’t feel that way doesn’t make it disappear. Respect of our own and each others’ needs helps tremendously to achieve harmonious living together. Usually we won’t have a problem to identify and acknowledge our thirst. It is harder to be aware of our needs when it comes to emotional needs, like the need to be held, comforted or simply attended to. As long as we suppress them so that we don’t appear needy, they rarely will be met (unless our partner is a mind reader). Therefore it may be helpful to consider, whenever we feel “needy”, there is actually a valid need behind it.
It usually gets more complicated when it comes to sexual needs, in particular when there are different needs at the same time. Let’s talk about this another time.
Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch
Copyright © 12/1998 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Southshore Beacon #102, Dec1998