Whether in life generally or in relationship specifically, getting your needs met can be tricky. Some people go about this by being demanding. (Aggressive.) Others are quiet. (Passive.) Some pretend to be content while there’s seething anger and resentment below the surface. (Passive Aggressive.) Sometimes others just “take the bull by the horns” and go get what they want because they believe things like “no one else is gonna help.” Still others become “needless and wantless” so there is no risk.
But what is healthy?
People taught us what to believe
Sometimes our caregivers taught us not to ask. Others of us were shamed whenever we asked for what we needed. We may have been scolded or mocked (by parents or by siblings.) Some of us adopted the belief “it doesn’t help to ask; I never get what I want anyway.” Or “it’s too much trouble to ask for what I need.”
Caregivers taught some of us to get louder. Our requests escalated until someone heard them. We learned that eventually we got something, even if it was after great effort. Maybe we came to believe “I have to be loud and demanding in order to get anyone to listen.” Or “raising my voice is the only way anyone pays attention.” We might even believe “I have to work really hard to get anything I want.”
Still others had an experience where they made their needs known and only sometimes got what they needed. Other times, caregivers ignored them completely. This kind of instability can have people believing “I can’t really trust my instincts and cues.” After all, as children, they could not make sense of which needs mattered. They may have started to believe “my needs aren’t that important. It’s more important that others have what they need.” Still another belief that might arise is something like “it’s not safe to have needs and wants. It’s definitely not safe to express them.”
How do you get your needs met?
The way we go about getting our needs met says a lot about how we’re made and how we move through the world. If you’ve been around much, you know I talk about this a lot. It’s because I’m a personality psychologist- which just means I’m one of those people who believes personality is in our DNA just as much as eye color or body composition. (And we personality psychologists also value studying how these traits and tendencies inform psychological health.)
We form beliefs and patterns around needs and wants based on HOW early caregivers acknowledged and satisfied our needs and wants. Of course, that personal history occurred when we were pre-verbal, so it’s not always easy to “remember.” But there IS evidence.
Sadly, some caregivers completely ignored us and left us alone to cry it out. It’s easy to identify patterns that emerged because of that. We truly became despondent about asking for what we need. Learned helplessness took deep roots. It can be hard to speak up as adults.
More often, parents left us alone sometimes. Other times they provided what we needed. Many caregivers supplied what we needed to survive, but we had few wants and desires acknowledged or fulfilled. Maybe you learned not to complain, to “take what you get and don’t get upset.” Or you were told to “be grateful for what you have. Others have it worse.” As adults, it might all seem like a crap shoot. You can feel guilty for wanting something different or better.
Profound confusion about getting your needs (much less wants) met follows. You might question: How do I do that? Is it right to ask for what I need? Is it okay to ask for what I want? Sometimes, we think “hell, yeah, I have a right! I demand to be heard!”
People often vacillate.
Many of my clients do this. They vacillate between NOT asking for what they need and DEMANDING that others meet their needs. Or, they secretly hope and expect others to read their minds. Others should “just know” what the client needs, wants, and expects to be done. These are Losing Strategies. In life, in business, in friendships, parenting, even in intimate partnerships.
To be clear, Losing Strategies do not work. They waste time and energy. They create and sustain problems. Eventually, Losing Strategies will have such costly consequences, you won’t be able to ignore them any longer. That’s a good thing.
Acknowledging Losing Strategies is the first step. People can struggle identifying these earliest patterns and beliefs for very good reason. Our brain schema cements them. Experience underscores the belief. Before we know it, they simply become “the water we swim in.” So questioning those beliefs is a strong first step toward having more of our needs and wants met.
But it is not enough simply to acknowledge the beliefs and then determine to change them. Thankfully, there are methods.
Neuroscience and Getting Needs Met
Luckily, we can use brain science to help us alter faulty beliefs around getting our needs and wants met.
First, we must clearly root out what are those beliefs.
Next, How are they showing up and costing us?
If we know these things, we can face them head-on. Do a little thinking about this. Maybe a little journaling even. Consider where the beliefs came from. Can you trace their origins? In my groups and courses, we have modules for what to DO with these revelations. We use neuroscience and evidenced-based techniques for processing them.
But for now, 1. simply record them. Then, 2. observe in real life how they are playing out. Are you expecting others to read your mind, know what you want, and give it to you? Do you keep quiet and then get irritated that you don’t have what you want? Do you move through life demanding others see, hear, and reward your requests?
Next, 3. write down what has been the damage because of this tendency. How has it cost you? What business consequences? How about in community? What about in your personal relationships?
Finally, 4. what would you rather experience? How would you rather show up in work, life, and personal friendships and intimate relationship?
Getting crystal clear about all of this is gigantic for making progress.
Keep in mind that the desire to experience something different requires DOING things differently. If you need help with that, I am here for that very thing. Do your preliminary work and then bring it to individual sessions or to the women’s group, SSS Life. Then we’ll apply some pretty cool neuroscience to help you get more of what you need and want.