Has perfectionism ever kept you from doing something you really want to do? Let's give it another name: SHAME. What is it and how do we keep it from sabotaging us? (SPOILER: Shame almost kept me from making this video!!) If you like this video, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more videos like this one :)
I'm on my soap box today and the topic is having needs. I'm not exactly sure how words like "need" and "attention" became negative words in our vernacular, but this needs to be discussed. So I'm calling all parents, children, teachers, friends, spouses, and everyone in any relationship: let's settle this.
this is the deal...
Every human being has needs and one of those needs is attention. When we are infants, we need food, warmth, and complete care. When we are children we need to be kept safe by our loved ones but we also need room to explore. Teens need love and support but also need peer interaction to be able to begin to formulate independent ideas about the world and create identities separate from loved ones. As adults we need attention from our families, our friends, our significant others, teachers, and a host of other people around us in order to feel loved, connected and accepted. It's part of our hard-wiring to tune in with those around us. We must have these needs met from the time that we are born (or we suffer dire consequences) and we continue to have needs throughout our lives. This is the normal, natural, and healthy template that our brains and bodies follow. The well-researched and documented scientific research of attachment and neurobiology is clear cut on this issue. (But for curious minds, please read: John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Alan Schore, Daniel Siegel, Bonnie Badenock, Arlene Montgomery, and many other talented minds in the field of interpersonal neurobiology and attachment.)
Our specific needs change as we develop over time, but it is normal and healthy to have needs. It is normal and healthy to want and have the attention of the people around you, especially those who are closest to you. I think that the negativity toward "neediness" occurs when someone appears to need more than another can give or more than he or she should developmentally require. For example, developmentally speaking an adult who has been given love, consistency, and affection throughout his life should not require constant affirmation and admiration to maintain healthy self-esteem and relationships. His antithesis, an adult who was not given love, boundaries, and affection would have experienced what Freud called "narcissistic injury," or what contemporary researchers might call hurt, abandonment, and a rupture in attachment, and could become some version of a person who we would call selfish, needy, or even narcissistic.
No wonder the word "needy" gets a bad rep. We associate it with an extreme sense of selfishness or even pathologize having needs because there are some people who, because of intense pain and other injury, have unmet needs that cannot be met on a conscious level. Their wounds are so deep that we cannot heal them with singular interactions. We now use the word "needy" to describe the experience of being with a person who has no room for our own needs.
We would be better served by separating the experience of not having our own needs met rather than focusing on labeling someone as "needy" or "attention-seeking".
why it's important...
When we label people as "needy" and denigrate the idea of having needs, we allow ourselves to diminish the importance of honoring our very real and legitimate needs. In separating ourselves from that which we do not want to emulate, we detach ourselves from a basic human function. To need becomes shameful instead of normal.
In my work with teens and adults it is abundantly clear that being taught that we should not express (or even have) many needs has negative impacts on self-esteem, self-worth, and the ability to maintain healthy relationships. The inability to express and have needs leads to abuse in relationships, low expectations, regret, resentment, and most conflicts between children and parents are born in the tug of war between unmet needs and expectations. Our denial of need is powerful, silencing, and grows exponentially from adolescence into adulthood (e.g. chronic care-givers, co-dependent behavior, enabling, "doormat syndrome" etc.)
The denial of needs creates shame, distance, and thwarts attempts at closeness and success in relationships. It creates scenarios in which people are labeled "attention-seeking" because they have grown desperate for healthy, loving attention and compassion but may have no idea what defines healthy. When our basic human needs go unrecognized and unacknowledged it can even create heartbreak that is so overwhelming that people hurt themselves to feel as though some kind of need is being met. They may cut their skin, or throw up their food, or control and restrict so that they feel like there is a semblance of boundaries and safety in the world around them. I am not suggesting that these are healthy ways of meeting one's needs, but that cutting, eating disorders, and many other outward shows of self-harm are a desperate attempt at being heard, seen, acknowledged, and cared for.
If there is one other thing that treating teenagers has taught me, it is that Google searches are very informative - not necessarily the content, but the prediction of the search. If you are not in contact with teens, I'll spell it out. When young people feel or think something, they often turn to Google as a way to validate or clarify these thoughts and feelings. As an illustration, I started by typing, "need" and this is what I got...
That's not great. Someone typing the word "need" is likely to be typing the word "needy". Then I tried "why am I needy". Here are the results...
The results don't instill much confidence that having needs is normal. The message seems clear that you should "stop" being "needy" and "clingy" whether "in relationships" or "with friends". And "needy people"...
We find some articles on assertiveness and narcissism, but the evidence of the socially constructed pathology of needs is clear.
My point is not to discount any of the above articles or resources, but to highlight the disparity between the plethora of help for those who are allegedly "too needy" and help for those who have needs and want to know that it's okay to have them. Many people who self-report as "needy" fall into the category of having healthy, normal, and appropriate needs.
so what do you need?
While I can't say exactly what you may need, I can say that most people who have been called "too needy" by their partners, parents, and friends are actually seeking healthy relationships. I can also estimate that the most pervasively unmet need among all people is that they do not feel valued, understood, heard, or seen by important others. In short, we need to feel loved and there is nothing wrong with that. Whatever your needs and wants may be, it is helpful to think and talk about them. Getting your needs met is a life-long process, ever-changing and not always easy, but definitely worth the time and effort.
7 quick tips about needs
- The fact that someone cannot give you what you need is not evidence that you should not need it.
- No one, as in not one person, can provide everything that you need all the time. It is important to build a support network for this very reason.
- Other people will have feelings about your needs, especially when they are in contrast with his or her competing needs. That doesn't mean that either or both people's needs are illegitimate.
- We may go about getting our needs met in unhelpful or unhealthy ways (e.g. passive aggression, withdrawal, or aggression) if they are unmet for long enough, but that doesn't mean that one should not have love, support, respect, attention, and care in relationships. It is never too late to directly ask for what you need.
- If you don't know what you need, it is unlikely that others will know what you need. There is an all too common, unfair expectation, especially in romantic relationships, that people should anticipate the needs of others without knowing what they are. Be as open as possible about what you need when you need it.
- You will face disappointment when someone inevitably does not meet your needs after working so hard to assert them. It's okay; we are all imperfect and need second and third chances. Try again and again. If you express your feelings about your experience and you are still not being respected, don't be afraid to set a boundary then go to someone who will respect and hear you.
- Trust yourself. Your life begins and ends with you, so trust that you know what's best for you.
1. Say no. No is a good word, not a bad one. When you say 'no' you are simply acknowledging that you have met a limit or capacity. We have a capacity for giving, being awake, running, eating, and everything else that we do. When you say 'yes' and mean 'no', you may feel resentful, angry, numb, overworked, and used, among other painful emotions.
3. Connect with other people. We were built to connect and wired to be with one another. Like a car without an engine, we do not work if we do not share ourselves with others.
4. Chose wisely when sharing yourself with others. Trust yourself when you are with another person. The voice that says, “dislike” or “run” is there for a reason. If you find yourself running from everyone, return to number 3.
5. You will never be one thing, so accept that you will be many things. Behaviors do not define us but are temporary. It is incredibly difficult to be a feeling, intelligent, complex human being because contradictory feelings co-exist with one another within all of us (e.g. love & anger, resentment & longing, desire & fear, fatigue & happiness). You are not how you feel or what you are doing. You are you. As complicated as it is to be you, it is far more rewarding than being chained to any label that has been thrust upon you. And since you are you, you do not have to think, feel, or act like anyone else.
6. Be kind to yourself and then be kind to others when you can. Say nice things to yourself in your head. Take it easy on yourself. Only good things come from this. You will not get more done if you are mean to yourself or others. It does not make you a “bad” or “selfish” person to show kindness to yourself. Ultimately, you cannot offer more kindness to others than you extend to yourself so you must practice on yourself first.
7. Be honest with yourself. Honesty is not universally the “best policy” with others, but it is necessary to know your own truth to live a conscious, connected life. Never use honesty to hurt or belittle someone. Rather than hiding behind honesty and moral platitudes, use honesty first and foremost as a gauge for yourself. How do you honestly feel, even if it is confusing? What defense mechanisms may be in place that keep you from accessing honest feelings or truths about yourself?
8. Accept that anger is a normal, acceptable and useful emotion. Anger gets a bad reputation because we associate it with scary, violent, or unhealthy expressions of anger. Expressing healthy anger should not frighten or intimidate. It may feel uncomfortable to talk about feeling angry, but it might set you free from anger.
Example of expressing anger in a healthy way: "I felt angry when you said I was slow because I am self-conscious about my speed. It makes me feel like you don't know me (or: misunderstood, unimportant, invisible) when you say things that I'm sensitive about in such an insensitive way." You may tack on, "it makes it hard for me to trust our friendship when you are insensitive toward my feelings." And if it is true, "I'm telling you this because I want us to be friends and I want to be able to trust each other. Next time this comes up, can you treat me with sensitivity by being supportive?"
9. All feelings and thoughts are acceptable. It is only ACTION that can hurt you and/or other people. Actions like yelling at someone or punching someone in the face hurt others and you. The hurt is fairly obvious to the recipient of acting out in anger, but the angry person can face a range of consequences as well. The person who acts out in anger may feel deep shame after yelling at someone and have no relief from anger, he or she might break a hand, or there may be legal consequences for physically harming someone. In this scenario, we have a perfect example of how acting out can end up harming the person who was initially hurt and angry instead of the intended target or aggressor.
10. What to do with the feelings and thoughts if not act them out? Process them with someone you trust. I'll continue to use anger as an example but any feeling can be inserted in it's place. Be clear that you have no intention of harming anyone but your feelings of anger and thoughts of punching someone in the face are bothersome. What caused the anger? What feelings did you experience as a result of the incident(s) that made you angry? Going forward, how can you talk about your feelings that lead to anger instead of bottling them up? Expressing these feelings allows you to place them where they belong and prevents them from hurting you. The feelings of hurt and anger can become powerful motivators to assertively set boundaries when faced with the choice of acting out or speaking up in the future. Connecting the dots between how our interactions and behaviors influence our relationships is a crucial part of growth and connection.
Final words: do all of these steps imperfectly and seek help along the way. Practice is the only way we learn to change habits and form better relationships. You will not get it right every time, but you can apologize when you have regrets and behave differently and consciously next time.
If you have never read Brain Pickings, I highly recommend this thoughtful, well-done, search for "interestingness" spear-headed by Maria Popova (@brainpicker) and the occasional guest writer. The writing at first glance often appears outside my comfort zone, but I'm usually drawn in to subjects that I might naturally toss aside as too lofty or inapplicable to my daily life (i.e. too daunting/time-consuming/intellectual for moi). I love Popova's style; she can take a subject that is over my head and make it tangible and fascinating. Many times I find that these subjects intertwine with my own life, as a therapist and a person, more than I would have imagined upon reading the title. Cue my interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Secret of Great Writing, a.k.a. 'how to be a great writer by one of the most famous writers of all time,' as my self-valuation interprets.I love to write, I aspire to reach other and connect through writing, so naturally this title both titillates and terrifies me. It triggers the immediate, vulnerable, knee-jerk, "am I good enough?" reaction that is the inevitable cost of putting ourselves "out there" for the world to see. Popova references a letter written by Fitzgerald to a young woman, a college sophomore, and family friend who sent her writing to him, presumably for critique and guidance. I don't know if this young person, Frances, was expecting honesty or fluff... but she got honesty. In Fitzgerald's response he references the "price of admission," or the cost of great writing quite harshly to an aspiring young writer. An excerpt:
"November 9, 1938
I've read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile...
That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.
In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,
Your old friend,
F. Scott Fitzgerald
P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent — which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point."
Ouch, Frances. Ouch.
You may be wondering, as was I, why I felt as we may say in the therapy world over-identified with the recipient of this letter. Why would I focus on the potential hurt feelings of a stranger who aspired to write over seventy years ago and was given such a harsh critique? The obvious answer is that I'm focused on emotions in general. I did not accidentally arrive in the field of social work and therapy. A natural draw toward and affinity for emotional care and compassion led me here. The not-so-obvious answer is that I too fear judgment, harsh criticism, and critique as a writer, as a therapist, and as a person.
The vulnerability of writing, especially about matters of the heart weighs on me as much as it enriches my life. I write because it allows me to make sense of the pain, elation, and all feelings in between in the human experience. Rarely do I write of my own feelings because it is challenging, less comfortable, and scary. I could blame some lofty principles of maintaining my role as a therapist (which is a very important and entirely different discussion), but it is the feelings of vulnerability that usually hold me back. When I do share parts of myself and write about things that are subversive, I feel exposed, anxious, and at times, irrelevant. I worry that I've said 'too much,' gone 'too far,' or have been 'self-indulgent,' all judgments that I have made up in my head based on my own anxiety, experiences, and elaborations...
Writing can be a gut-wrenching process of displaying your inner-world, word by word, and opening oneself to strangers much like the courageous work of therapy participants. In many ways, I write to experience this vulnerability, risk, and potential benefit of exposure as a constant reminder of the risks that clients take. It is a reminder of the emotional cost paid by the brave people who sit in the chair and share their inner-selves and the respect, kindness, and admiration that is deserved for such an endeavor. There is a monetary investment for therapy as well which is a valuable topic of exploration, but they also pay with their honesty, their fear, their vulnerability, and the spoken or unspoken hopes and disappointments. At times, this is a high cost, more so than money.
Without hiding behind principles of "being a therapist," I'll share a specific fear that edits my writing, words, and thoughts. It is the fear of not being liked. There are variations of this fear, such as not being nice, agreeable, palatable, competent, or pleasant. Talking about things that are hard to talk about, uncomfortable, opinionated, or divisive also scare me. These fears are all bi-products of my upbringing and training as a woman, a social worker, and a therapist but to what end? These are questions that my clients ask of themselves and usually end up with a resounding sense of entitlement to feel, express, and be who they are. Undoubtedly being yourself is hard, and I'm not immune.
Lately, my reflections on this topic have turned toward a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to share myself with others and receive the kindness, accolades, and positive feedback that I've received as a result of writing, speaking, and being myself. In hindsight, when I am met with "negative" emotions from someone - disagreement, anger, and even contempt at times - the hurt feelings and vulnerabilities that I'm forced to acknowledge are far outweighed by the learning, the growth, the opportunity to practice compassion toward myself and others, and the disarming of my own defenses. These are valuable and sometimes priceless experiences.
As always, take care of yourself (while also stretching and growing when the time is right.)
Making space for your feelings and your partner’s feelings during heated moments
Do you ever have an argument or discussion with your partner and think, 'I have no idea what to say right now' or 'I'm so mad that I can't even hear you'? This post is meant to help guide you through a difficult conversation and manage feelings between you and your loved ones. I will use the word "partner" because communication between couples can be particularly difficult, but it could apply to a family member, a colleague, or a friend.
Step 1: Put yourself on hold, temporarily
When you're in the heat of the moment or don't understand your partner or loved one, it can be difficult to step outside yourself and hear your partner's needs. It is particularly difficult to hear those needs if you feel criticized, blamed, or inadequate because of the language they are using (which we will discuss at length later) or because of your own internalized feelings, history and unique makeup. In short, many people talk about their needs and desires by criticizing what the other is doing rather than asking for what they would like for their partner to do. Perceived (or real) criticism often triggers feelings of inadequacy, anger and distrust which inevitably creates disconnection and neuro-chemical shut down (fight, flight or freeze responses.)
I would encourage you to momentarily put your feelings aside next time your partner complains or criticizes in order to find the need behind the complaint. You can start by taking a breathe and saying something like, “I really want to hear you right now but I’m feeling ______ (criticized, blamed, sad, scared, angry) and I need to breathe/take a 15 minute walk/ask you to be more gentle with me.”
This shift alone can defuse relationship bombs instantly and can lead to fuller understanding of one another. It can also make one or both partners very angry. If this is the case, establishing a routine in which you both have a “cooling off” period when things get heated could make or break your relationship. If this is a pattern when you have disagreements, have a conversation with your partner when you’ve calmed down about making space during heated moments. Make an agreement that at any time either of you feel overwhelmed you can take some space to calm down and come back to the discussion. Set a time limit, tell your partner how long you’ll be cooling off and what you’ll be doing. Oftentimes, partners can feel abandoned in moments like these unless they know that you are intentionally taking action to be more present and available - take a walk, leave the room, move your body, or any other activity that helps you discharge emotion. It is healthy to take a break in these moments when you know you’re not available to be compassionate and empathic.
Step 2: Inquire about the problem or need of your partner.
After taking a breathe or a walk, here are some suggestions that can help clarify and deescalate the conversation:
a) "I want to understand how you’re feeling. I want to meet your needs/be a good partner/listen/help you.” Be open, loving and clear. Don’t jump into “fixing” the problem. You are here to listen and understand.
*If you feel defensive, try telling yourself that the way that your partner feels may have nothing to do with how you have acted or spoken, but rather how they perceived the situation. Perception is not an insult, it is our unique way of seeing the world. We only have our perception to go on until we are really connected to another person. This process of making space for your partner’s feelings and understanding their perception builds trust and helps both partner’s know that no matter what they are perceiving, their partner’s intentions are good. It helps us give the benefit of the doubt in tough situations. And over time, it makes these conversations less and less charged.
b) Ask your partner how he or she is feeling. After an "I feel..." statement. "Tell me more about how you feel." Explore what it is like for your partner and trade places in your mind. Focus on their experience of the problem. Imagine what it would feel like to be them.
c) Repeat feelings back to your partner. "So you felt lonely when I left and went to the party without you." Think of a time when you felt lonely and if you feel compassion say, “I hate it when I feel lonely and I hate that you feel that way. That sucks.” Be open to correction or elaboration.
d) Have an attitude of curiosity and openness. "I want to understand how you're feeling." Be open to the idea that we all feel and express emotions differently and the only way for you to really know how your partner feels is to listen as they describe it.
e) Avoid talking about how you feel or perceive the situation until your partner is finished explaining their side. Avoid at all cost becoming defensive - "you do the same thing," "I only did that because you told me to," etc. Just listen and take it in, not as a criticism of you, but as an unmet need of your partner.
*Important note: Everyone, and I mean EVERY one of us, is entitled to our own experience and perception. One of the gifts of a relationship is having more than one outlook or experience on any given situation. We do not have to feel or think or experience the world in the same way to connect with each other. Try to see that your partner’s unique experience of the situation does not need to be right, wrong, factually correct, or the same as yours. Your partner’s experience does not invalidate your own - it simply means you are two different people.
Step 3: Address the need
By this point, hopefully your partner has been able to articulate what need is driving his or her feelings. The need may have simply been the need to be heard and understood. If there is another request (e.g. do the dishes or put your phone away while we’re talking) try to hear that request and let your partner know if you think you can meet the request or not. If you intend to make a change in your behavior in service of the relationship, let your partner know that you might need reminding or how you would like to be approached if you forget.
Your partner may say, "I need for you to be here more often," but get more specific. "I'm hearing that you want to spend more time together. What would you like to do during that time? When would you like to spend that time together?"
Underlying most complaints is the need for companionship, love, or support. Try to get to the underlying need, not just the complaint. Vague complaints like, "I want you to care more," or "I want you to want to be with me," leave no room for specific adjustment. Ask for a concrete solution to the problem like going to a movie together, snuggling on the couch, talking openly, hugging, touching, or spending time with family. Ask how often your partner needs those things and ask them to continually speak up when they need it.
*Important note: You are never obligated to meet the need of a partner if you don’t want to. It is important to tell your partner if/when you feel as though you cannot do what they are asking.
Step 4: Make an agreement
Agree to meet the needs of your partner in a way that feels good to both of you. Again, make the agreement specific and realistic. Assume that you won’t do it perfectly and be clear that you will need help/reminders/gentle words when you falter. Let them know that you are trying when you’re trying. Let them know that you forgot when you forgot but you care and are committed to this task.
Step 5: Taking care of your needs
Through this process of communicating about your partner's needs, you may find that you have unmet needs as well. After you have resolved your partner's issue, approach your needs in a way that models healthy communication to your partner.
"When we disagree, I often feel badly about myself when I hear statements like 'you do this all the time' or 'you never do this.' I would appreciate it in the future if you could just tell me what you are needing from me in the moment rather than telling me that I do things wrong all the time. It just makes me feel [insert feeling]."
"I'm happy to give you the time that you are asking for and agree that we should spend quality time together. I also think that we need time apart and with our friends. Can we have an agreement that on Mondays we do our own thing?"
Relationships are not easy and communicating is a learned skill. Be patient with yourself and your partner.
"Modern aesthetics is crippled by its dependence upon the concept of ‘beauty.’ As if art were ‘about’ beauty—as science is ‘about’ truth!" September 10, 1964
As always, much love to Brain Pickings & Maria Popova for producing conversation and inspiration.
This work is for sale on Etsy.com by wendy macnaughton - a portion of the proceeds go to A Room of Her Own, A Foundation for Women Writers & Artists.
[ted id=1669] International author, therapist, and speaker Esther Perel always offer a diverse perspective on relationships, sex, and "erotic intelligence" so I was excited to see her featured on the Ted website. Her Ted Talk, entitled "Esther Perel: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship," offers a short refresher course on the origins of relationships, attraction, and our evolution into 21st Century monogamy. I highly recommend Esther Perel's material, including her book, "Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence."
If you are not in a relationship, Valentine's Day can be a constant reminder of how everyone else is in love, therefore you should be too. For those of you who are nauseated by the explosive pink decor and continuous cycle of flower deliveries, perhaps this video can serve as a reminder that even those in relationships work to maintain physical and emotional connection, attraction, and sustained interest in one another. Revel in the fact that the vast majority of people (coupled, single, men, women, straight, gay, old, young...) will end up in the same place tonight: watching t.v. in their pajamas and eating candy. Also, remember that tomorrow is February 15th a.k.a. not Valentine's Day :)
Take good care.
And thanks, Esther! www.estherperel.com