Sometimes people get very confused because needs are not clear. You really have to know yourself and you have to understand yourself to define what you actually need. Let's talk more about needs. When I looked up the definition of what I need is it was really interesting. It talked about goods or services that are required. I thought “hmm, required” I think I like that. It's also defined as something you need to survive and be well. When we talk about something you need to survive and be well we mean food, water, clothing, shelter, and also emotionally. When we think about a need we have to think about it as something we require; it’s not optional. What might be optional is how much we get or in what way we get it. But we have needs that are requirements for our feeling good about ourselves, about our relationships or feeling good as a person in general. For example if you need water to live and you don't get it you will literally die. Let's say you need clothes, shoes, a roof over your head; does that mean it has to be a ten million dollar home in Manhattan Beach or the Palisades? Or does that mean as long as you have a roof over your head, that you're wearing clothes, that you have comfortable shoes that are actually satisfying your need?
Get To Know Your Needs
We also have a need to feel safe. This is a really big one I don't think many people consider being safe as a need however the need to feel safe is actually a pretty high priority. Since safety is a really big need then that must mean that when you don't feel safe it doesn't feel good. When we don't feel emotionally safe that is usually signaled by anger, sadness, worry and resentment. That's just to list a few of the things that we experience when we don't feel safe. As an example let's just say you must have had one point been either in a closet or in a room that was just pitch black. You really could not see your hand in front of your face. When you stay in that room for even just a few minutes your natural instinct is to feel unsafe. And what happens when we feel unsafe? We start to worry like crazy. If I move will there be a step in front of me? Might I fall into some kind of a hole? Where are the walls? Will I bump into something? Where's the exit? How do I get out of here? There are all these fears that start coming into our mind when there's nothing there. Our brain is really good at keeping us safe and when there are gaps in what we know our brain tries really hard to fill those gaps with possibilities so that we can be prepared. If we're thinking “oh there could be something in front of me and I might trip” then we're going to walk carefully to make sure that we don't trip.
As a safety measure it's great being fearful; it keeps us safe. However feeling safe means that you need to know about your surroundings. If you go into that dark room and you know that there's a chair and a table right in front of you, which makes you feel a lot better. You know you can put your hands out. You can feel the table. You can maybe move it out of the way or you can feel your way around it. It significantly reduces the anxiety. When we are feeling safe and we understand the things that are around us then we know we feel good. Needs are all “known” those things in that darkened room. Knowing the table is in front of you. Knowing where the exit might be. Knowing there is someone else in the room with you. Knowing the size of the room. These are all going to be needs to help you emotionally feel safe, so that you can make your way out of that room. When we are feeling unsafe in our life or in our relationship it's often because we don't quite understand what's in our room. We don’t know what's in our way or what's making us afraid. Knowing yourself is really going to help you determine what your needs are. I can't tell you how many times I sit with clients and we start talking about needs and they mention things that are kind of nice but they're not actually needs.
A need is something that's going to make you feel safe and comfortable. A need might be to be able to communicate with my partner without yelling. That need might be having someone validate me in a specific way. Our needs are not “I need to get a massage every week” or “I need to live in a better neighborhood because then I'll feel safe” or “I need a new car because my current car isn't the latest model.” These wants are not necessarily going to make your life happier, make you feel safer. So know yourself. Figure out what is safe and what is unsafe. What do you like? What do you dislike? What makes you happy and what makes you sad? What upsets you and what calms you down? What makes you uncomfortable and what makes you feel comfortable? These are the things that you need because if you go through your life without having the thing that means taken care of then you're going to feel angry, sad, worried and resentful. But you have to understand what is the need that makes you feel happy. “I feel happy when I'm able to sit down and relax and be with my family without drama” really means your need is for less conflict. Do you see how identifying the actual need requires some work and introspection? Sometimes we think okay my need is to be able to sit down and just have a reasonable evening with my family. But the real need is to have less conflict. It can be challenging to figure out these needs.
Be Flexible, Communicate and Negotiate
Once you have an idea of what your needs are then we have to feel safe enough to ask for those needs to be met. One thing for sure you got to try to be flexible because if we are not flexible we're never going to get our needs met. Consider going up to someone or someone coming up to you and saying I need you to not fight with me anymore. That person is going to look at you and ask what does that exactly mean? It is actually kind of unrealistic to say “I'm never going to fight with you ever again.” Every relationship has conflict. So what is the real need here? It's being able to communicate assertively and not aggressively. This sounds really different than “I don't want to fight with you anymore” or “my need is for you not to fight with me.” When you try asking to have a need met it's got to be flexible and cannot be a demand. This is always going to be a conversation so avoiding judgment is really important. If you can make other people responsible for your well-being that would be awesome but that's not the way that it works.
You Are In Charge Of Your Happiness
Other people are not in charge of meeting your needs or making you feel good. An example would be “I'll be happy if you just helped out around the house.” This request sounds simple enough. But then that means you won't ever be happy unless your partner or your child or your teenagers are helping out around the house. I'm not sure that's exactly what your need is. It kind of seems like I'd be happier if we both practice listening to each other and doing what one or the other is asking for. It's really not about the house. It's not about helping out with the work. it's about communication and validation. Try hard to avoid making the other person in charge of your need and consider what the real need is. It's also important to accept that not everyone is going to see your need as a “reasonable need.” If that is the case then communication, flexibility and negotiation are really important. If the need to be validated is very important to you and your partner just doesn't know how to do it then you're never going to get it. Then you have to figure out well what does it mean to validate? How can your partner validate you in a reasonable way? There are many layers to figuring out what your needs are. It's not always easy. Practicing being open is also going to really help you get your needs met. If you're working on getting your needs met, you have to be open. You're asking other people to be open to you and so you also need to be open to them. Again this kind of goes back to flexibility. If I am inflexible then why should the other person that I'm dealing with (my partner, my child, my teenager, my boss, my coworker) need to be flexible or even want to be flexible? Practice being open. Nothing is black and white.
Getting your needs met doesn't mean they get met 100% of the time. So be open. The toughest part is really understanding just what these needs are. You cannot express your needs to someone else if you don't understand what you need. Take some time to understand yourself. Understand what you need, what you desire, what makes you happy, what kind of things you need to have a fulfilled life. That doesn't necessarily mean material things. The emotional needs are the harder ones to get satisfied. But it's not impossible as long as you really understand what those needs are. Getting needs met is not an easy task. Get to know your needs and really understand what the needs are. Be flexible, negotiate, and communicate with others around you to get those needs met. Don't give up just because it doesn't work one time; try again and eventually you will get your needs met. They'll never get met if you don't know what they are and you don't try to get them met.
Transcribed from a 7/25/19 Facebook Live.