ask for what you want

What Are Your Unmet Needs?

If I've observed a common thread to many relationship endings it would be women not asking for what they need from their friends. Why We Go Through Life with Unmet Needs

Sometimes we don't ask because we think it will be less genuine when they actually give it to us, as though their sincerity is linked to their thinking it up on their own.  Sometimes we don't ask because we think it's rude or intrusive or needy, as though we're ignoring the fact that relationships ought to be mutually beneficial.  Sometimes we don't ask because we don't like to think of ourselves as ever needing anything, as though we drank our own kool-aid in our attempts to convince everyone that we're amazing and never have any needs.  Sometimes we don't ask because we fear rejection or don't want to risk the other saying no, as though there would be no choice in that scenario except to take it personally.  Sometimes we don't ask because we simply don't feel worth it, as though we're not good enough or significant enough to think we deserve to have our needs met.  All of these stories have been modeled to us in different ways and we certainly each develop a lens that we then use to validate our reason repetitively.

But in addition to all these more deep-rooted belief systems we've made up in our heads, I'm finding that one of the biggest obstacles to us asking for what we need is that we often don't even know what we need.

Figuring Out What We Need

I mean, we know when we start feeling resentful or frustrated, but we aren't very practiced at pausing and saying, "What is it I need right now?"

And the answer usually isn't what we think we're mad at.  We think we're mad at the kids for not picking up their shoes, but really it's because when they do that we feel something, a meaning that we have attached to that action.  So it may be that we need some cooperation so that we feel more connected to the kids, like we're all working together; or it may be that for our sanity we actually need more order in our lives to contribute to our sense of peace. Two different needs.  Stopping to not just be mad at some action, but realizing what need isn't being met helps us better communicate and problem-solve.  Is it really a peaceful space I need which I could get by making one room off-limits to the junk of others or by hiring housekeeping help?  Or is it feeling like my family is all in it together which can be solved by articulating that need and having the family brainstorm ways that we can each contribute more? What is my need?

I didn't think the movie "How Do You Know" with Reese Witherspoon was that great, but this one scene where the psychiatrist sums up his best therapeutic advice was as good as it gets!

In my book, Friendships Don't Just Happen! I share the scene from the movie How Do You Know where Reese Witherspoon plays a character whose entire life is turned upside down when she is cut from the professional softball team that has been her entire career.  She obligingly goes to see a therapist but before the session starts she talks herself out of it, willing herself to believe she doesn't need it.  The psychiatrist, who knows nothing about the situation that his new client is struggling with, watches her walk out the door before any conversation occurs.And in what I think is the best scene in the movie, Reese sticks her head back in the doorway and basically challenges him to sum up his best therapeutic advice for life before she leaves.  Without batting an eye he responds: "Figure out what you want and learn to ask for it."

I think about that a lot.  When I get upset at someone, I try to stop and think, "What is it I really need?  Not just what action do I wish they did right now.  But what does that action represent to me?  What is it I'm craving and longing for?"

If we would do that, we'd probably realize that half of our needs come down to wanting to feel connected to the other person.  Which could then better inform our response because I dare say most of us, when frustrated or hurt, are more likely to respond in some way that will actually leave us feeling more disconnected; in other words, less likely to actually get our needs met.

We want to feel acceptance, but instead, out of our hurt we judge the other, almost guaranteeing that we won't feel accepted.  We want to feel intimacy, but instead, out of our insecurities we start trying to impress instead of share, almost guaranteeing that we won't leave the conversation feeling deeply seen.  We want to feel harmony, but instead, out of our fear for conflict, we just ignore the problem, almost guaranteeing we won't feel a safe connection to the other because we know we didn't really deal with the issue.

I mention the Nonviolent Communication Method in my chapter on forgiveness as it's a fabulous method for helping use articulate what we need in relationships.  And here I want to actually share with you their list of needs we have, with hopes that it will help you start identifying which ones you might have right now.  When we start the work of being responsible for knowing ourselves, it's helpful to have a list that allows us to try on different words:  Is it x or x that resonates more with me?  With time, we become more familiar with the options, becoming more adept at naming what we're craving.

CONNECTION acceptance affection appreciation belonging cooperation communication closeness community companionship compassion consideration consistency empathy inclusion intimacy love mutuality nurturing respect/self-respect CONNECTION continued safety security stability support to know and be known to see and be seen to understand and be understood trust warmthPHYSICAL WELL-BEING air food movement/exercise rest/sleep sexual expression safety shelter touch water HONESTY authenticity integrity presencePLAY joy humor

PEACE beauty communion ease equality harmony inspiration order

AUTONOMY choice freedom independence space spontaneity

MEANING awareness celebration of life challenge clarity competence consciousness contribution creativity discovery efficacy effectiveness growth hope learning mourning participation purpose self-expression stimulation to matter understanding

Learn to Ask For What We Need

What's super cool about seeing our needs is then we can begin to actually take responsibility for getting them met.  Once we identify the need, we can then brainstorm a list of ways-- Ways I can increase feeling x (i.e. supported)-- to get that need met in our lives from a variety of places, taking responsibility for our own need. It may be that we can then say to a friend, "I need support.  I feel like I'm adrift, feeling more alone since my break-up. Would you be willing to do _______ which would help me feel like I'm not in this world by myself?"

The fabulous things about having identified the need and brainstorming ways we can get that need met is that when we do reach out to her as one piece of the strategy, we're less likely to see her as the one causing the unmet need and more likely to see her as part of the solution to our unmet need.  It's not her fault we all have needs-- even if it's in relationship with her that we often feel the unmet need.  It's our responsibility for knowing what we need and doing something about it!

If indeed the most important advice one could give was to 1) Figure out what you want, and 2) Learn to ask for it; think how many friendships we wouldn't have to simply walk away from, blaming them when it may be that we hadn't yet taken that advice to heart.

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Related blog: How To Ask For What You Need (sample scripts)

 

 

 

All Those "Unhealthy People" Drive Me Crazy

It's all too easy to point fingers and feel frustrated at those people in our lives who don't live up to our expectations.  After all, they are our friends who are supposed to "do anything for me" and "if I can't count on them, then who can I trust?" and "I'm tired of being the one who always gives and never gets" and "I don't have to put up with this unacceptable behavior." We feel incredibly justified that we aren't asking for too much and that we deserve to have our needs met by those around us. I'm Not a Fan of This Trend in Blaming Everyone Else....

But I'm going to take an incredibly unpopular stance today and put myself in the shoes of the friends who are disappointing and annoying you.

What has become more clear to me in recent weeks as I've been listening to everyone around me is that this "kicking the toxic people to the curb" and "saying no to people who drain me" is all the rage.  It's like a diet trend where everyone seems to be popping the same pill.

Everyone is pointing to someone else as annoying, toxic, or draining; as though we're the only healthy and sane person left. We go around and tell the stories of these "crazy" people so that our ego has a chance to relive all the evidence we are collecting that ultimately will assure us that the problem is them, not us.

Let's start with a few real life scenarios:

1)   Last week, one of my girlfriends was telling a story about her boss who does something that annoys her.  And I thought to myself... "Eeeks, if I were your boss I could see myself doing that too!" (I mean, it wasn't an awful thing he was doing, it just wasn't what she wanted at the time.) Which got me thinking how much, if I were him, I'd want to know that my response was upsetting someone when my intentions were the exact opposite.  But, like most of us, we'd rather chalk that up to one more piece of evidence that our boss sucks and go complain on the couch with girlfriends, as opposed to telling the boss that when he does x it feels like x.

2)   I recently read a column about a woman complaining about one of her friends who annoyed her because she seemed to always want more time with her (which, mind you, was fine with her when she as single, but less acceptable now that she was dating someone) and then the last straw was she hadn't offered to come help pack up boxes when she was moving. These actions were disappointing and unacceptable to her. I immediately thought "Yes in an ideal world, I'd be packing up boxes next to you, but if I had sensed that you weren't wanting to be around me as much, had a new relationship to help you, and you hadn't expressed a need to have help packing, I may not have thought to call and take a day off work to do that with you. Especially if I have my own feelings hurt." It's a classic misunderstanding where they are both hurting and experiencing transition in their friendship-- no one is actively trying to wound the other, they simply both want more from the other. Rather than talk about it, here is the woman saying this is ending their relationship, it's the "last straw" that proves what a horrible friend this woman really is.

3)   Yesterday I was coaching a client who shared with me a story of how upset he was with the actions of someone in his life.  In the sharing of the story I realized that this other person undoubtedly doesn't even know how upset or hurt my client is. The mistake wasn't some huge grievance that we'd all agree was wrong, as much as it was more an issue of my client not feeling needed, validated and appreciated. And yet his anger is palpable.

Not Major Infractions, Just Miscommunications!

In all three cases, there is no doubt in the minds of the people relaying the story that the problem is with the other person.  Every single one of them devalued the subject of their dramas as being selfish, mean, toxic, annoying, or unhealthy.

In all three cases, I only know the side of the story of the one who is frustrated.  And, I validate all their frustrations.  They do deserve to have people who make them feel known, heard, loved, and appreciated.  I want that for all of them. I want them to have friends and colleagues who offer, give, and meet their needs.

However, in none of these cases are we talking about someone sleeping with your boyfriend, hitting your child, stealing your money, talking bad about you behind your back, or anything else we'd all agree was morally wrong.  I purposely left the sins vague to ensure privacy, but none of these were examples of people trying to hurt the other.We're talking about unmet expectations.

And in all cases-- not just unmet, but also, unknown.

I could easily be the person that all three of the tellers of those stories hate. :(

Does Disappointment Stem from Their Actions? Or Your Expectations?

Think about the situation right now that frustrates you the most. Is it a clear-cut "they did wrong" situation, or is it possible they just didn't do it the way you wanted?

Expectations. Also known as the Devil. Especially if you're the only one who knows what they are.

I'm becoming more aware of how frequently we get our feelings hurt due to the meaning we assign to someone's behavior more than to their actual behavior. We are tempted to think that their actions, of lack of them, means those people don't care, are selfish, or aren't good friends. Which could potentially be a bit of a jump?

With my people-pleasing tendencies, the only thing worse than disappointing you, is disappointing you without knowing I did. To think of me doing something with good intentions and having it misconstrued (as is the case in #1) or to not know what your needs were and what would have most mattered to you (as could be the case in #2) or to simply not be reaching out to you in the ways that make you feel most validated (as is the case in #3)-- I could most certainly be guilty on all counts.

So much of what's upsetting us isn't actual wrong-doing, it's feeling like people should just be like us and do things the way we think is best.  We're getting our panties all twisted because people aren't living up to our unknown expectations....

Which leaves me wondering if the greater problem isn't on us for better clarifying our needs rather then on them for not just guessing them?

What could happen if we said "How can I show up differently in this relationship to possibly get a different result?" What would happen if we sweetly reminded ourselves that there might be other interpretations to their actions?  And is it possible that they actually feel the same way, disappointed by you? Would it have helped if you had made a request of them rather than felt hurt that they didn't read your mind?

I know it's not popular for me to defend the ones you're trying to vilify.  I just wanted to give a gentle reminder that most people aren't trying to disappoint you. And most of them don't even know they are.

Show some love and grace and honest conversation, my friends!

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Want More Reading?

Two articles I wrote for Huffington Post last year on a similar subject: Four Consequences to Labeling a Friend Toxic and then Toxic Friendship? Or Can You Work Toward Frientimacy?