I have needs.
I often ignore my needs.
When I ignore my needs, the trouble starts.
Many of us (both women and men, in different ways) have been trained to ignore our own needs. To attend to one’s own needs is often labeled “needy,” “greedy,” “selfish,” or “un-spiritual.” We are taught to put the needs of others before our own.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all for selfless acts. But there is a BIG difference between a consciously selfless act and the constant ignoring of our own needs that leads to not-very-spiritual feelings of victimhood, martyrdom and/or exhaustion. I would argue that often what seems like a truly selfless act does meet the doer’s needs, as well as the receiver’s. A selfless act may be meeting the doer’s need for generosity, or contribution, or compassion, or something else.
About 15 years ago, I went through a particularly bad time of ignoring my own needs. I was so focused on the demands of work, church and family that I left little time for self-care or just plain old relaxation and fun. While I (hope I) managed to cover it up most of the time, I felt pretty crabby much of the time, and sometimes (way more often than I would have liked) I over-reacted to small things (usually, alas, at those nearest and dearest to me, who had only done the “last straw” small thing and not everything that led up to my outburst).
I was overburdened at work and at home and doing too many things at church, and instead of addressing those issues and getting the help I needed, I let it build up until a small request or offhand remark would put me “over the edge” and I would unfairly lash out at the unlucky person in my line of sight at that time.
One day I stumbled across the book Connecting Across Differences: A Guide to Compassionate, Nonviolent Communication by Jane Marantz Connor (formerly a professor at Binghamton University) and Dian Killian. That book introduced me to the field of Non-Violent Communication (aka NVC or Compassionate Communication).
- The distinction between universal human needs and strategies to meet those needs. According to NVC, needs are never in conflict, only strategies are. There is nothing wrong with the need itself — in fact, the need is part of being human and should be celebrated. The problem is with attachment to a particular strategy for meeting the need…. Remember: Needs are universal, they don’t have specific people/actions attached to them.
- The idea of giving yourself empathy – or what I have come to call giving yourself what you need or asking God for what you need. We are often looking for others to fill our needs – but it is not reasonable for us to expect others to figure out what we need and how they might meet that need, and only God can fill our deepest longings. In my experience, once we’ve remembered and drunk from the well of the source of Love, everything else seems to work itself out.
- The idea of making requests: simple requests. Specific doable actions that can be done right now, like “would you be willing to get home in time for supper with the kids twice a week?” (Compare that to: “you never get home in time for supper with the kids!”)