What I need.

needsIn my course we have spoken a lot about needs, and unmet needs in particular, as they are so closely connected to our behaviour. Unmet needs in this context are often very basic needs, like care, feeling important, or being recognised as capable. In the TA-counseling world, unmet needs are thought to stem from not having these particular needs met in our developmental stage, and because of this we carry them on into adulthood. If a need for care is not met, a child can be very crafty in manipulating the situation into being cared for by a parent anyway, for example by getting hurt a lot or being really sad and quiet. Different things for different children. This is clever, and helps a child get their needs met by a parent, even when the parent might be busy/distracted/in need of care themselves.

The problem occurs when this becomes a pattern, and the need is only met when the child behaves a certain way towards the person they want care from. When she finds that this same kind of behaviour works on other caretakers as well, it might become a behaviour that she decides is the best way to get (for example) care. In the TA world it is thought that we decide on a script about what life and our relationships are going to be like when we’re very young, practise and perfect these decisions in childhood, and play it out in adulthood. This all to get the things we need with the highest success rate. When it comes to having needs, when someone is taught through experience that the best way to get these met is through a certain behaviour, it might seem to her that this is also the only way to get what she needs. And if this child is me, it doesn’t mean that my parents have neglected me, it means that they have reacted to certain behaviour, and I have made a decision based on that. No ill intend, just me acting like a little professor.

Now going through all this theory, the question arises on how we get out of this. How do we avoid ‘the game’ (Eric Berne 1964 (yes, let’s harvard style it)). How do we get a need met without having to behave a certain way to get it. By asking? I think so… There is a lot of trust involved in asking however, and in a way we might want our partners/family to KNOW what we need, without us having to ask for it. Still, if I sulk because I feel unimportant, this might result in attention. But it’s not the exact attention that I need and usually ends in both parties feeling like crap, as well as unimportant. If I sulk because I want someone to say ‘yes Jude, you are important to me and I will do this thing for you that you haven’t asked me for’, that’s a wee bit demanding, I realise that. But it’s hard to ask someone for our basic needs. And I think that is because the idea that if someone will reject such a core heartfelt need, it would be shattering. At least, it would if we were still 5 years old when these needs first arose…

I think it’s easy to carry around this fear of rejection, because it is so closely tied to survival. There are TA writers that theorised on rejection and negative attention being so much more potent than positive attention because they are warning signals for life threatening situations. Therefore, whatever I do, I don’t want to be rejected, because if I’m rejected, I will be alone and I will die. Well… that’s very final, but maybe you get the meaning. This was definitely true when I was 4 or 5 years old, without my parents I would not have a home, or food or shelter. Rejection would mean a lot more than feeling a bit miffed. I think children do realise how dependent they are on their parents, they make the world turn round and magically know things, like that bad dreams won’t come true, and that we will get better when we’re sick. They are powerful forces, possibly the most powerful in the mind of a 4 year old, so rejection is to be avoided at all cost. I think it’s quite easy to carry around this survival instinct that used to tell us that rejection = life threatening, and possibly quite valuable to realise that this is now no longer the case.

And there is another side to the difficulty of verbalising our needs I think.  Telling someone that I need something from them is scary because the receiver of this request might feel they are not doing well enough. Another thing that I really really want to avoid is sadness in the person that I need, because sadness in my mother or father meant sadness in the house, air, water, food. The person that I need most now, if he is sad, then the house, air, water and food is sad and I don’t want that for either of us. Silly enough I don’t think about how nice it is when someone tells me they need me. It means that I have enough worth to care for them, or even the power to help them feel better. It means our relationship is valuable enough to put work into it if it needs improving. That’s ace!

I need certain people to see me as important, and the wishes that I have to be important. I need to also realise that I should tell them my wishes first and ask them what their wishes are in our relationship. This is with everyone that I have an intimate relationship with, where with ‘intimate’ I don’t mean sex-intimate, but a relationship were we share feelings and open ourselves in a way that allows us to make the other person feel different. Intimate relationships happen when needs and longings occur and can be expressed. They’re pretty cool and also a bit of hard work. And scary, because once you’re in them, that whole primal fear of rejection starts happening. I think that’s why it’s so easy to go into games and behaviour that we think might get us what we need without having to ask.

Saying ‘I need you’ seems so scary, but I’ve been trying to say it a bit more to the people that I love. Maybe because I’m in a bit of needy situation, but also because it feels good, empowering. I think I also need them to tell me what they need, in order to feel like we have an equal relationship. Needs now are not so much about survival, but about feeling good, secure and emotionally confident. Games are tiring and just never get me what I need as much as ‘I need you’ would do. And still… writing this gives me a bit of fear as well. Going off the script, ignoring all that I have decided on and doing the opposite is scary. But I think I’m deciding that’s it’s okay to need people, not because I would be lost without them, but because life is so much better with them.