A number of years ago I began attending a 12 Step recovery program for people affected by someone else’s addiction. In that program I learned so many new ways of seeing the world and how to live life differently. This new healthy way of being was confusing and refreshing at the same time.
One of the most interesting teachings came from the idea that if you stop insisting that your needs be met according to your will, you may discover that all the love and support you need is already available inside you. We were taught that “Turning to an alcoholic for affection and support can be like going to a hardware store for bread”.
The irony is that we believe our “bread”, or the answers to getting our needs met, come from other people so we keep knocking on the door of the hardware store wondering why they still don’t have bread. It’s a true lesson in humility and futility.
Is there something you need from someone else in order to feel better? If you have unmet needs at work or in your relationship with a partner or your children then I’ve got some great information to share with you.
This week I’m going to discuss the issue with wanting others to meet your needs and the secret to ending that struggle.
Wanting others to meet your needs
We all have basic human needs for food, shelter and safety. Your parents provided them for you and now you provide these needs for your children.
Because of these basic human needs, at an early age you begin associating others with having your needs met. You grow up thinking that it’s empowering to know what your needs are and telling people how they can meet them.
Somewhere along the way you go from having your basic needs met by your parents to wanting your emotional needs met by others as well. You believe you need your husband to talk to you more so you can feel loved and your boss to recognize your extra effort to feel appreciated.
You have various needs because you want to feel valuable, loved, appreciated and important. You want to feel better and you believe that by having your needs met is how you can feel better.
This is a big part of traditional couple’s counseling where the counselor asks you to write down your needs and share them with your partner so that they can be aware of and meet those needs. If you just want to feel more connected to your partner then the counselor would suggest explaining to your partner what you need them to say or do so you can feel more connected.
The issue is that when you need someone to do, say or be a certain way in order for you to feel better, you are making someone else responsible for how you feel. You are in emotional childhood blaming others for your emotions.
Then what typically happens is that the other person will try to say or do what you’ve requested but it won’t be natural for them so they’ll ultimately revert back to their previous way of being. They can’t sustain pretending to be someone they aren’t.
When you request someone to be something they’re not so you can feel better, the result is not drawing you closer in the long term. You may get temporary relief but then you become dependent on controlling people, places and things in order to get your needs met.
When I explained this to a client once she became agitated and frustrated. She exclaimed “If my husband isn’t supposed to meet my needs in our relationship then why are we married?” Even though she had been going to the hardware store for bread more times than she could count, she still believed that with enough time and effort, her husband would become the version she needed in order to be happy.
I can completely relate to her frustration because I had been doing the same thing in most of my relationships. If he said I looked pretty on date night, I felt loved; if she said you did a great job, I felt valuable. I was caught up in the belief that my needs could and should be met by others and I had a whole instruction manual for each person.
You may feel briefly empowered if someone does what you want because you make it mean a lot of things about them and you. When someone does what you want you may have thoughts like:
- They love me
- They respect me
- I’m important to them
But the key is in understanding that you feel better because of those thoughts, not because of what they did. The reverse is also true – if they don’t do what you want, it’s your thoughts that are creating your negative emotion, not the other person’s inaction.
When you make your feelings dependent on how other people behave it leads to manipulation and control. You believe they can make you feel better which actually leads to feeling desperate and disempowered.
So if the solution isn’t to figure out what you want others to do differently and try to get them to comply, then what’s the answer? Are you just supposed to not have desires?
This vicious cycle of going to the hardware store for bread, having certain expectations of people and then feeling resentful ended when I discovered the power of managing my mind.
The secret to ending the struggle
Whenever you have an unmet need, it’s a great opportunity for some insight. It’s useful to ask what you want someone to do and why but not so you can explain it to them and make them do it.
It’s useful because then you can get insight into what you believe you would think and feel if they did what you want. You can also get clear on the default thoughts your brain has been having that are creating the feelings you currently have.
For example, awhile back I wasn’t feeling connected with my husband. I believed I wasn’t important to him and had many thoughts about it. We were working on having a deeper connection in our relationship and I explained that I needed him pay me a compliment when we went out on our date nights. I said I needed him to recognize the extra effort I put in to look nice for him.
At the time my brain was telling me “He doesn’t compliment you because he doesn’t think you look nice” or “He doesn’t really care enough about you”. These thoughts led to feeling needy and unloved.
What was important for me to know is that the feeling I wanted was love and connection. I believed that if my husband said something nice about me on our date night that I would think he cares about me and then feel loved and connected.
However, the irony is that when you tell other people how they need to behave in order for your need for connection, you actually create the opposite. You create distance by trying to make the person be other than they naturally are.
So the reason it’s so useful to get clear about what you want someone else to do and why is because those thoughts and feelings are available regardless of what anyone does or doesn’t do. You can start to end the struggle by figuring out how you would like to think and feel now, regardless of how others act.
If you want to experience true connection and happiness in any relationship then meet your own needs by choosing the thoughts that will create the feelings you desire. Take back the power you’ve given away to others to meet your emotional needs. Stop spending all your mental energy thinking about how other people should act so you can think and feel the way you want.
When I worked with my client on this she became concerned that if she didn’t tell people how to treat her then she would put up with anything; she would become a door mat. But after working together I was able to show her that it’s the exact opposite.
Once you meet your own needs you only want to add people to your life to just genuinely enjoy them. By not needing people to act in a certain way in order for you to feel better, you actually become more discerning because you have less emotional hunger.
When you meet your own needs, you become more conscious about where you spend your time and energy. You choose to have people in your life because you enjoy them, because they are fun and because you get to love or appreciate them.
Once I learned how to manage my mind in the area of my relationship with my husband, I realized that I wanted a deeper connection but I didn’t need him to do anything to make me feel that connection. The feeling of love comes from my thoughts about me and about him.
In order to have the feeling of love and connection I could choose thoughts like:
- I like the color blue on me (instead of needing him to give me a compliment)
- We have such a great connection with our similar sense of humor (instead of needing him to tell me how much he loves me)
- We are so lucky to have found love the second time around (instead of needing him to tell me he’s so happy we met)
By choosing thoughts like these, I was able to feel love and connection with my husband on purpose. More importantly I wasn’t dependent on him meeting that need. Without having an expectation and a possible resentment, our relationship became lighter, happier and more natural.
When you learn how to manage your mind you can feel any feeling on purpose. You can meet your own needs, enjoy the people in your life without needing them to be different and feel better whenever you want.
- The irony is that we believe our “bread”, or the answer to getting our needs met, come from other people so we keep knocking on the door of the hardware store wondering why they still don’t have bread.
- You grow up thinking that it’s empowering to know what your needs are and telling people how they can meet them.
- The issue is when you need someone to do, say or be a certain way in order for you to feel better
- The key is in understanding that you feel better because of your thoughts, not because of what they did.
- The reason it’s so useful to get clear about what you want someone else to do and why is because those thoughts and feelings are available regardless of what anyone does or doesn’t do.
- When you meet your own needs, you become more conscious about where you spend your time and energy
If you’d like some help with thinking other people hold the answer to getting your needs met, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.