The Need to Know Your Needs

Inspired by both my brave and vulnerable clients as well as earlier versions of myself…I’ve come to the conclusion that a pressing issue for many of us is rooted in our inability to identify our own needs.

As I digest clients stories and look in their watery eyes, gently asking, “what did you need in that moment?” it is striking to me how often the answer is, “I don’t know.” 

Do you know what you need?

Many of us are “trained” to minimize or ignore our needs. Perhaps it derives from an unspoken or spoken family rule that the “greater good” of others is prioritized over one’s individual needs. Often neglecting our own wants in efforts for others is praised and seen as “unselfish.”  Other times ignoring own needs, can be a learned survival skill. Some of us never learned to identify our own needs, simply because one need took priority - hijacking our ability to identify other needs. These needs may have been practical – such as having to get a job at a young age to help pay the bills or raising your younger siblings while your parents worked. These needs may have been emotional – such as needing to please your parents through grades or sports to earn their approval. Either way, as time goes by many of us lose touch with ourselves. The muscle that helps us to identify our needs begins to atrophy. 

Have you lost yourself?

Disconnection from our needs results in disconnection from ourselves. When we feel fragmented – all over the place – or “off” – these feelings can serve as a warning sign that some of our needs are lacking nourishment.

Having needs can be scary.

Identifying our needs can feel vulnerable. If I acknowledge my deep need for intimacy and connection, what if I’m rejected? If I’m burned out in my career and want to pursue my passion, what if I don’t make enough money and my family suffers? If I say what I need, who will listen? What will it change? What good will it do?

Unconsciously, many of us avoid facing our fears by focusing on others’ needs while our own voice grows dimmer and more faint. We listen to our partner process their workday, juggle our schedule to make sure the kids are fed and in bed at a reasonable hour, and put in extra hours at work to try to impress the boss. We burn all our fuel on them, ignoring ourselves. We then feel a sense of of disconnection, loneliness, worry, and tiredness. We. Are. Spent. We may even notice resentment toward others for not meeting our needs. We remain unaware of our needs, or consciously put them aside,  yet we experience a sense of loss when they are not met.  

The reality is, we are human.

Humans have needs. Of course, we need food, water, clothing, and shelter. When our basic needs are met, our needs begin to climb up on Maslow’s hierarchy. Sometimes our needs are for adventure or inspiration or a night out with friends. Sometimes we need to apologize. Some times we need not to apologize. Sometimes we need to say no. Sometimes we need to play – to shut down our brains and get creative. Regardless of your particular needs, they remain valid and important. They are a part of you.

What is it like for you to acknowledge that you have needs?

I encourage you to reflect on this idea that you have needs. What comes up for you? I often hear people say they feel “selfish” or “needy.” Many try to discount or minimize their needs. Sometimes people even talk themselves out of their own needs.

Acknowledging your needs as present and honoring them as valid are important steps along the path of feeling more connected and empowered.

You might be jumping ahead of yourself wondering, “How do I know what my needs are?”

Well, stay tuned!  

If this post resonates with you and you are looking for a counselor in Dallas, feel free to contact us! We have daytime and evening hours. We would be be happy to consult with you.

- Dr. Keller and Dr. Mathew