By Kelsey Miller, LPC
It’s almost dinner time. The age old question surfaces, “What do you want to do for dinner tonight?”
Ugh. There it is. We all know how it will play out. I’ll say I don’t care or You pick, and we’ll go back and forth for quite some time just to give up and call for take-out from the place we typically order from.
Why is it so hard to say what we want?
I think it comes down to the overwhelmingly difficult task of identifying our needs. I notice that many people typically put others’ needs before their own. There are a lot of reasons for this: Maybe we subscribe to a societal norm that it is needy or even rude to ask for what we want. Maybe we feel we are not worthy enough to have our needs fulfilled. Maybe we believe that having needs is a sign of weakness. Or maybe we fear rejection: What if I say what I want and get turned down? Because let’s face it, saying that we have needs can be kind of scary, right? I need more understanding, I need more touch, I need to feel safe, I need some time alone. Sometimes it can be downright terrifying to assert what you are needing, even though it seems clear that shouldn’t be. We all have needs, there’s no doubt about it.
According to Abraham Maslow, we have five types of needs that can be depicted within a pyramid, with our basic needs at the bottom and self-fulfillment needs at the top. Once our basic needs are fulfilled, we can move up in the pyramid to fulfill our other needs. We have physiological needs (biological requirements for human survival like food, water, and shelter), safety needs (personal security, employment, resources, health, property), love and belonging needs (friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection), and esteem needs (respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom). At the very top of the pyramid are self-actualization needs (desire to become the most you can be).
I bring up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because having needs seems so general. Typically, when a client of mine realizes it is in fact not rude to have needs and that they may even be worthy of having them met, they’ll begin to wonder what needs they have in the first place. When we stifle what we are needing, we tend to lose sight of something as basic as I need rest. It’s amazing how attuned we can be to other people’s needs yet lack that same attunement within ourselves.
Speaking of not quite knowing what your needs may be, it is important to talk about how to figure this out. This can be as simple as pausing and asking ourselves, What is it that I need in this moment? Here is a list of possible needs taken from The Center for Nonviolent Communication:
to know and be known
to see and be seen
to understand and
celebration of life
I encourage you to take a moment to review this list when it is difficult to assess what you may be needing. After a long time of being unaware of our needs, we have probably fallen victim to taking a passive role in relationships. Passivity in relationships sends the message my needs don’t matter. However, now that we’ve taken these steps to become more attuned to our needs and maybe even identified what we are needing in the moment, we can now take action to get these needs met! After all, it is our responsibility to meet our needs, and that takes some courage to assert ourselves to make it happen.
So, what is it that you really want for dinner? Are you too tired from working all day that you’d like to order take-out? Are you needing some quality time with your partner and desire an intimate evening out? Or do you want to cook your partner’s favorite meal because you’re needing some appreciation? Here’s the perfect opportunity to identify our need and ask for it.