At some point in my life I decided that I did not have needs.
I decided that to have needs meant to be needy, and that someone who is needy is selfish and weak. No one ever actually told me this. It was just the conclusion I came to given the circumstances of the situation in which I was raised.
When I was two, my mother was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Understandably, she had a lot of needs and required assistance. Any caretaking I required paled in comparison to hers. After her death when I was seven, my father, incapable of properly caring for my brother and me, sent us off to live with members of his side of the family in another state.
That family consisted of a trio of young adult women, who were in the midst of their own individual paths in life. They provided my brother and me comfortable shelter and an expensive education. Between my mother’s requirements, my father’s neglect and now my new family’s busy schedule, there was not and had not been a lot of room for my needs or their expression.
So, I took that part of myself, the one who has needs, and I rejected it. I would need nothing and accept nothing. This state of mind later became quite problematic for me.
I came to realize this through anger: my most valuable teacher. Anger has grabbed me by the throat, held me against the wall, and given me no choice but to pay attention. And pay attention I have. I used to blame my anger on others. First I blamed my family, and then my friends, but where my anger really showed up was in my intimate relationships.
When my needs were not met, I would get very angry. I did not know how to express my anger, so it festered and turned into resentment. This is a common side effect for a lot of women who are indirectly taught that anger is not an acceptable emotion for us. If my brother had gotten into a fight at school it would have been just a simple case of “boys being boys.” If I had shown any type of aggression I would have been met with a puzzled look and a “what’s wrong with you?” So, I learned to bury the anger, camouflage it, turn it inward and then project it onto whoever I was with at the time.
I have ended almost every intimate relationship I have had consumed by rage at my partner’s inability to (fill in the blank). Through a lot of deep work around my rage I have come to acknowledge it is a result of two things: wanting things to be different than they are, and not getting my needs met.
>>Wanting things to be different than they are.
Well, if that isn’t a recipe for complete misery, I don’t know what is. I have been told many times that I have a slight case of “the grass is always greener” syndrome. It has never been a compliment. I have been told it makes me sound negative and unhappy.
But, it’s that same “grass is always greener” point of view that gives me what I love most about myself. It provides imagination so my creative energies can soar. It allows me the ability to see bigger, better and beyond the box. It’s how I come up with words to write and theories to articulate. It is how I found spirituality and connection to something deeper than myself. It allows me to live in colorful rooms and see the world through a colorful lens. It has given me the ability to see my life from a fresh perspective and see my anger for what it is.
Through this understanding, I am able to come into a place of acceptance of my life—my past, present and future. I have gratitude for the path I have been put on, because without it I would not be where I am today. And, although things could most certainly be better, I know that no other path would work for me. It is this path that is taking me closer to my truth. Nothing is more valuable to me than that.
This is the power of opposites. For every place of darkness there is light, and vice versa.
It is not until we are able to see the power of both sides that we can accept them and allow both darkness and light to exist within us. Whatever it is you want to be different, try and explore what the opposite of that is. I bet you will find that what the light side brings you is too valuable to lose. You will find a way to allow the dark side to exist in you.Just like yin cannot exist without yang, sky without earth, or convex without concave, one part of you absolutely cannot exist without its opposite to counter it. Freedom is in the understanding of how to work with these opposites.
Once I was able to acknowledge the positive side of seeing the grass as always greener, I was able to find acceptance of the part of me that thinks that way. I am able to see it when it comes up. “Oh, this is that moment when I want things to be different. Ok, that was fun imagining that. Now this is what I have—how should I deal with it?”
By going through this process I am able to avoid being angry at something for being what I do not want it to be. Truth be told, I still get frustrated, but the frustration doesn’t last as long, and I don’t seem to hold on to it as much. That feels like freedom to me.
Not getting my needs met.
I spent my life waiting for someone to step in and take care of me the way I needed to be taken care of. He was going to know exactly what I wanted and needed and everything was going to be great! I feel a sympathetic internal chuckle when I think of all the poor men that have come across my path. How could they possibly have known what I needed if I myself was clueless as to what that meant? I had no idea what I wanted in my life, let alone what I needed.
Terrified of being perceived as selfish or weak, I learned that the best way to show my strength and worth was to figure out what others needed and meet those needs. I would accomplish two things by doing that: prove that I was valuable and worth keeping around, and keep the peace by making others happy.
At first I did this by observing what others liked. I would emulate them or offer up what they needed: a good ear, a nice compliment, commiserating, offering lots of favors—no matter how put out I was. I never, ever, ever, ever said, “No.”
This became exhausting. And, so did my anger. I would never make myself a burden by asking for anything in return. But, then, I would be resentful if the other person did not offer me the same undying, unconditional, self-sacrificing effort.
At 34, I entered into a relationship with someone I thought was the one for me. I was convinced he was the end of the line in my search for true love. I thought I had met my match and that he was perfect. It turned out that he was perfect, but not in the way I had hoped. He was instead the perfect lesson: the one who unknowingly challenged me to the edge of myself.
He played for a team of one, and for the next four years I joined that team, abandoning my own.
It wasn’t until I was angry, depleted and begging for relief that I was forced to answer the calling of my own needs.
I was left with no other option but to turn around, look inside myself and ask, “What can I do for you?”
I am not the only one who has found herself here. I work with women every day who fumble around trying to find the balance between caring for themselves and their partners/families. They become lost in the relationship or the life of the other, thinking that is what it means to show love.
We women are genetically driven to do this—we are the caretakers, the nurturers—we put the needs of others before our own. If we are in a heterosexual relationship, we are teamed up with a partner whose internal drive is for autonomy. So, when you combine our drive to nurture with their drive for autonomy, it is not surprising that we find ourselves in an unintentional state of self-abnegation.
There is another bargain we can make, however, and our side of that bargain is to not play the victim and blame our partners for neglect, but to take responsibility. We do this by dropping inward to find out what it is we need and taking care of those needs first.
In order to meet my needs I had to learn what they were. I did this by asking myself, when faced with having to make a decision,
“If everyone else was taken care of, what would I want out of this situation?”
At first I would have to sit with this question for a long time, repeating it quietly to myself. The more I’d ask it of myself, the more clearly the answer would come. I recently heard that to pray is to ask for help and to meditate is to listen for the answer. I use this question like a mantra/prayer and listen deeply for the answer.
Now, as I enter my 39th year, I understand that meeting my needs means being the one thing I worked so hard not to be: selfish. It wasn’t until I learned to embrace my selfish side that I began to feel nourished and complete. If it weren’t for my selfishness, I would never have been able to say “no” to the multiple requests from friends for my time which competed with the time I needed to complete this essay.
My selfishness allows me the personal space to be with myself, ground myself and tune in to what my needs are, so that I may soothe the fury of my fiery rage. It prevents me from taking on others’ battles and it helps me define my boundaries. It is my embrace of the selfish part of me that has taught me that I am no good to another person if I am not good to myself—that by taking care of myself I am taking care of others.
If I am selfish enough to take the space to listen to and act on my needs, I am able to drop the blame and the anger and fully live this life that is mine.
Catherine la O’ is a Certified Integral Life Coach, Blogger, Wino, Yogini, Cyclist-ish and Music Lover. There is more to her, but we thought it would be better to just list the good stuff. As a blogger, Catherine offers self-exposing personal insights gathered from her own journey of self-discovery. She hopes her writing will inspire and support other women on a similar path. As a coach, she facilitates group workshops, monthly women’s circles and offers individual coaching to women all over the U.S. who are looking to evolve to the next level in their lives. She can often be found in the ER taping up wounds from her many clumsy bike crashes. If you don’t believe us, just ask her to show you all the scars on her legs. If you are interested in connecting with Catherine you may find her through her website (www.liminalspace.net) or through Facebook (Facebook.com/LiminalSpaceCoach). She will be waiting by the computer to hear from you.
Editor: Jayleigh Lewis