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“We’re only as needy as our unmet needs.” ~ John Bowlby
Doesn’t this quote summarize everything that we stand for?
Aren’t we all a big bundle of different kinds of needs, running after each other to get those needs met?
Underneath all this quest for money, power, fame, success, and so on, aren’t we just asking for three basic yet fundamental things—to be seen, heard, and valued?
It’s so easy yet so difficult that it takes an entire lifetime for us to recognize and realise that this is all we need (some might not reach this realization at all).
Life remains confined to the “shoulds,” “have,” and “oughts” and we become captives in our own lives.
We let our dreams and aspirations turn into nightmares and we keep waiting for time to pass.
And yes, all of this could have been avoided only if we learnt that what truly makes life come alive is love that comes wrapped as presence—emotional, psychological, and physical.
Then instead of being driven by fear of being rejected, left alone, be unloved, we would be powered by love, compassion, joy, and connection.
Wouldn’t that have been an ideal world? In that ideal world, we would have been shaped differently.
We would be intentional, self-assured, capable of handling ourselves and being there for others as well.
In reality, the story is quite different.
Most of us are carrying some vacuum stemming from a lack that we had to grow up with. Some of us were rejected, neglected, abandoned in some or the other way that left some kind of scars and shaped us in certain ways.
What we go through does eventually shape us in certain ways; we keep operating from a certain kind of worldview till we realise that it’s no longer working for us.
And what significantly impacts our personalities is the kind of relationships we have been subjected to while growing up because our first experience ever with relationships is in our childhood itself.
When our relationships are safe and nurturing, we feel loved and accepted for who we are and grow up with that sense of security within.
But when they are not, our needs are not understood let alone being met.
Those unmet needs create emotional and psychological wounds that in turn shape our ideas and beliefs about ourselves; most of those beliefs are untrue and dysfunctional.
While we may grow up believing that we are unworthy or not good enough, the need to feel the opposite is always lurking around. Thus, in order to feel loved, heard, and accepted we become seekers of validation.
We engage in various behaviors to get that validation until those patterns get cemented and then they just run on auto-pilot. After a point, we feel there’s no turning point.
Our childhood wounds shape us in various ways; they can make us someone who uses one or a combination of the following ways of responding to our unmet needs.
We unknowingly subject ourselves to labels such as:
1. The Perfectionist. So many of us are just hung up on getting everything right and perfect. We have an active inner critic that doesn’t easily shut up. The perfectionist is someone who’s deeply afraid of any kind of imperfection or mistake. They berate themselves for not having done enough, and frankly, nothing is ever enough. They want everything to be clean, organized, meticulous, and have set high standards for themselves that don’t let them rest.
The biggest trigger for them is carelessness and irresponsibility. Perfectionists are deeply afraid of being out of control because they don’t want to feel powerless. Hence, they want everything to be “perfect.” Perhaps, they grew up in chaotic conditions and the only way they could make sense of things and feel safe was by controlling their external world. If you’re a perfectionist, then you need to know that you are perfect just the way you are and it’s okay to make mistakes. You are doing the best you can and can take a break every once in a while.
2. The Caretaker. Maybe you became a caretaker and the all-the-year-round helper because that was the only way you could make your presence felt. You learnt that you are valuable only if you have something to show for it. You became good, patient, quiet, and understanding so that you could be accepted and validated and you kept sacrificing your needs, hoping and wishing that someone would acknowledge that sacrifice and see you for who you are. If you relate to this, then you need to know that you matter. You are worthy of receiving love.
3. The Achiever. Achievers believe they are worthless if they aren’t achieving something. They can’t sit idle and can’t slack. They become uncomfortable if they aren’t working or achieving and can burn themselves out. Perhaps you have learnt that it’s your achievement that allows you be seen and that it’s not you but your achievements that matter. So you drive yourself way too much, are always hard on yourself, and can’t slow down. You need to know that you are valuable just the way you are, regardless of your achievements.
4. The Peacemaker. Peacemakers will do anything and everything to keep harmony. At their heart, they want to avoid conflicts at all costs. They want comfort, convenience, and peace, and to achieve this, they can disconnect from their own feelings. While it keeps them safe, it also makes them a passive observer of their own lives. Maybe you grew up in a conflicted, chaotic environment that made you feel afraid and powerless and you learnt that avoidance and ignorance are key. You learnt to set aside your own needs and expectations to maintain harmony. But you need to know that your needs matter and you need to be an active participant in your own life. You need to remind yourself that it’s okay to feel my feelings, and my needs matter.
5. The Rebel. The rebels learnt to ride the tide instead of waiting for it to settle down. They became independent, self-reliant, authoritative, and suppressed their vulnerability to feel in control. They paved their way by being “strong” and “pushing through” and learnt that they can’t depend on anyone because they never had anyone. They had to have their own back; in that process, they learnt to suppress their emotions. If you’re one then you need to know that you can’t be strong and supportive all the time. You need to remind yourself that my emotions matter and I can let myself be.
6. The Enthusiasts. The ones who can go about life feeling happy, excited, and engaged all the time. They find solace in external stimulation by drowning the voice of their emotions in lights, noises, and all the glitter. At the hint of the slightest discomfort, they want something by which they can numb the pain down and that makes them feel happy. They move from one experience to another without really savoring anything. At the core, they feel disconnected from their own self and relationships.
Perhaps they learnt to meet their needs through external stimulation because no one was really there. At times, they are gripped by a deep sense of unrest that only some stimulation can ease out. Hence, they keep running. If you are an enthusiast, then you need to know that unless you learn to stay, you won’t be able to savor anything and nothing will ever feel enough. You need to remind yourself that I am fulfilled by what I do and what I am and have is enough.
We’re all asking for the same needs to be met but in different ways. Some tune out, some tune in, and some keep flowing.
When you stop chasing, slow down and see who you are right now; you can move toward who you want to be.
Your wounds may have defined you all this while, but they don’t have to.
At some point, we’ve got to tune in to our own cries and remind ourselves that while we may have been powerless, helpless kids who couldn’t make sense of this chaotic world, we don’t have to remain so.
“Feel it. The thing you don’t want to feel? Feel it and be free.” ~ Nayyirah Waheed
We just need to take one step at a time, plant one seed of “I matter. I am important” one day at a time so that we can take off these labels of being perfectionists or achievers or avoidant and just be.
“Being authentic begins with unconditional self-acceptance. Imperfections and all.” ~ Anonymous
Then it’s not about defining yourself—rather, it’s not defining at all.
So who are you when you’re not hiding behind these labels?
“Auditions are being held for you to be yourself. Apply within.” ~ Anonymous