Imagine yourself walking down the street on a chilly autumn evening. At one point during your walk, you spot a kitten sitting on the side of the road. Upon closer inspection, you notice that the kitten’s fur is matted and dirty, making you wonder if the cat has been abandoned. Her gaunt frame shivers as you pick her up, and her hungry mewling alerts you to the fact that she hasn’t eaten in hours.
Suddenly, your heart is spurred to take action, to do anything — everything — to rescue the kitten. It’s not even a question for you. After all, what kind of person could turn away from a poor helpless creature clearly in need?
Unfortunately, when it is comes to turning that compassion on ourselves, we are not as sympathetic. For some reason, we are more understanding of another person’s needs, yet critical of our own.
The truth is, like the little kitten in the above scenario, you also have needs. While it’s easy to point out the most immediate and obvious — food, clothing, shelter — the emotional needs must be met too. Sadly, it’s all too easy not take them as seriously as the physical ones.
Why Do We Ignore Our Needs?
It’s not easy for anyone to be open about their needs. Some of us don’t like how vulnerable it makes us feel. In other cases, we hate how it forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves.
If you’ve ever been hurt in the past, this is an especially difficult challenge. During painful times in your life, you may have had to dissociate from your feelings just to survive. Even several years later, you may still be holding on that unhealthy behavior. Once you’ve learned to cope this way, however, it’s not easy to unlearn. Opening up about those feelings is hard because of the fear of being hurt again.
Society can also teach us to ignore our needs, too. Push through the pain. Stop crying and suck it up. There are other people who have it worse than you do. These are messages we often hear on a regular basis. We try to be tough like everyone expects us to be, but that only makes us feel guilty when we can’t measure up.
What Happens When You Don’t Meet Your Needs?
If you want to live a healthy and fulfilling life, you must meet your needs. When you don’t, you – through subconscious thoughts and actions – will find another way to compensate for what you lack. For many people, this translates into addictions, mental illnesses, unhealthy relationships, or even self-harm.
As maladaptive daydreamers, we cannot afford to neglect our needs. Many of us turn to daydreaming to fill an emotional void – perhaps for love, attention, safety, and so on. However, if we fail to adequately address these feelings in the real world, MD will have an even stronger hold on us, and keep us from getting better.
3 Steps to Meeting Your Needs
So how do we begin to meet our needs? Sorry to say, there is no quick, easy solution. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do. Let’s examine three steps you can take to address unmet needs.
1. Identify your needs.
Grab a pen and piece of paper. Write down a list of areas in your life that you feel unsatisfied or that make you feel frustrated.
Then, for each item on your list, ask yourself “Why does this make me feel this way?” Observe the thoughts and feelings that pop into your head. Especially pay attention to which items on the list create the strongest emotions, like fear, anger, and anxiety. These feelings will point you to any hidden needs.
Another simple way to discover your needs is to analyze your dreams. Many people don’t think there’s any significance to dreams because they’re not real, but the truth is, a dream can be the biggest mirror! Your subconscious uses dreams show you what needs you’re neglecting. Pay attention to the themes that show up regularly in your dreams. These are clues as to what areas need healing.
Another method is to meet with a counselor. Sometimes talking to someone else can help you work through underlying issues. The right question or comment might trigger you to see things you didn’t realize were there.
2. Accept your feelings.
As you begin to identify your needs, you might find that you have a lot of bottled-up emotions. They can range from anger, sadness, disappointment, or even helplessness. It’s completely OK. Don’t stuff them down or try to deny them. Take some time out to process the feelings. If you need to cry, don’t be afraid to. Reach out to a loved one if you need comfort.
3. Address your needs.
Identify what changes in your life to need to make, then make plans to implement them. What areas in your life are stopping you from meeting your needs? Perhaps an unfulfilling relationship, a stressful job, or an unhealthy habit? Brainstorm different steps that you can take to work toward your goals. This may mean making yourself vulnerable enough to open up to other people, if your needs require it.
Remember, it’s OK to ask for help if you need it! Even I have had to learn this lesson. When I was young, the stresses at home made me feel that it was unsafe share my feelings, so I learned to emotionally insulate myself from the rest of the world. But over time, I realized that by holding everything back all the time, it only made me feel worse! Now when I’m feeling down, I remind myself to reach out to someone I know, even if it’s just to vent.
The reality is, we as social animals need other people. If you can, find support in family members, friends, or anyone you can trust, to help you meet your needs.
It’s OK to Have Needs!
You deserve to have your needs met as much as anyone else. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or try to shame you for making your needs a priority. Learn to cultivate compassion and respect for yourself, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel that your needs aren’t being met.
Practice these steps daily, and you’ll find that you can overcome any self-sabotaging behavior that is keeping you from living life to the fullest.
Question: how have you learned to meet your needs? In what ways do you think you can improve?