It’s like a dirty word… needs are something that were ignored, in many survivors, from the moment we entered the world. The people around us taught us, by precept and by example, that our needs were unimportant, inconvenient, unwanted, things that would get us in trouble, things that would get us punished, things that nobody was going to respond to except to make us sorry we had them…
… and we tend to continue that trend, even long past the time when any “responsible adult” is enforcing the unimportance of our needs upon us. We ignore our own needs, deny ourselves the things we need (sometimes even on the basic level of food or water), deny that we even have needs.
This can get so extreme that, when the subject is discuss among survivors, it can take on the air of a competition. Who needs the least, who was denied the most, who can deny themselves the most… as if our self-denial were a badge of strength.
For many of us, though, who earned that self-denial through bitter and traumatic life experience, we do characterize it as a strength. It is a form of superiority over the lowly worms who crawl around craving attention and closeness and all the petty cares of normal humans… while we who have been thrown into the crucible of profound trauma and lived to tell the tale have had all such paltry concerns burned away from us.
Whether that is as much a strength as we want to make it, however, is open to some debate.
Because the fact is, we all need. We all need – even those of us who are reading this and thinking, “not me, I don’t need anything, maybe other people do, but not me” – yes, even you.
Need is an inescapable part of the human condition.
And denying our needs means that, at a fundamental level, we’re still operating on the beliefs learned through abuse – which by definition means they are not going to be healthy beliefs. So the longer we hold on to the definition of “strength” we created as abused children – the longer we’re slowing or blocking our progress toward healing.
And we seem to understand this – about every other person on the planet other than ourselves.
Have you ever noticed how, when other people are saying they “don’t need anything,” you can so easily see that it’s not true? You can see it in how they act, what they do, what they say when they aren’t specifically addressing the issue of need – it’s patently obvious that they do need things, no matter what they say about it.
But do you think it’s any less obvious to your listeners when you say you don’t need anything? The only person who thinks it’s convincing when they say they don’t need anything is the person saying it.
Denying we have needs does not actually make the needs go away – any more than denying our histories changes what happened to us.
However, denying our needs can (and very often does) force those needs to find other oblique ways to express themselves, so that they might be met – in much the same way that our histories express themselves despite our best efforts to shove them out of our minds and our lives. And then those who wish to support us must find ways to meet those needs for us in equally indirect ways, because our prickly “I don’t need anything” stance makes it impossible for them to address the subject with us directly.
We go looking for help and connection – in the form of therapists and support groups and peer groups – but then we force those support people to do extra and unnecessary work on our behalf – in the name of pretending we don’t need any effort from them at all. And our support people are cognizant of this, even if we aren’t, so it can be an extremely frustrating and aggravating experience for them.
And yet, we still delude ourselves into thinking this is a strength.
It probably was a strength, at one time, in one set of circumstances… however, it is not a strength that will help us to heal. It is diametrically opposed to healing – and it is yet another of the multitude of ways that we can prevent ourselves from making any real progress toward the goal we all claim to want.
Getting into therapy, or a support group, or even a peer group, and then wasting everyone’s time yapping about how you don’t need anything from anyone – is a waste of time. Everyone who hears it or reads it – your therapist, your group leader, your friends, other survivors – everyone knows you are in need.
When you say “I don’t need anything” – nobody is taking it at face value or thinking “wow, they really don’t need anything, look at what a strong and capable person they are…”
What they are doing, is acknowledging that you’re someone who is going to complicate things – and they’re evaluating just how complicated you’re going to make it.
So – why complicate things? Since everyone can see we need things anyway, it’s probably better not to make ourselves look foolish by making an issue of how we don’t – we might as well just learn how to deal with our needs directly.
The good news is, that this is a step of healing that we can accomplish, whether we’re in therapy or whether we’re not. We can learn to identify our own needs, and how to meet them in ways that are acceptable to us and to the people around us – up to and including, expanding our confort zones, learning to ask for things appropriately, learning to ask for what we actually need, learning to address needs while they’re small instead of waiting until they’re at crisis point, etcetera. Having a therapist with whom to discuss the process can be helpful, but therapeutic expertise is not a requirement. A friend or a peer group can be just as helpful.
We can face the process or not, but either way, our needs aren’t going to go away. We don’t even need to ask ourselves whether we need something – because the answer to that will always be yes. We are human, therefore we need.
The real question is, how graceful are we going to be about it?
Will we learn what our needs are, accept them, and find dignified and mature ways of meeting them?
Or will we stick in childish refusal to admit to them, repress them until they squish out in some indirect way, and force the people around us to meet them for us?
It’s one or the other.
Not needing is not an option, but grace can be acquired.