Identifying Needs

[This blog post is an excerpt from my Month of Mindful Connection e-course. If you find these words helpful, consider joining the class.]

Identifying my needs has been an interesting process. Early on, I had no needs. This wasn’t actually true, but I denied my needs and emotions as a way to keep others happy. Gradually, I became aware of my needs yet couldn’t express them. Instead, I expected people to read my mind; to know what I wanted. Finally, I found my voice: I spoke up about my needs, but I did so in unskillful ways (e.g., blame, judgment, resentment). With effort and practice, I can now express my needs with confidence and kindness (about 75% of the time). I also recognize ways I can meet my own needs. Some needs require other people. Yet many require my own love, care, attention, presence, and compassion.

Emotions and needs are connected. When our needs are met, we experience pleasant feelings; when our needs are not met, we experience unpleasant feelings. This doesn’t mean we should expect our needs to always be met. But it does give us more awareness, so we’re able to regulate emotions in new ways.

Our feelings aren’t caused by events or people (what a revelation!), but because of met or unmet needs. Consider this scenario: I’m at a cafe to have lunch with a friend, and my friend is 15 minutes late. I might feel 1) frustrated (if my need is for respect or efficiency), 2) relieved (if my need is for breathing space), or 3) concerned (if my need is for connection). Same situation, different emotions. These emotions arise based on what I’m valuing in the moment. Feelings aren’t externally imposed on me.

We can bring awareness to our emotions and needs, noticing how they shape our inner and outer view. This is a rich place to pay attention. First, we notice our emotions (not pushing any away). Second, we notice our needs—what we're valuing in the moment. 

MEDITATION

Check in with yourself: What’s your energy level? What’s your sense of “time”? The next meditation is longer (23 minutes). It invites a bigger-mind awareness and an exploration of needs. Choose to listen when you have distraction-free space. Give yourself that gift:

WRITING

Get your journal and a pen. Remember, you can write in a beautiful notebook or on scrap paper; use a standard pen or a multitude of colors. Make this writing your own.

PART 1

Consider recent situations where you’ve felt difficult emotions: anger, sadness, anxiety, embarrassment, frustration, or weariness. Write about these experiences, one at a time (you can come back to this exercise again and again). Be real and write from your heart. Then:

  • Notice how your body feels. Ask: Where does this emotion express itself in my body?

  • Identify a need: I feel ___________ because I need/want/value ___________. (Likely this need was not being met.)

PART 2

Consider recent situations where you’ve felt pleasant emotions: contentment, love, hope, curiosity, energy, or delight. Write about these experiences, one at a time (you can come back to this exercise again and again). Be real and write from your heart. Then:

  • Notice how your body feels. Ask: Where does this emotion express itself in my body?

  • Identify a need: I feel ___________ because I need/want/value ___________. (Likely this need was being met.)

EVERYDAY AWARENESS SUGGESTIONS

With regard to needs, regularly reflect on these questions:

  • Do I have a need that I can fulfill myself? For example, if I'm valuing connection yet I force myself to keep working at the computer, then I'm denying myself a need. Instead, I could call a friend or walk in the woods.

  • Do I have a need that I haven't articulated clearly and honestly to another person? Am I expecting someone to read my mind? If so, maybe in small ways, I can start a conversation about what I need and value.

  • Do I have a need or want that is unrealistic or impossible? For example, if I want the world to be fair, then I'll be disappointed again and again, because the world isn't fair. I can value fairness and live from a place of fairness, but if I expect this from everyone and every circumstance, then I'm creating my own suffering.

  • Do I have a need that must be met in a certain way? Am I inflexible with some of my needs? For example, if I want to belong, yet limit this belonging to one group of people, that need will often go unmet. Once we identify needs, it’s helpful to open ourselves to possibility. What are different, creative ways in which a need can be met?

These practices are a place to be both honest and gentle. Be aware of emotions and needs, digging deep and being curious. Yet also be kind. Forgive yourself when you forget and be willing to begin again. We’re all imperfect, courageous, messy, and beautiful.

Mindful connection: Join class now

(Click here)