Needs and Feelings
Many of us have improved our ability to identify and express our feelings. We may have neglected, however, the important task of identifying and expressing our needs. Yet the ability to get our needs met is fundamental to our wellbeing. And, we cannot be successful in this crucial task if we do not know what they are and/or we are reluctant to communicate them to others. As human beings we have many needs, including physical, emotional and spiritual. Many of these needs can only be met in relationship with others. They include partnership, intimacy, respect, validation, recognition, belonging, nurturing, and community. When are needs are met, we feel safe, secure, contented, and valued; when they are not met, we feel neglected, frustrated, anxious, hurt, and isolated.
We do not always feel safe revealing our needs to others. We have shame about having needs in the first place, judging ourselves as needy. So we wear the mask of self-reliance, and attempt to protect ourselves from anticipated rejection. This strategy is self-defeating, creating disassociation from ourselves and disconnection from others.
How do we discover our own needs? First, by giving ourselves permission to have them. Second, by following our feelings, which will lead us directly to our needs. "Good" feelings will lead us to needs that have been met, "bad" feelings to needs that have not been met. Conversely, recognizing our needs will guide us to our emotional state.
Try this exercise with the following list of Interpersonal Needs. Make two sentences with each entry. Starting with the first one: "When my need for respect is met, I feel _______."
"When my need for respect is not met, I feel _______." To help you identify your feelings, select from the second list of Feelings.
I have found, unexpectedly, that identifying and experiencing a need leads to an immediate and spontaneous fulfillment of that need (to a certain degree). Try this and see if it works for you.
FEELINGS WHEN OUR NEEDS ARE MET*
Accepted: included, valued, acknowledged, appreciated, worthy, desirable, important
Safe: secure, trusting, protected
Glad: happy, excited, energized, passionate, hopeful, encouraged, inspired
Connected: included, bonded, intimate, close, warm
Lovable: valued, worthy, confident, proud, sexy
Satisfied: pacified, thankful, contented, gratified, grateful, fulfilled
Clear: calm, peaceful
FEELINGS WHEN OUR NEEDS ARE NOT MET
Hurt: rejected, discounted, ignored, abandoned, violated, betrayed
Afraid: scared, anxious, worried, nervous, threatened, intimidated, frightened, vulnerable
Sad: depressed, despondent, grief, loss, discouraged, empty, numb
Lonely: separate, distant, withdrawn, disconnected, detached, alienated
Shameful: guilty, unworthy, unlovable, embarrassed, humiliated
Angry: disappointed, upset, annoyed, irritated, resentful, frustrated
Confused: bewildered, conflicted, perplexed
Identifying a feeling without attaching it to a need leaves it ungrounded.
Without this foundation, feelings can escalate, frighten, and overwhelm us.
If you feel it you can heal it. Unfelt feelings produce an unfelt life. The primary feelings we avoid are hurt, shame/guilt, sadness, and fear. Anger is a protective reaction covering these vulnerable feelings. It also needs to be experienced and expressed.
I feel __________ when my need for __________ is met.
I feel __________ when my need for __________ is not met.
There are passive, assertive, and aggressive ways of asking for what we want. The assertive style would be to ask directly and respectfully for what we want, and to include how we feel and what our need is that we are requesting be met. The following is a sample request format:
When you ________________
I feel __________ because I have a need for __________.
Would you be willing to __________________________?
*Adapted from Nonviolent Communication process (see nonviolentcommunication.com).