Can We Talk About NEEDS?

by Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-R

In my work I come by a lot of mixed feelings regarding that little N word…NEEDS. Some people have difficulty acknowledging their needs, some people feel uncomfortable having needs and some struggle with expressing their needs. Alternatively, others may feel especially peeved or averse by another’s perceived over-emphasis of their needs (aka, “being too needy”), meanwhile others can be almost too accommodating of another’s needs thereby compromising their safety or well-being at times.

At what point along our journey in this life do we become so muddled about our and other’s needs? What makes getting our needs met and meeting others needs so challenging, confusing and charged at times?

The answers to these questions are as varied as the number of different people walking the Earth, however we can understand our relationship to needs by taking the following items into consideration and reflecting upon their function during our own upbringing:

1) How a need is met or tended to informs us how to go about seeking that need to be met the next time is arises within us. Think of the terms: responsive, repressed, avoided or even neglected.

2) As it is not possible to have all of our needs to be met by our environment – how did we learn this fact? Have we even learned this fact?

3) How were we made aware of the disappointment of not having our needs met and how were we taught to manage (or mismanage) the subsequent disappointment?

4) What was needed of us by our environment as we were growing up and was it respectful of our developmental level and relationship boundaries?

We are born into this life essentially a little splendid bundle of needs and from our very first breath, and unbeknownst to ourselves at that moment, we begin crying out for our needs to be met. From these very first moments and going forward, the shaping of our relationship to “needs” begins. For instance, even how our most primitive needs for food (milk), a clean bottom, warmth, closeness, sleep and to be burped were attended to informed us how to go about getting those needs to be met the next time they arose within us.

For instance, if a baby cries and cries to be held when gassy and the cries go consistently un-attended to because the caregiver can’t get to the baby for a number of possible reasons (caregiver is high on drugs and unresponsive, caregiver is super busy tending to their 4 other children or the caregiver had a fall and can’t get up, and etc.) then the baby will either cry louder, learn to give up crying and adjust to being gassy or perhaps learn to eventually resist that which makes them gassy in the first place. In other words, the baby will adjust themselves to relate differently to their initial true need based on the type of response they garner from their environment.

As such, this dialogue between our innate needs and the world around us – including our immediate environmental context, the era, culture and socioeconomic bracket we are born into and of course our primary caregivers – and how this “world” can or can’t meet us in our time of need is ever present throughout our lifecycle. Subject to changes along the way of course by our biological developmental milestones, our temperamental disposition and the changes in the world around us – this dialogue will establish patterns of belief and behavior around our needs and those of others, some of which are healthy and productive and some unfortunately are not so.

So next time you find yourself struggling over a need you have or struggling relating to another’s needs, remember there is more behind this struggle than may meet the eye. This topic of “needs” is a vast one and one that can be served by continued discussion and exploration. As such, for your own growth and self-knowledge, take some time to reflect upon the following questions:

1) How do you feel about the word “need”?
2) Are you able to recognize your needs?
3) Do you feel comfortable with your needs?
4) Which type of needs do you find easier to handle and which ones more difficult?
5) How do you feel when someone needs something from you?
6) Do you tend to overly compromise yourself to meet someone’s needs?
7) How do you feel when you need something from someone else?
8) How comfortable do you feel expressing your needs?
9) Have you ever referred to someone as being “too needy’?
10) Do you feel triggered annoyed when someone seems “needy”?
11) Are you able to identify what it is that has triggered you so?

Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-R and Amir Levine, PhD, LCSW, CASAC are psychotherapists and Co-Founders of BHAVA Therapy Groupwhich provides individual, couples, family and group therapies in Riverdale, NY and Midtown Manhattan.

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