Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Asking for what I need

When I was going to a therapist to try to understand why I felt so rotten and unhappy, I was told to be assertive and ask for what I need. I've read that one of the things that fosters co-dependence is not having needs met as a child. I certainly had the material things but emotionally I know that there was something missing. I think that my father was emotionally distant and perhaps gave me a message that I needed to "suck it up". Somehow along the way I learned that expressing and asking for what I needed wasn't a good idea.

In my close relationships, I have historically depended on the other person to give me things that I need such as attention and love. I have had expectations that these things will be there--and in some ways I have taken these for granted. But these expectations have bred unbelievable frustration when I don't get what I want. I have blamed the other person for not "delivering". When I was in therapy, the concept of asking for what I needed seemed so foreign. What I thought was, "I don't need to ask. You should know what I need." What I have since learned is that I need to speak up and ask in order to improve my relationship with others.

It has taken quite a bit of work to quit expecting others to read my mind and to openly talk about my needs. This involves the assumption that I can ask but not get my way. There are compromises that occur. And in doing so, I learn that what I want doesn't align necessarily with what others want. This has helped to deepen my compassion and to see the opinions of others are as important to them as mine are to me.

The dynamics are different between men and women. My wife has told me that as a young girl she was told to obey her father and to respect authority figures. That's not much different from how I was raised. But I also learned to stuff my feelings and to deny them. The pain that I felt had to be hidden. It wasn't until much later that I learned to put feelings into words. And by doing that I became fully engaged with others. To this day though, I still feel a bit clumsy when sharing the deep personal stuff in a group. I can do it with my sponsor but for some reason it seems too raw to be put out there for the entire fellowship to see. I guess a part of me still wants to keep the pain hidden.

It's also easy for me to replay the old tapes that others should be able to know my needs. And sometimes my asserting what I need may seem selfish when it's really about understanding how I fit in with the rights and responsibilities of those around me. I now seek a balanced approach in which I embrace what I need and can express my hope and dreams.


  1. Yes, those darn expectations are a bit of a chore for me to let go of. When I do let go of them, I am so much happier and lighter. Great post Syd.

  2. The people I know who claim to have perfect parents are pretty boring. So, you got off to an interesting start. That's probably why you're an interesting guy.

  3. I am the exact opposite and really have difficulty with expectations and balance too.
    good post. jeNN

  4. I just had a huge session with my therapist today on this very subject. getting needs met, speaking up, identifying the needs, asking in the appropriate way. phew. I'm going to bed with it.

  5. Asking for what we want and need is problematic, when we have a facade we are maintaining. It does get easier with practise, like so much else in program. Great post, Syd.

  6. This could have been written by me Syd, had I done the work to this point to get where you are with it. You have really helped me here and at a time when I need it most. Thank you so much!

    JAS G.

  7. I didn't know I could ask for what I wanted until late in life. Once I realized how to be upfront with my needs & to recognize the difference between "need" & "want", it made it much easier to expect the right thing. When needs are not fulfilled, problems arise and that's when it gets ugly for a lot of people. I'm very "raw" if you will in any setting. I found if I hide/put away/ dont' discuss... I become unhealthy very quick. Not good for me or anyone close to me. My brain is more of a... drive to the dump, lay it down and drive back lighter and healthier for it.

  8. Syd,
    I "get" this post completely. Talk openly about my needs? Still hard for me to do sometimes.

    You wrote, "I guess a part of me still wants to keep the pain hidden." I "get" this too. I work and work to stay real with how I feel. Even after 24 years of recovery and 5 of them in Al-Anon, this is still not comfortable.
    But I continue to try.

    Again, great post.

  9. Learning to stuff our feelings and not ask for what we need seems to be a fairly universal trend among people in recovery. Personally I was taught to shut up, do as I was told, and no one cared how I felt about it. I went the mind-reader route myself: you should know what I need. What I have to say should matter to you. Anyhow, I'm learning to tell my feelings and take what my partner dishes out as his own business, not mine. There's more than one way to get a need met.
    P.S. You're on my blog tomorrow.

  10. I can relate as well but have been learning to ask in recent years. Its actually very freeing to realize that its ok to ask since (most) people can't read minds. But it still feels disappointing at times when you want the other person to instinctively give what you need....

  11. mmmmm, as a child i was told often to stand up and deal with it, oh, and to keep quiet about it. i was also told to respect my elders, no matter that their behaviour did not warrant respect (do as i say, not do as i do...). those are the defects. but defects can be fixed, yes they can. you're living proof.

  12. Great reflections.

    I still (sadly) spend the majority of my time wishing people would just do what I want - even when (maybe even ESPECIALLY when) I don't know what I want myself. Here's to us all getting better.

    Blessings and aloha...

  13. I know I have been guilty of " you should know what I need" especially with feelings, love, attention. I know we have fragile moments, I guess if we can bundle up our needs from our wants, we find that our needs are always fulfilled.

  14. Great post that I can absolutely relate to! "Need" is a new word in my vocabulary and once I figured out what it was, I realized that a lot of my relationships had been with people who did not allow me to have needs - either by refusing to discuss it or by getting mad at me when I did, or by kicking me out of my apartment as my last roomie did when I tried to talk to her about having people over late on weeknights. It's important for me to surround myself with people who will let me have needs and to speak up about them. It's hard, but it's worth it!

  15. Syd,
    I went back and started reading your blog from the beginning. Congratulations to you for logging so many hours and growing from the experience. And thank you for putting your journey out there for us to read. I am beginning my road in recovery and find your posts eerie. This one about expecting your spouse to know what you need is all too familiar. It's part of the sickness in living with an alcoholic. They're so focused on themselves, even if they could anticipate you, it wouldn't matter unless you were sitting in front of the liquor cabinet. Many thanks to you for your thoughtful blog.
    -In Need of Peace


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