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.