Our needs are our most human parts. They are the key to our greatness, our passion, and our ability to love. But we’ve all been shamed for these precious parts of ourselves. In this episode, you’ll learn how to stop burying your needs; and instead to embrace them; to parent them with growing wisdom. That’s when we finally become able to “bear the beams of love.”
When we bury our needs we steer a path away from love and toward unhappiness. In this episode, you’ll learn how to excavate your buried needs. And how to dignify, honor, and see the worth in them so stay tuned to the Deeper Dating Podcast.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page, and I’m a psychotherapist and the author of the book Deeper Dating. And today, I’m going to talk about burying our needs, what happens when we do that, why we do it, how we can know when we’re doing it, and how to stop burying your needs, and the profound shifts that will happen when you do stop burying your needs.
This week and every week, I’m going to share with you the greatest tools that I know to help you find love and keep intimacy flourishing and heal your life in the process because the skills of dating are the skills of love. And the skills of love are the greatest skills of all for a happy and rich life.
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This is such a rich, and fascinating, and amazing subject. You know, there’s a term in journalism which is burying the lead. And what that means is that you tell the story, but you leave out the juiciest, most important part, or you minimize that. Well, for us, the juiciest and most important part … of our being is our needs.
Now, this culture shames us. It “needs shames” us. And it’s understandable that that happens because needs are very tender. They’re very intimate. They’re very personal. They are dependent to some degree not only on us, but on the rest of the world, so they’re really vulnerable.
And this culture that prizes independence so greatly tends to diminish the importance of our needs.
But, the needs that we have are not just selfish needs. They are the needs to touch and be touched, the needs to connect with life. The needs to give, the need to have our gifts recognized, the need to create.
Burying Your Needs for Love
There are so many, the need to love. There’s so many needs that we have, and our needs are such a rich part of who we are. Eros in the biggest sense is not just about sex, it’s about the richness of life. It’s about our appetite for life, and our needs live in the heart of that kind of broad Eros.
So, I want to share an image with you. It’s going to be a little bit of a map for the whole journey that we’re going to be taking in this podcast around our needs. So, picture a target. And if you’ve read my book or heard my work, you’ve heard this image before. But, picture a target with a few rings inside it.
The closer you get in toward the center is the closer you’re getting to your deep authenticity, to what I call the beating heart of your humanity, your vulnerability, your beauty, your passion, your longing, your tenderness, all of your creativity, all those parts of you. Those are very alive, and very heated, and very vulnerable parts of you. So because they’re vulnerable, we build defenses and protections.
So if you picture that the further out you go in this target the further away you’re getting from that mysterious and amazing heated core of your own heart and your being, you become more airbrushed. You become more defended, more protected, more avoidant. And as we go further out in that target,
As we protect ourselves more and more, the world becomes colder and emptier. The closer in, the warmer, the more heated, the more passionate, also the more risky. The further out, the less risky, but ultimately the more alienating and lonely.
Why You Put Your Needs in the Backseat
So because the heated core where our needs live is so fierce, asks so much of us, we protect ourselves by playing it cool. And we kind of bury our needs so that other people don’t see them in their full intensity, their full passion, their full neediness because that’s hard to do. So we cover them up, and then we might even go as far as to bury them. And when we bury them a lot, or when we’re ashamed of those needs, we start to bury them in ways that even we can’t find them and they become kind of like buried treasure.
And of course, we do this in subtle ways all the time. It’s such a rich, rich area to consider. Where are we doing it consciously? Where are we thinking, “This is a part of me. These are needs that aren’t going to get met by this person so I’m just going to kind of put them on hold, put them on the shelf”?
And where is it deeper and less conscious than that? A feeling of shame and embarrassment where we don’t want to look at those needs and we feel humiliated and mortified by them? We experience them as pathological, or dangerous, or just embarrassing. Well, when that happens, when we can’t honor those needs, that’s when they go subterranean. And when they go subterranean, that’s where the deeper problems happen.
Recognizing the Source of Your Anger
I know for me this has been such a revelation, such an important thing to realize that I bury my needs. And the image that I had of that in my life was if you picture a stone jetty going out to sea, deep, far out to sea, and those were my needs. And then if you imagine that jetty being covered by a thick, thick fog, and that was my burying of those needs, my not wanting to see them, or validate them, or honor, or dignify them. So, I just didn’t want them to be there, I thought I could get around them.
So this fog is there, and you can’t see this stone jetty. But if a boat is coming by, it will crash into that jetty. And that’s what happened in my life so many times. I would get angry because I hadn’t been acknowledging my needs. And then when they weren’t met, I would get angry and I wouldn’t know why.
So when we can’t honor our needs or even feel or be aware of our needs, a quiet act of violence is going to be done. There is a suppressing of our spirit. There is a trying to bury a part of us alive. And that’s a kind of unconsciously violent act, and it always … When we bury our needs like that that we don’t even know what they are, there will always be a huge cost, and that cost might be ending up in masochistic relationships.
… Or you end up building walls, having walls against intimacy and not knowing why you keep pushing people away or running away from available people or getting avoidant or getting angry.
Why You Take the Route of Burying Your Needs
Those are all the things that happen when we take a territory of our soul or our being, which is our needs, and say no to it and don’t claim it as ours. So many ways in which we flee intimacy are a direct result of not embracing and honoring and dignifying our needs. I talk about this a lot in my book, Deeper Dating. But there’s a practice that we can do to identify when we might be burying our needs.
We can look at if we’re getting angry a lot in a relationship, that’s a sign that there’s some really big needs we’re burying, or in our lives if we’re getting angry a lot. We can look at if we are getting numb. If we’re getting numb, that’s a kind of numbing the power of our needs, the intensity of our needs, feeling like life isn’t going to give us what we need so instead of pushing harder to get what we need we’re just going to decrease the force of our need. That leads to depression, that leads to numbness, that leads to disinterest in life.
I’m going to take a little detour here and just say something about this. People talk a lot about attachment styles and it’s very clear how anxious attachment styles push love … People with anxious attachment styles push love away by always worrying; worrying are they being loved, is the person going to flee, are they capable of loving, are they going to flee, all of the many kind of worries that come with an anxious attachment style. People with an avoidant attachment style flee intimacy, they don’t run toward it.
The Secured Versus the Anxious
People with a secure attachment style, those folks are kind of a little bit maybe put on a pedestal because those are people who are not constantly afraid, anxious or avoidant in the presence of intimacy, but I want to point something out here. Often people with anxious attachment styles have that because they’re deeply sensitive to nuance in relationship. They feel the ruptures and the tears, the micro-ruptures and the micro-tears and they’re often not making that up, they’re sensing it and existentially it affects them.
Often people with anxious attachment styles have a great gift of sensitivity. Often people who have avoidant attachment styles have that because they feel so deeply that they have had to create those kind of unconscious walls. The truth is, that as wonderful as a secure attachment style is, often people with secure attachment styles have made a kind of choice to, to some degree, turn down the volume on their needs and their sensitivities to maintain equilibrium.
It’s not that the first two are negative and the secure one is necessarily, in all ways, the better one because each has its own gifts and I think that’s something that’s not spoken about as much as it could be. When we swing out in terms of honoring our needs, if we start asking these questions, “How does this need make sense? How is it connected to my deepest gifts? How is this something that if I honored it, it would create a better life for me and maybe a better world for other people?” So that the first stage is the honoring and the dignifying of our needs.
The Cost of Burying Your Needs
It’s something we’re not taught to do but when we do that it’s like holding our soul and our heart with cupped hands, cradling the essence of who we are. Until we do that, what are we going to do with our needs? We’re going to suppress them, we’re going to bank them, we’re going to avoid them, and that’s going to cost us a great deal.
I heard a wonderful saying in a course I took once and it was, “Swing out with the people you love in terms of what you ask for and in terms of what you give. ” I think that’s so true because if we don’t swing out with honoring our needs, even just internally to begin with, we will never know their full nature, their full character, and their full contribution.
We’re sitting with someone on a date and we want more closeness, more intimacy, and instead of telling ourselves, “Well, that’s just needy,” instead we say, “This is my capacity for intimacy and it’s one of the most precious parts of my being.”
Or we have a need for more truth and more reality in a conversation. Instead of feeling ashamed of that or frightened we honor that and we think, “What’s the truth that I’m sensing that’s not being spoken here? What is everybody in the room pretending not to know that I’m feeling and registering and having a need that there be truth told instead.”
This is such an exciting and enlivening process to begin to recognize our buried needs and when we express them … I’ll tell another story here. A dear friend of mine, when I was in my late twenties, found a partner, fell madly and wildly in love.
Another Sad Love Story
It was not a healthy relationship and he kind of disappeared, I felt him go underground in his romantic obsession in this relationship. Also, for me, he was my dearest, dearest friend and I felt like, for me, a relationship was about a million miles away. I lost so much in losing him, which would have happened anyway if he felt that much in love with somebody, but happened particularly so because he disappeared in this quicksand of longing for an unavailable person.
Anyway, I was angry and I was passive-aggressive. And I was needy and I was demanding, and I felt mortified by this. I felt like I had no right to feel these things. But I felt them and they kept leaking out. One day I remember, something happened and I just opened up to him and I said, “I just miss you. I just ache for our old connection and I miss you and I want more of you.”
I felt really embarrassed saying this. It was the nitty-gritty truth, it was my needs that I stopped burying and acting out around. I said that to him and his response was, “I can hear that I can really hear that. I get it, I love you, and I can hear that.”
He said, “But when you get angry at me, when you don’t really share what you’re feeling, when you’re blaming me, when you don’t get to the nitty gritty of what your want is, I feel blamed and I feel defensive.” I thought, “Oh my God.” The most tender part of me, the thing that I was protecting against saying the most, brought us closer together.
A Moment of Reflection
It was a moment when I realized that the vulnerability of my need was actually a glue between us. My shame and embarrassment and defensiveness around that was a shield between us.
This is something you might even want to think about right now. In your relationships, are there any relationships where you’re feeling numb, where you’re feeling distant, where you’re noticing you’re feeling angry a lot?
Those are gorgeous signs, those are “X marks the spot signs” to say, “What’s the need here that’s not being met?” How could you, as Harville Hendrix wonderfully says, “Turn your anger into an ask.” Like I did with my friend that time that was such a revelation for me. How can you swing out in terms of what you ask for?
When you can honor, when we can honor our needs and see the contribution inherent in them and give them all the space and the dignity they need, then we are able, it’s a non-pressured, non-loaded inner environment and we’ve got space where we can begin to frame things in a way that doesn’t off-put the other person.
Sometimes I think that’s like working with dough and getting flour on your hands. You can’t squeeze into the dough because it’s really sticky but if you have flour you can play with it, you can move it around, you can adjust it, and that’s the space we give ourselves when we validate and honor our needs.
We have play room, we have movement room to think, “How can I articulate this? I’m not crazy, this is a real feeling, how can I articulate this to the person I care about?” Then we can think about what their needs are as well.
Honoring Your Needs Is Enriching Your Life
When we get to the point that we can honor our needs and frame them in that way, it’s a kind of generosity even though it might not be easy. This is just … If there is a way to enrich our lives, it’s the honoring of our needs, the making space for our needs, and then if there’s a way to enrich our intimacy journey and our relationships it’s to find ways to articulate those needs and to listen to the needs of the people we love.
Rich and exciting subject, thank you all for listening and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast.
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