Needs are everywhere. We spend time each day meeting the needs of others or ourselves; it’s a never-ending process. Not all needs are created equal; some feel optional (reading for pleasure), while others are essential to maintaining our well-being (sleeping and eating). So what happens when circumstances arise that make you feel bad about yourself, asserting an emotional need? We have three typical responses to our emotional needs and while we use all three to cope in a world that doesn’t always set us up for success, one of these will be the place you start to meet these needs.
The first of these three responses is the direct route, acting on our need to feel good about ourselves. We fix the problem, justify our actions, demand something of others or find some way to re-take control of the narrative (internal or external) that we find ourselves immersed in. While taking action is often a good thing, do not confuse action with accountability; sometimes we act in ways designed to protect ourselves that don’t include getting to the heart of the matter when it involves making us feel vulnerable. Actions are a two-sided coin; to either work through unwanted feelings, or to subvert them, depending on what is motivating us.
Another way to meet our emotional needs is to earn the trust and respect we crave to ensure the way we want to feel is consistently present in our lives and work. We may try to appease others, or be of best service, to maintain or regain feeling good about ourselves in their eyes. This type of response is all about meeting expectations. Being aware of (and using) expectations as a motivator can be a very good thing, but when taken too far it can result in a polarizing outcome, where we either feel we are “better than” others (more moral, ethical, loving, etc.) or “less than” others (becoming a doormat or emotionally dependent on others for our own self-esteem). Earning the respect and trust of others is also a two-sided coin, being there for ourselves emotionally versus making others fill this void for us.
The third way we beautiful human beings try to meet our emotional needs is by withdrawing (as in “Stop the world, I want to get off”); moving away from conversations, situations and people (mentally or physically) as a way of coping with overwhelming feelings. Here the motivation is to take time to process what is going on, turn it over in our minds and see what it is all about. As adults we get very good at doing this in socially acceptable ways, like tuning out in the midst of a conversation; being there, but not really being present (or actually leaving, slipping away unnoticed). While stepping away from something stressful or meaningless can give everyone time to think, doing it without the intention to resolve the problem (preferring the more rational, fertile space of our inner mind to the harsh and unpredictable outside world) abandons responsibility. Withdrawing from others as a coping mechanism is also a two-sided coin (considerate time out versus abdicating accountability) depending on what our intentions are.
Learning which of these responses feels most familiar to you can help you to better see whether you are using it to work through something difficult (owning it), or to escape unwanted feelings (running away from it). Getting in touch with this essential part of you (coping with how you feel about yourself) is a powerful way to realize your full potential, at work and in life. Love yourself first.
“When we are stuck in our convictions and personas, we enter into the disease of having good ideas and being right…We think we have a lock on truth…but the bigger we pump ourselves up, the easier we are to prick with a pin. And the bigger we get, the harder it is to see the earth under our feet.” ~ Anne Lamott, Almost Everything, Notes On Hope
(These three ways we meet our emotional needs are based on the work of Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Triadic Self, page 60 - 63)
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