Sometimes we try too hard to be good. We take care of everyone else’s needs but our own. But you have needs too, and will wilt slowly if your needs are not met. This does neither yourself nor the people around you any good. So honour your needs first, then you can more effectively tend to the needs of others.
How to honour your needs
1. Identify your needs
We often confuse wants for needs. There are three simple ways to differentiate between wants and needs.
Wants usually change over time, whereas needs do not. You may have wanted a round-the-world tour when you were younger, but now prefer chilling out at a beach resort. What does not change is the fact that you need an occasional holiday.
In your relationship, you may have wanted roses and romance in your youth, but are now thrilled when your partner does a practical errand for you. What has not changed is your need to feel special, that someone is willing to go out of their way just for you.
True needs are few, while wants are limitless. Write down everything you think you want, and see if you can group all of them into a few categories. For example, (i) gettting a promotion at work, (ii) not being interrupted by my wife, and (iii) winning tomorrow’s golf game may all fall under the category ‘ having recognition and respect’.
Your need is therefore to have recognition and respect, and the things you want or think you want are merely the ways you see yourself as having gained recognition and respect.
Needs are understood conceptually, in an abstract way. Wants tend to be specific words or actions that you want to experience in order to feel that the abstract need has been fulfilled.
For example, winning a golf game is a very specific outcome. The need it fulfills is much more abstract, the need to gain recognition and respect as a sportsman. Wanting a rose from your partner is a specific way of knowing that your need to be loved has been met.
2. Honour your needs yourself
Instead of waiting for others to meet our needs, try to fulfil them yourself. If you need to feel special, don’t wait for your spouse to buy you flowers. You could treat yourself to a pedicure or spa and enjoy being pampered by someone else.
If you need peace and quiet, don’t wait for the kids to decide to behave. Wake up an hour earlier and enjoy the tranquillity of the morning. Once your need is met, you can happily join the kids in their rowdy play later.
Taking responsibility for meeting your own needs puts you in the driver’s seat.It allows you to take control of your life without being at the mercy of other people’s behaviour. An important consequence is that you also free others from being hostage to your demands.
3. Ask for help
If your need requires the co-operation of someone else, like your spouse, ask him to help honour your needs. But don’t demand it as a right. Instead, explain your need and give examples of what would satisfy that need. Then ask him to consider one of those actions.
The key is to ask without expecting. If you convey your need as a demand or expectation, that need is much less likely to be met. Even if the other person obliges, the action is an obligation and not a gift, and you may not feel fully satisfied.
When you give the other person freedom to meet or not meet your need, the results can vary. Sometimes he will not comply, in which case you have to fulfill those needs yourself. In this case, you are no worse off than before. And remember that you should reciprocate by honouring the other person’s needs.
Honour your needs, and others will too
Personally I’ve found that merely making my need known to another person is often enough. I feel better even without any action on the other person’s part. This is because I have been true to myself by not denying my needs but giving them due recognition. The very act of honouring your needs will meet one of your very deepest human needs – the need to know that you matter.