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Do you have more or less of a need?

In last week's Connection Gem I mentioned that everyone has the same needs yet relates to them differently.  Because of this it sometimes seems like your partner has certain needs in greater or lesser quantities than you.  Commonly I hear couples say this about needs like intimacy, affection, reassurance, security, acknowledgment, and autonomy.

The appearance of having more of less of a need often depends on how you learned to relate to that need in your family of origin.  For simplicity sake you can think about your relationship to a need in three ways:

1) Supportive: the need was consistently met in a loving and supportive way.

2)  Ambivalent: the need was inconsistently met and may have been associated with judgment or emotional volatility.

3)  Disconnected: attempts to meet the need were actively discouraged and you learned to, at least partially, shut down your connection to it.

Let's look at examples of each of these using the needs for autonomy and intimacy.

1)  Supportive

If you were consistently supported in expressing independence and choice growing up, then you likely stay connected to your autonomy in a variety of circumstances.  You are able to no to requests from others.  You are comfortable joining groups and relating to authority figures because you remember that you have a choice about how and when to engage.  You are likely to take your time and consider carefully what will work for you and what won't.

2)  Ambivalent

If however your relationship to autonomy was ambivalent, inconsistently supported, ignored, or suppressed by your parents, you may find yourself frequently fighting for your autonomy.  It may feel like the world is full of people pressuring you into doing things.  You might swing back and forth between going along with everything and resisting everything.

3)  Disconnected

If your autonomy was frequently not allowed or actively discouraged growing up, you may have become disconnected from it.  You may find yourself unable to say no in the face of a request.  Setting boundaries is an almost incomprehensible concept.  You may feel like you are living someone else's life rather than your own.  You tend to make your decisions based on what you think you should do rather than what is in your heart.

Let's look at the same scenarios for intimacy.

1)  Supportive

If you had a consistent loving bond with a caregiver growing up, you likely enjoy and trust intimacy.  Your need for intimacy is met easily and often because you trust that connection with others will be positive.  When your partner goes away for a trip you likely can maintain a sense of connection to him or her.

2)  Ambivalent

If sometimes intimacy was met with warmth and other times it was associated with violation or betrayal, you likely have an ambivalent relationship to it.  When others reach out to you, it may be difficult to trust so your need for intimacy often goes unmet.  You may let yourself get intimate with someone and then suddenly find yourself numbing out or wanting to get away.  You may find yourself wanting to meet your need for intimacy only with your partner whom you have learned to trust.

3)  Disconnected

Perhaps as a child when you approached a parent for closeness, and she or he was unavailable or ridiculed you in some way (For example, "Big girls don't need to sit with Mommy.").   You likely shut down around your need for intimacy.  You may hear yourself saying to your partner, "I like being alone, Let's just do our own thing." The pleasure others take in snuggling and being close may seem strange to you.  You may have a sense that you don't belong, that you were born on the wrong planet.

For people in supportive or disconnected relationship to a need it may appear from the outside that they have "less" of that need.  For people in an ambivalent relationship to a need it may appear that they have "more" of that need.  The unfortunate result of this misperception is that it can lead to shaming or at the very least evaluating "how it should be".

When it is difficult to relate to a need organically from the heart, you may find yourself looking to outside standards for what is "normal".  Others may collude with you in this idea.

What I have presented here is not meant to be a complete explanation of the complexities of how we develop and learn to relate to our needs.  It is meant to begin to give a framework to reflect on your relationship to needs in yourself and others.

Of course these original ways you learned to relate to needs is changeable.  Otherwise we wouldn't be doing this work.  Being in a supportive partnership and community is one of the most powerful vehicles for change in this realm.

Take a moment to reflect on a need that you experience some ease around.  Notice how you and under what conditions you meet that need.  How did you learn to relate to that need in a connected way?

Next Gem
A Stable Sense of Support in Economic Instability
Previous Gem
Shame Jackals Keep You Stuck

5 Responses

  1. Jun 20, 2010

    This one in particular struck home with me (actually most of them do). The scary part is that when it came to the question of thinking about a need that I could easily fulfill, I couldn't think of even one. Mostly in reflection I find that my early upbringing was full of ambiguity and disconnection.

  2. Jun 22, 2010

    Glad to hear from you Art. I wonder if some needs you meet easily might be related to music.

  3. Jun 22, 2010

    Yes, the need to stop thinking about anything else!
    Also, the need to express myself although this does not replace the need to be heard.

  4. Jun 30, 2010

    These Gem's really touch my need for learning and understanding more about my needs and feels. This one came up in a time when I was just told "how it should be" and what "normal" is around intimacy. Hearing that I felt hurt, sad, and worried because I want understanding. I struggle with trusting the connection and sometimes know that my need is less for intimacy.. As I read this... I think it is probably because my history has been full of disconnection and people who walk away. Now my marriage is suffering.

  5. Jun 30, 2010

    Sounds like you have a clear awareness around what needs healing for you. I hope you can find the support you need in creating healing for yourself and your marriage.

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