“The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.” ~Sonya Friedman
In what feels like a previous life, I was a serial dater.
I looked for attention, validation, and identification in relationships. Each guy, however wrong for me, seemed like the perfect fit for my empty hand.
Maybe I hated being around his smoking, but I brushed it off and tried to breathe the other way.
Maybe our conversations were dull, but I thought it'd get better. Maybe I cringed at being dragged to another party, but I went, because he wanted to see his friends.
This pattern continued for years.
I stayed in relationships that were clearly wrong for me and dated people I didn't understand, who didn't understand me, just to be in one.
It wasn't until an insightful Zen class that I even became aware of the pattern.
As I cozied up in the gently lit room, hot tea in hand, surrounded by kindred spirits, the Zen master began the day's lesson: needs.
Huh. I sipped the sweet jasmine tea and listened intently, totally blown away by what he was saying. Needs? What are those? Seriously, they weren’t even on my radar.
But they should’ve been. Needs are personal prerequisites to happiness.
We don’t learn to pay much attention to our needs, beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter. Television advertisements, popular culture, and the desires of others dictate our “needs.”
But I'll bet that, on a soul level, you don't need a cooler car, a bigger ring, whiter teeth, or more parties.
What do you need then? Answering this question can be one of the most powerful transformations of your life.
It was for me. After that class I started paying attention to my needs, and very slowly, I began attending to them.
I needed to embrace my introverted nature instead of ignoring it or boozing it out at parties every weekend. I needed alone time—space to dream, think, and be. I needed peace and quiet. Deep conversation. The freedom to spend a Friday night in without guilt.
At first, recognizing these needs was rough. I hated myself for having them; why couldn't I be like the other twenty-one-year-olds? Why did bars overwhelm me? Why couldn't I socialize with his rowdy friends?
It drove me nuts. So for a while, I continued to ignore my needs. I thought I'd just override them with more wrong relationships and parties I hated.
But eventually, I couldn't ignore them anymore. I came to terms with them. Being aware of my needs was making room for me to actually start taking care of them.
It took years, but I'm finally at the point where I'm comfortable with my needs—and making them known.
I'm with a guy who not only accepts but embraces my introverted nature, so I have time to write, be alone, and spend a Friday night with a book without ridicule. It's allowed me the space to be more authentically myself, making me happier and more available for all of my relationships.
Maybe you can relate. Do you shove your true needs aside to fit in with what you're “supposed to” want and do? Or to tend to the needs of others?
When was the last time you asked yourself, “What do I need right now?”
If it’s been a while, or if this is as new to you as it was to me, here’s a brief intro on how to work with your needs:
1. Realize that having needs is not selfish, weak, or dependent.
For some reason there's this idea that having needs makes someone selfish or needy. Please, let that go.
Sometimes we feel this way because we think the needs of others should come first. But how can you be available as your best self for others if you're not taking care of yourself? When you're happy and taken care of, it's more of a joy than a burden to take care of the needs of others.
It will take some time to get over the negative ideas about having needs, so be gentle and patient with yourself through this process. Just remind yourself that we all have needs, and there's nothing wrong or greedy about having them.
On the contrary, it's oh so right to take care of them! Recognizing and attending to your needs is part of self-love and care. Be good to yourself—honor your needs.
2. Ask yourself: What are my needs?
For many of us, our needs aren't even on the radar. Simply taking a moment to ask yourself what they are can give you answers you never knew were there.
So ask yourself: What are my needs? What are my personal prerequisites for happiness? Not what the commercials or your friends are telling you. What is your soul telling you?
Do you need more creativity, passion, fun? More time in nature? Less stress?
Once you've started discovering what your needs are, check in with yourself often. Are your needs being met right now? If not, how can you make that happen?
3. Accept them for what they are.
It's tempting to beat yourself up about them, like I did. But you can't change it. So why fight them?
You might not like what you find at first—that's okay. You don't have to like something to accept it. Just remember that everyone's needs are different. Let go of expectations and embrace whatever comes up for you.
This is really a part of accepting you for who you are. Your needs are highly personal, a reflection of your authentic self.
Being real with your needs means being real with yourself. It means being authentic and honoring you and your whole human experience.
4. Communicate them.
It can be tough to start letting others know what we need. We're afraid of looking selfish or placing burdens on others.
Let go of this.
By communicating your needs to others, you're creating a mutually respectful environment, one where they'll feel free to express their needs too. So really, telling people what you need is pretty selfless! Just be ready to hear and honor theirs as well.
Communicating our needs requires and creates a great deal of respect and authenticity in our relationships. When you're honoring one another's needs, you're creating the opportunity for greater authenticity, respect, accountability, and love.
5. Tend to them.
This, of course, is the most important part—taking care of those needs! This step also takes time.
Start small. If you're a closet introvert like I was, try saying no to one party invite and enjoy that quiet time, guilt free.
You don't need a radical overhaul. Baby steps will build you up to the point where your needs become priorities. Before you start feeling selfish, remember: When you're practicing stellar self-care, you're becoming more authentic and available for your relationships.
I won't pretend that these steps are easy. They're not. It took me a long time to get to the point where I'm aware and taking care of mine, and sometimes I still screw up. It's always a journey.
But it's a journey that's so worth it. They always are, aren't they?
So embrace the challenge, honor yourself, and attend to your needs for greater authenticity, self-love, and presence on this beautiful journey.