6 Reasons We Ignore Our Needs and How to Stop

“If you feel that you are missing out on fulfillment and happiness, but cannot put your finger on why, perhaps there is something deeper going on. Believe it or not, anyone can develop an unconscious habit of self-deprivation. Usually, this habit begins in childhood.” ~Mike Bundrant

For all my adolescence and over a decade of my adult life, I was what men (and I’m guessing some female friends as well) would refer to as “emotionally needy.” And some did. To my face. With a sense of condescension and judgment.

They were right. I was clingy, insecure, and fragile. I needed regular reassurance. And I was constantly on the lookout for signs that someone might reject or abandon me.

I was also highly dependent on external validation because I didn’t believe I was worthy or good enough. And I treated myself like I wasn’t.

I frequently deprived myself of the things that might make me feel happy and whole while numbing myself with other things that made me feel worse about myself and even more depleted.

Instead of expressing my feelings about things that had hurt me, I attempted to drown and burn my emotions with booze, cigarettes, and weed.

Instead of sharing myself authentically and pursuing relationships with people who seemed receptive and trustworthy, I shapeshifted and chased one emotionally unavailable person after another—repeating a humiliating pattern of rejection and neglect that felt painful yet familiar.

And then there were the many ways I ignored my physical needs. Like pushing myself to work more when I really needed a break—so I could achieve something big enough to feel I was worthy of love. Or forcing myself to exercise when I really needed to rest—so I wouldn’t become big enough to attract the same abuse I’d endured as a bullied kid.

I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I eventually realized I was so needy because I didn’t value or honor my own needs—so I looked to someone else to do it. It was the ultimate in disempowerment. I was a fragile shell of a human being who desperately hoped someone would fill me up, and convince me I deserved it.

But the irony is that when you don’t believe you deserve good things, you’re likely to sabotage or reject them when they come your way. If you even put yourself in the position to attain them.

And the truth is that no one else can be responsible for meeting all our needs. And most people who try (and inevitably fail) are dealing with their own wounds—fulfilling some kind of savior complex that resulted from childhood trauma. Another pattern I know all too well.

If we want to feel happy, worthy, and loved, we have to take responsibility for meeting those needs for ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we can’t also form relationships with people who see our worth. Just that we won’t depend on their perception to maintain our own. And we won’t require anything (or much) from them to fill our own cup. Because we’ll not only have the awareness and tools to do it ourselves but the confidence that we deserve it.

If you can relate to any of my story or even just some, there’s a good chance you also struggle with recognizing and honoring your needs. And this likely affects more than just your relationships.

It might manifest as deteriorating mental or physical health. It might result in professional burnout if you push yourself to do too much, especially within a toxic work culture. It could also lead to a sense of emptiness and purposelessness if you continually ignore the voice inside that tells you you’re unfulfilled.

The first step to changing all of that is to recognize that you’re devaluing and deprioritizing your needs and do some soul-searching to understand why.

When we understand the conditioning and beliefs that have shaped us, we’re able to work on the type of internal healing that can lead to major external change.

It was only when I healed my deepest core wounds that I was able to change my patterns because I was no longer building from a foundation built on trauma but rather one erected in its place from self-love. Self-love that started as the tiniest seed and eventually grew into a mighty tree—much like the one at the top of this site.

Not sure why you ignore your needs? Perhaps, like me, you’ve experienced some of the following.

6 Reasons We Ignore Our Needs

 1. You grew up watching other people putting themselves last.

If your parents or caregivers constantly neglected themselves while trying to please other people, you might have learned from their example that it’s selfish or wrong to put yourself first.

They probably thought the same, and maybe for the same reason. Patterns of self-neglect, self-sabotage, and self-destruction often get passed on from generation to generation until someone says, “No more” and does the work to break the cycle.

2. You learned, by how you were treated growing up, that your needs aren’t important, or as important as other people’s.

If your parents or caregivers ignored or neglected your needs, regularly or as a form of punishment, you might have concluded that you’re not worthy of having your needs met, or that you deserve to be deprived in some way whenever you make a mistake.

You likely didn’t realize as a kid that when your parents failed to show up as you needed them to, it was because they were wrong, not you.

This doesn’t mean they were bad people or even horrible parents. Once again, they were likely repeating what they experienced as kids because they didn’t know any better. (But now you do.)

3. You believe that having needs is somehow wrong or a sign of weakness.

You might mistakenly assume that having needs is the same as being needy—perhaps because someone else ingrained this belief in you, directly or indirectly. Maybe by invalidating your feelings, gaslighting you when you spoke up for yourself, or shaming you for asking for help.

But as I realized, there’s a huge distinction between having needs and being needy. And more importantly, when you’re able to recognize and honor your own needs, you’re not dependent on other people to do it for you. Which is the exact opposite of being needy.

4. You believe prioritizing yourself is unsafe because other people might hurt, judge, or abandon you.

If you were hurt, judged, and abandoned as a result of trying to honor your needs in the past, you might carry a subconscious fear that this could happen again. Consequently, you might feel panic even thinking about honoring your needs.

And if you’re anything like I used to be, you probably don’t realize you’re better off losing anyone you could lose by speaking up for your needs.

5. You believe you need to earn good things and that you haven’t done enough to deserve them yet.

In our achievement-focused culture, it’s easy to conclude that you’re not good enough if you haven’t accomplished something impressive. If this is true for you, you might be putting most of your needs on hold until you achieve something that makes you feel worthy.

In my twenties I spent many days and nights glued to a computer, thinking everything would be better in my life if I could just find a way to make a mark—and some decent money in the process. It didn’t occur to me that I could feel better right in that moment by stepping away, taking care of my needs, and allowing myself to be present while doing something I enjoyed.

6. You’re living in survival mode, and your needs aren’t even on your radar because you’re focused on getting through the day.

If you’re living in a state of chronic stress, due to trauma, grief, or burnout, you’re quite possibly doing the bare minimum,  just trying to keep your head above water. When you’re in survival mode, you have no energy left to focus on your needs, big or small.

I experienced this when I was at my worst mentally and physically, struggling with depression and bulimia while also suppressing deep trauma. And I went through something similar (but far less life-threatening) as a chronically sleep-deprived new mother, without a village.

If you were nodding your head while reading any of the above, you now have a good starting point for changing your patterns.

The next step is to regularly check in with yourself and ask yourself two questions:

  • What do I need right now—physically, mentally, and/or emotionally—to feel and be my best?
  • What false beliefs do I need to challenge in order to meet that need?

The first question requires you to get really honest with yourself and to let go of the instinct to judge your needs. Because they might be different from other people’s.

You might need to share your feelings in a trusting space while someone else might not require the same type of emotional support in a similar situation.

You might need to get up and move your body while someone else might be able to continue with the task at hand for longer.

You might need time to yourself to recharge while someone else might be fine and even content with socializing for longer.

The important thing to remember is you’re not them, and that’s not only okay but beautiful! Because honoring your unique needs allows you to show up as the best version of your unique self.

As for the second question, when you pause and really think about why you might choose to deprive yourself, you give yourself the opportunity to challenge your instinctive behavior and overcome your conditioning.

I’ve found that a tiny pause can be huge.

In tiny pauses, I’ve realized I need to let myself cry instead of stuffing my painful feelings down, burying all hopes of joy with them. That this isn’t wrong or a sign of weakness but rather a precursor to feeling stronger.

In tiny pauses, I’ve recognized that I need to get outside instead of isolating myself or forcing myself to be productive. That I don’t need to accomplish anything to be worthy of relief and connection.

And in pauses somewhat longer, I’ve found the strength to speak up when someone mistreats or devalues me. Because I remember that, contrary to what I concluded when I was younger, I am worthy of love and respect.

Knowing this is the key to honoring our needs. Because honoring our needs is the number one way we give these things to ourselves.

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She started the site after struggling with depression, bulimia, c-PTSD, and toxic shame so she could recycle her former pain into something useful and inspire others do the same. She recently created the Breaking Barriers to Self-Care eCourse to help people overcome internal blocks to meeting their needs—so they can feel their best, be their best, and live their best possible life. If you’re ready to start thriving instead of merely surviving, you can learn more and get instant access here.

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