Asking For What You Want

I have long contended that each of us is responsible for Self and for our own needs; if that is true you might ask: ‘what need do we have of other relationships?’ Many of our adult needs are met in relationship with others – friends, partners, work colleagues, teachers, lecturers, managers, service providers, politicians and so on. However, having a need of another does not mean I am dependent on him or her to meet that need; on the contrary, it is my need and I am responsible for it. When I am independent I have no resistance to expressing a need but it is a request, not a demand or a command. However, when I am dependent, the expression of a need is implicitly and, often, explicitly, a demand or command. To say ‘no’ means risking either a verbal onslaught or an emotional and physical withdrawal that may last for days on end – until the ‘offending’ party breaks the ice. Sadly, sometimes, the reaction can last for years or never be resolved. There are some individuals who defensively do not express their needs, but who do expect you to read their minds – thereby cleverly putting all the responsibility onto you for not only meeting their needs, but also identifying them – an impossible task, but, nonetheless, taken on by some individuals.

It is very empowering to identify, own and take responsibility for our own needs, it is a recipe for conflict not to do so. Because of the frequent lean-to nature of our first relationships with each parent, ‘passing the buck’ is very common. Of course, for every person who ‘passes the buck’ there is somebody who ‘takes it’ and protectively burdens herself with responsibility for the other person’s needs. In order for change to come about, a raising of consciousness is required that either says ‘I am not responsible for another adult’s needs’ or ‘the other person is not responsible for my needs.’ However, a realisation of how dependent ways of being in relationship helps the process of cutting the ties that bind. Certainly, in my own case, I would have unconsciously believed that the way to get recognition within the family was to ‘look after everybody.’ There is a great wisdom in that strategy because children need some sense of belonging where unconditional belonging is not present. Other adults when children develop the opposite strategy – find ways to make sure that they are looked after by others – through temper tantrums, histrionics, destructiveness, aggression, violence. All of these latter behaviours are designed to ensure conditional recognition. However, as adults, whatever happened to us as children, the mater is now in our own hands. Therefore when we find ourselves engaging in demanding or commanding or waiting for others to mind-read or always attending to others, it is time to reverse the process so that responsibility for one’s own needs rest with self and not with the other and that:

  • demands/commands become requests
  • waiting to be mind-read becomes an honest expression of a need
  • attending to others becomes allowing others to speak and take responsibility for themselves

Making the above u-turns is not easy but it is an essential part of becoming mature. It is such a place of freedom when you stop taking responsibility for your own live and allow others to take responsibility for themselves.

In terms of the parenting and teaching of children, guiding children in age-appropriate ways towards responsibility for their own needs is a fundamental aspect of mature parenting. Of course, children need to be encouraged to make requests, but we have all encountered children who will scream the house down to get their own way or will sulk, withdraw and even get sick to get a need met. Somehow, these children are not meeting the boundaries that need to be created by parents that say ‘sometimes I can meet your need and sometimes I cannot’, but ultimately your need is yours.

In adult relationships, some partners are scared of taking the risk to express separateness and independence for fear of a partner’s reaction. When this is the case there is a deeper issue that needs resolution – non-possession of your self. When you realise that nobody own anybody and that individuals need to belong to their own interiority you are then ready to take responsibility for your own needs and not take responsibility for another’s needs.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology including Whose Life Are You Living?