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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

Having Need

Many of my clients carry the unconscious belief that it is not okay for them to have a need. To be in need at all, even if there is no immediately identifiable object, can be untenable. As little ones in their families of origin, expressing a need wasn’t always safe and was often met with dysregulated, empathic failure. So many learned that having a need was the fast track to hopelessness, disappointment, and shame. Many watched the attunement, connection and affection fade from the field around them until it was clear: there was no resource, no receptor site with which their need could interface. When we're little, it's too painful and anxiety-provoking to allow for the possibility any of our caregivers might be limited, so from our earliest moments we default to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with us . . . that we are not worthy of having a need, let alone having a need fulfilled. While that realization was painful, we could temporarily rest knowing that we'd secured our survival by not challenging the status quo … shifting the blame for unmet need to ourselves was a way of guaranteeing our more primal, primary, priority need for belonging and protection. Sadly this prioritization strategy also laid the foundation for the deep shame that so many have experienced later on, especially in intimate relationship. As adults, often this correlation of need and unworthiness gets validated by spiritual teachings which confirm that having a need is a sign of lack of progress on the spiritual path, evidence of not enough faith or trust, too much attachment, failure to “stay in the now,” to understand the teachings on “no-self,” or that we are lost in the “ego.” The shame and blame continue from our earliest days, but with spiritual language replacing the voices of the original unempathic others. In fact, there is nothing wrong with having a need or simply being in a need state. It pretty much defines the human condition. Each of us carries some yearning in the heart, some longing for connection, to be met in presence, to be seen, to be heard, to be touched, to be held. We are herd animals, relational mammals. Belonging is essential. The NEED to Belong is primal. We will not be overriding millions of years of evolution anytime soon. While having need is perfectly natural, the reality is that as adults we will never be fully met in the ways that were our birthright, in the ways that infants and children should be met. It is unlikely those unmet original needs are ever going to be fully met by a partner or intimate friend. The long-term, accepting and responsive presence of a therapist or teacher can be integrating for some, but even under optimal conditions, the fact is that the time of our infancy and early childhood has come and gone, and we bear the scars of the insufficiency and losses of that period of our lives.

With our hearts open, we can come to our lovers, our friends, our family and our helping professionals. And while these caring souls will want and sometimes be able to meet you, to see you as you are, and provide what you are asking for, more often they will be able to offer you bits or pieces, interpretations or creative versions. When or if they meet you fully, you can rejoice and give thanks. And when they do not, you can likewise rejoice and give thanks, for they provide the sustenance and encouragement to take the opportunity to receive their good intentions and then tend to yourself in a radically new way. At times we will feel complete, resting in the wholeness that we are, and not in contact with any particular need or desire. After a full meal, nourished and sated, the body's needs are satisfied. Emotionally and psychologically we can feel similarly full and satisfied. At other times we will be hungry, drawn to assert a need, to ask for help, to enact a firm boundary, to honor a longing in the body or heart, to state very clearly what we want. We can stay committed to both of these experiences as perfectly valid and authentic expressions of our true nature, willing to be utterly chaotically gloriously human, without apology. Please continue to make requests of your partners and friends, while simultaneously remaining committed to the empowered, alive realm of self-care. Slow down, breathe into your lower belly, open your senses, and step into the sacred experience of YOU which is here, now. Honor the power and wisdom of the relational field, which is ultimately organized to meet all your needs, and will reveal . . . and reflect . . . how you can be more of who you already are.

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