Do you apologize for getting emotional? For being hungry? Needing to use the bathroom? Are you out here telling people you’re sorry for having the regular-ass needs and experiences of any other living organism?
When people say sorry too much, I always read between the lines, “I’m sorry for existing – clearly your life would be easier if I wasn’t here.” It’s sad, but I’ve been there too, and I understand.
Shahida Arabi wrote, “A child that is being abused by its parents doesn’t stop loving its parents; it stops loving itself.” And this applies to all forms of abuse, including neglect, abandonment, and sheer parental incompetence.
If someone left a young child locked in a bedroom all day while they went to work, that would be considered abuse. But what exactly makes that abusive? It’s that the child is not getting its needs met. So even if your parents paid the bills, sent you to school, and put food on the table, it’s still just as plausible that they were neglecting some critical developmental needs – love, nurturing, guidance, play, emotional attunement, soothing, acceptance, attention, mirroring, validation, appreciation, etc.
Kids don’t know why they’re not getting their needs met. But they always know when they aren’t. They try to get these needs taken care of by any means necessary, but a parent who isn’t meeting a child’s needs in the first place is obviously unlikely to recognize the problem. More often, the child is ignored, dismissed, or even punished for “acting out.” This is developmental trauma.
And so we learn to suppress our needs. To be ashamed and feel like a burden for even having them.
Reclaiming Your Needs
Many people don’t realize how much everyone benefits when their needs are satisfied.
When your needs are not being met in your relationship, you’re gonna be a terrible partner. If your needs go unmet at work, you’ll be an awful employee. Most of us are the worst version of ourselves when we sweep our basic human needs under the rug (often out of fear and shame).
In fact, this is the very basis of Nonviolent Communication. Marshall Rosenberg created it with an understanding that people are the most harmful to themselves and others when their needs aren’t satisfied. And NVC is all about understanding our feelings, wants, needs, and preferences and communicating them in a way that doesn’t exclude, threaten, or take away from anyone else.
Which points to another pervasive misconception: the idea that getting your needs met creates winners and losers; that taking care of yourself means you’re hurting others. And that’s not necessarily true (although it certainly can be if your relationship skills suck). There is almost always a win/win solution to be found in any circumstance.
Learning How to Live
I recently saw a post on social media by @littleowlella that said, “Lacking basic life skills is a sign of an abusive/neglectful childhood and not a personal failing… someone was supposed to teach you how to live.”
I would call knowing your fundamental human needs and being competent at satisfying them a “basic life skill.” Even though I’d argue that most of humanity is pretty bad at it. Honestly, we’ve just been procreating and traumatizing the shit out of each other for millennia. But I’m hopeful that we are finally starting to figure out how to be human. Slowly but surely.
And even if your parents taught you eight out of ten things and only dropped the ball on a couple, go get yourself a good coach or therapist who can show you the rest. There’s no shame in that.
The real shame would be having the ability to ask for help and just refusing to do it.
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