If we do not voice our needs, it is hard to get them met
Updated: Jul 25
Sadly, when we have been brought up in an environment where our needs were dismissed or overlooked, we not only develop strategies to find acceptance in a different way (eg. some attention, even for something that is meaningless to us, is better than none), AND we never really learn to voice them in a healthy, effective manner.
Unfortunately what tends to happen then is, we carry these strategies into adulthood, but then subconsciously seem to expect others to know that they aren't authentic, and then we get angry when, in our minds, another person has let us down.
It is probably easier to illustrate this with an example:
You grow up in a family where you are always told to "calm down", or "be quiet" or "don't be so silly", perhaps you lacked praise. However, you learned that if you became really good at being helpful, then you were acknowledged. Being "helpful" although it's a positive trait, may not be meaningful to you...for example, perhaps what really resonates is championing a purpose, or innovating...but a childhood where expression of that was just "too loud", would often result in you finding a way to fit in...and you may not remember that helpfulness wasn't your thing in the first place...although you continue it because it brings you praise.
Then, as an adult you are "helpful" - that's just who you are (of course it's not really, but it's what got you accepted), and you feel an gnawing lack of appreciation - you're not seen, you're not acknowledged...people are saying "thank you", but it doesn't seem to mean anything, and worse, because you are known for being helpful, some people simply expect you to help but don't even appreciate you in return!!
So you might end up with a coach or counsellor who points this out, or perhaps in your own self reflection you begin to realise, I'm feeling neglected and unseen (even though I'm getting thanks.)
Then you get angry - and of course it might be fair to be angry at those who dump on you and then don't acknowledge it, there are the others who DO say thank you and DO praise your input, but somehow it's not enough.
Your actual needs aren't being met.
Now for some people, they may recognise that they don't want to be appreciated for their helpfulness, they'd like to be recognised for the fact that they gave up so much time, or that they created something special, or innovated something new, or generated a huge network...BUT because as a child they always got in trouble for voicing their needs ("calm down", "don't be so silly" and so on), they don't want to ask.
Then we have a problem.
Objectively, if you help someone they thank you for it, and that's all. Unless they know you, or unless you've said anything, they may not recognise that you have these needs bubbling...and realistically (and in fairness) - why should they?! Other people are NOT there to make us feel better!
So you then go an post something passive aggressive on social media, or you go and gripe to someone about how "no-one appreciates you"...and you're half right:
- You absolutely don't feel appreciated and it hurts, and perhaps this makes it feel a little better
- BUT you also need to identify your needs and ask for them to be met, or the expectation that others will recognise them is very unfair.
...not only that but the passive aggressive post, or the rant don't get you the outcome you truly need...a post may generate some "what's up"...but that's not helpful because you don't want to say (or are in the mindset of "they should know"), or ranting to someone might keep you fired up if someone simply agrees, and if they don't, you again feel un-validated. In both cases, you still don't learn to voice your needs in a healthy way.
So what can we do?
- Know your pain is real: First of all, your pain is valid, and I feel so sad that you never had your needs met, and that you lost your voice to ask. And I hope to be able to return that voice...but it will take time.
- Direct and manage that pain appropriately: Related to that, before you jump to the "I'm so strong" reframing, which I do appreciate can be healthy because you can see yourself as a survivor rather than a victim of circumstance, it can also be very helpful to spend a moment feeling sad, or angry even that your needs were not met as a child, or you didn't have the support you craved. It's not about blame - after all - parents or caregivers do their best within the circumstances that they find themselves in, and psychological support and understanding was certainly not so readily available a few years back; but it is about acceptance that this hurt, it's ok that it hurt, and it might dissipate some of the anger as it becomes directed in the right place.
- Ask yourself, WHAT DO I WANT PEOPLE TO SEE? When we feel our needs aren't met, it is often because we feel unseen for who we are...whatever that may be. In the case of someone being "helpful" as a strategy - they may really want people to see how hard it is to be helpful because they are always sacrificing their own needs for others. Or in the case of achievement and accomplishment, perhaps they don't want praise and congratulations, but rather appreciation of the effort, or acknowledgement of how creative, or unique that goal was.
-Related to that, Ask yourself: HOW CAN I ASK FOR THAT RECOGNITION?
This is of course the hardest part
i) sometimes it is about adapting our behaviour:
- instead of saying "no problem" when you help out, say "I can do it for you this time, but I also have x on myself"; or even sometimes resisting the urge to offer when people drop hints eg: "I need someone to help me move house on Saturday"...you haven't been asked directly remember (as you can see not many people are good at being direct!!) so you can say "I hope you find someone", or if you wanted to be a little more helpful, perhaps you might signpost eg: "When I moved, I used x company."
Something I do myself because I am a very good organiser, but often end up always organising...unless I actually want to do it, I have learned not to offer when someone says "Oh wouldn't it be nice to..." only venturing a "Yes that sounds nice, I'd be up for that if it goes ahead." But it's hard...you're fighting a lifetime of "pleasing" - in whatever way it has manifested.
ii) sometimes it's about recognising WHO DOES make you feel loved and appreciated, and simply spending a little more time with THEM!
iii) sometimes we might need to venture our feelings within our actions. So, for example, if you have been asked to help with something, and you have been happy to, but then someone wants something different. We need to quell that tendency to say "OK that's totally fine", if we liked it the way it was and instead say something like "But I liked it like this, so if you want to change it, how do you suggest we move forward?"
iv) frame the conflict as something to be solved together. When it comes to having your needs met and being a friendly and kind individual in our interactions, one of the most powerful methods is to enlist the support of the other person and work to solve the changed issue together.
People who have grown up not having their needs met often become very good problem solvers, and finding a solution often takes precedence over their own needs...Then they also become a bit of a victim to their own success. SO if it is coming out in passive aggression or upset, or it is causing people who do care about you to think - gosh what have I done now, or even resulted in damage to some potentially healthy relationships, then sometimes, we need to ease up on ourselves...and others!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt