Being Aware of Our Own Needs

Do you really take care of yourself? Do you put yourself first or do you sacrifice your own need for those of others? Certainly, it is hard to meet all our own needs when we have young children as we don’t often have time for ourselves. All the same it is important to be aware of our needs so that what we do, we do with joy, with purpose and with a lightness of spirit.

So many of us try to please those around us. We agree to help others, often without any thought to our own needs. We will often say “yes” to a request before checking in with ourselves. Do we really have the time to do this? will we have fun? or if not, what is our reason for agreeing? When we do not reflect on our own needs we sometimes notice that we are not carrying out the request joyfully, we feel burdened and annoyed. We wish we had found an excuse or found a way out. And if we back down we feel guilty. We sense we have let our family or friends down. We feel obliged to help out. We are not acting from the heart we are acting from guilt, or habit or obligation.

I fell into this when I was running the theatre. There was always so much to do and I ended up doing a lot of it myself. I said yes to too many tasks and I didn’t think of my own self-care and my needs. As expected, I fell ill and had to leave my post as Artistic Director. I promised myself when I recovered that I would pay more attention to my own needs, I would not feel guilty when I said “no” and I would choose what I wanted to do because it brought me joy.

I have found that reflecting on my needs and acting from the heart with joy is the key to my own personal well-being.

The difference between “requesting” an action and “demanding” it?

Have you ever thought about the difference between “requesting” something from someone and  “demanding” it?

When we make a request, with the words like “would you be willing”, you are giving the other person a choice – they can agree to carry out the action or they can say “no”. As it is a request, to guilt the other person, or shame or judge them is not an option. By requesting we have given them the choice.

Giving someone a choice means that if the person agrees to the request they will generally do so with more willingness and more enthusiasm. It is not something they have to do, or must do, it is something that they choose to do.

If they say “no” to our request they are in fact saying yes to something else. Since all behaviour has a reason and the reason is to meet a need, they are saying yes to another need they have.

There have been times that I have used a request when it was really a hidden demand. I remember, for example, asking my grandson to help clean up the kitchen after supper. When he said a reluctant “no” I found it quite difficult to accept without making a face and feeling annoyed. Of course this didn’t go well and we had an uncomfortable few moments. When I verbalized the needs, and expressed how important they were to me I found that he accepted my request. He understood that I needed the family to work together, to collaborate and contribute so our life together was peaceful and relatively easy for all of us.

If we don’t verbalize the needs the request is easier to turn down and it is often due to lack of understanding. He was not aware of the needs behind my request, he just heard the choice.

Everything we do, we do to meet a universal need.

Everything we do, we do to meet a universal need. At first I was sceptical about this statement. But as I started to analyse what I was doing  I realised I that it was true- everything I did was to meet a universal need.

Let me explain, I have started to meditate each morning before my breakfast and coffee. Why am I doing this? What need is it meeting? It meets my need for self-care, which includes focus and grounding, breathing deeply and pondering on my day. It allows me to have a quiet 10 minutes relaxation before I join the family for breakfast (during Covid there has been 7 of us in the house).

Later in the morning I will read a book (meeting my need for learning) or paint (meeting my need for creativity) or help my daughter by taking care of my grandchildren (meeting my need for contribution). I might help my daughter make lunch which meets a few of my needs, for example ( collaboration, connection and co-operation).

Looking at life through the lens of universal needs brings a certain clarity of intention to whatever we are doing. When we are aware of what needs we want to meet we can choose what strategies to use. Sometimes we do things we do not find enjoyable but if we look at them through the lens of needs we see there is a reason for our choice, they are needs we value. I wanted my daughter to have a good education so I enrolled her in a school I was working at. We had to get up early in the morning and drive for an hour to the school, but the expense and time was worth it to me as I valued education and learning.

Be careful using the self-talk “I have to”, or “I must” or “I should”. Remember to choose with care what needs you want to meet and then choose the strategy. Don’t “should” yourself. Choosing instead of using the ‘ “have to” self talk gives you power in your world and a greater sense of joy. Ultimately you take more responsibility for your actions and usually have more enthusiasm for the task.

Thoughts versus Feelings – Do we know the difference?

So many of us muddle our thoughts with our feelings. It is very common to hear and read expressions like “I feel like I need a break” or “I feel she doesn’t listen to me” or I feel as if I am eating too much”. When we use I feel with “like” or “as if” or with a name, we are in our head and in our thoughts and not sensing into our feelings.

When we are triggered by something we see or hear or a thought we have, our body will often go into a flight, fight or freeze state. When we can identify the way this resonates in our body, we can name it using feeling words, for example “I am noticing that my chest feels tight and I am having trouble breathing, a part of me is feeling sad and a part of me is feeling stressed”. We can then identify a need and find a strategy to meet that need.

 It is important that we distinguish the difference between a feeling and a thought. Awareness of what resonates in our body and naming the feeling helps us to take action and calm ourselves. We are then more present and better able to handle the tricky situation at hand.

I will give an example, yesterday I was nervous about a zoom presentation I was giving to eight people. I was not sure I could handle the technology. Forty five minutes before the allotted time I noticed that my heart was beating faster, my stomach was churning and my throat was dry. I named this as anxiety and nervousness. I knew I needed to relax and ground myself. I looked for some strategies and tried some breathing techniques but I found going into my studio and looking at the progress of one of my paintings was more useful. It helped me turn my thoughts to other things and brought me back to the present moment. Thirty minutes later I went into the call and I was calmer and more confident.

I have found regularly checking in to see what is alive in me (what feelings are alive) helps me to be more aware and conscious of myself and those around me.

Evaluations versus Observations

Why and when is it important to speak about your observations and not your judgments?

Indian Philosopher J. Krishnamurti once said that  “observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence”. This is a pretty loaded statement and I wanted to look at it further

What do we mean by our “evaluation” of someone or something? We mean our own thoughts, or beliefs. These have been taught us, or absorbed by us through our culture, our upbringing, our schooling, our religion and our experiences.

On the other hand when we talk about observations it is as if we are looking through the lens of a camera or a video camera. There is no personal interpretation, no comparison, no opinion, no evaluation and no diagnosis.  Certainly some of us will see some of the things in more detail or will notice more, but ultimately we can agree that we are seeing the same thing.

Why is it important to understand the impact of our evaluations? When we judge or evaluate someone they usually hear criticism and this blocks compassion and connection. This is particularly sad as it is usually happens to those closest to us. They tend to  receive the most criticism, (our partners, family and kids) and this is where our relationships break down and unravel.

Slowing down and being mindful about the way you speak to someone is important if you want to connect to them and be heard. In challenging conversations we can choose to be especially mindful and use our observations and not our evaluation of the situation. After all judgments cause wars and not just within the family

Be Cautious of the Stories You Are Telling Yourself

Constantin Brancusi, La Muse

We all have great stories to tell one another when we meet for social occasions. Stories are a way we connect and learn more about one another. But what about the stories we make up in our head about others. Beware of these stories, as they are very often false.

I will give you an example of something which has happened to me, I see someone I know in the store and I make a gesture to say hello. They don’t respond. I am confused and my thoughts begin to make up stories, to find a reason. I say to myself ” he or she does not like me, they want to avoid me, it must be because of something I said the last time we met”. So suddenly there is an obstacle in the way of connection and the next time I meet that person I feel uncomfortable and try to avoid them. They are then confused and stories are created in their head.

I did not verify my story, why didn’t the person greet me- there could be many reasons, it could be they are short sighted, lost in their thoughts, didn’t recognize me etc.

I have learned not to jump to negative conclusions and judge the other so fast. Instead I made a pact with myself. I want to be aware of the stories I am telling myself and always assume innocence. Assume that the other party is innocent of any ill will towards you. I have found it is a sure way to improve my well-being and happiness.

You are not the cause of someone else’s anger

You are not the cause of someone else’s anger.

Something you say or do might be the trigger for someone else’s anger, but the individual who responds to you with judgments and anger has chosen to respond in this way. This might sound bizarre, using the word “chosen” but we do have a choice how to respond to a hard to hear message. Very often the response is not a conscious choice, it is an immediate impulsive reaction or it might be a learned behavior (strategy to get their need met) and it is alienating for both of you.

So when someone responds with anger or judgments to your actions or words, remember that it is their reality, experience and pain, which causes them to react in the way that they do.

Instead of reacting with judgments and anger and increasing the conflict try empathizing and finding out what is behind the outburst. Become curious and connect with the person to learn more about their triggers. I can assure you that it will bring you closer together. Here is an opportunity to learn more, to connect on a deeper level and to gain more understanding.

I can remember a teacher of mine saying “Love your triggers”. At first I was confused, how can I love what challenges me, but then I realized that it offers the opportunity to grow in the relationship. It offers the possibility of learning more about the other and deepening the connection to one another.

DESERVE = Disconnection

“You deserve” as in you deserve to be rewarded? Or you deserve a good life. We hear it all the time and I wondered if you have thought about the meaning of the word? The dictionary definition is:  

To be worthy of, to be entitled to, to have a right to, have a claim on, 

When you say, “you deserve” you are making a judgment, and judgments (or diagnosis) disconnect us. If you judge someone as being deserving, you are working in a power over paradigm. As I said in one of my last blogs, judgments can be very destructive and in the case of the word “deserve” you have singled out someone as special. There is a sense of control from a more powerful person or group. You are passing judgment on them.

So you might ask – how can I acknowledge that something someone did or said pleased me or made me happy without telling them that they deserve to be rewarded?

I suggest we use words that convey the need that has been met. For example, you might say, “I appreciate all the work you put into the project and I recognize that you met the deadline.  Congratulations on your work”. There is nothing wrong with offering the person in question a gift as a way to express your appreciation. Just be careful of saying you deserve this! Needs connect us, so language like “I am grateful for” and “thank you for” connect on a “power with” basis.

I run a small company and I enjoy organizing a get together with my supervisors to thanks them for their work and to listen to their experiences. We celebrate the achievements of the team by having a meal together. Celebrating achievements is an important way to recognize our community.

I will often thank an individual by sending flowers or a gift. It is a way to acknowledge how grateful I am for their hard work and loyalty to the company. But I am careful not to say “you deserve”.

Self Compassion versus Feeling Sorry for Yourself

­­ What is the difference?

To me “having compassion for yourself” means to treat yourself with loving-kindness. “Being sorry for yourself” is to pity yourself – to say “poor me”.

With self- compassion I experience a sense of holding oneself with gentleness and understanding: of loving oneself and caring about your own personal well-being. I experience self-compassion as a warm red, orange feeling, radiating warmth and protection.

There is a real sense of giving your power away when you are feeling sorry for yourself.  To me “feeling sorry for yourself” is about powerlessness, helplessness and hopelessness. “Being sorry for yourself” to me means to judge yourself and seek pity and sympathy. I am wondering if this is then a small step away from a feeling of disgust and distaste for yourself.  I experience “feeling sorry for yourself” as a heavy, dreary, gray feeling; a lack of energy and passion quite different from self-compassion.

When I was away working with a group recently I had a bout of stomach flu. I missed the final gala and dance and the celebrations the following day. Of course I was upset and sad that I couldn’t join in the fun but I decided I needed to treat myself with care and compassion. I mourned my loss and acknowledge the disappointment I experienced. I know life challenges us in every way and this was just another unexpected occurance.

In conclusion, “Having compassion for yourself” for me means to treat yourself with loving-kindness. “Being sorry for yourself” is to pity yourself – to say “poor me”. Please be compassionate towards yourself and give yourself some care and tenderness when in pain or experiencing disappointment.

The Cause of Our Anger?

Nonviolent Communication teaches us that what other people say or do is not the cause of our anger. What people say or do might be the stimulus but the true cause of our anger is our own thoughts of blame and judgment (what we are telling ourselves).

If we are able to separate the stimulus from the cause, we can realize that we can be triggered (stimulus) but we can choose how to respond (the cause).

So often we hear people and especially parents say things like “ You make me so mad when you do that.” The truth is that they make themselves mad – they choose to be triggered by the other. They blame the other, when in fact they did not take responsibility for their own feelings and needs.

Before I started studying and practicing NVC I must admit that I sometimes used the strategy of blame to get my needs met. So often it was when I was rushed and believed I had to be somewhere on time. I needed some co-operation and ease (universal needs) and I wasn’t getting it. My three kids were running around throwing toys at one another. I can remember my mother using this strategy and I thought it was the way to get your need met- a way to discipline the kids. However, I knew when an adult used “you make me feel” directed at me, I felt angry and resentful.

Marshall said “The cause of anger lies in our thinking- in thoughts of blame and judgment” If instead we sense into our feelings and look at what we are needing (our unmet universal needs), we can find strategies to meet our needs in ways which help us understand and deal with our anger in a non-violent way.