Getting our emotional needs met isn't as simple as asking for them. How many times have you practiced those "I feel" statements but it didn't work? How many times have you told someone how you feel and it sparks a conflict? Or, maybe you tell someone how you feel, get what you want, but it doesn't feel different or better?
In communication, we tend to focus on the story; the content of our needs and feelings. The who, what, where and how. The story represents the surface of our emotional needs.
- "I need you to be more present. Please stop using the phone at dinner"
- "I need help with the kids."
- "I feel hurt when you don't return my calls"
This is a good start in identifying our needs but it doesn't stop there. Beneath the visable surface of the story, lies our emotional needs.
The other morning I had fallen asleep in my son's room. He was up early, crying, (molars, ick!) My husband had already left for work, when my 4 year old daughter, bursts through my son's bedroom door. "Mommy, I went in your room and nobody was there. I looked every where. I went back to my bed. Then, I hear Nicky wake up and I find you." She repeated this story three times, when I finally heard her voice crack. I asked her, "Honey, were you scared?". She responded, "Yes, I was scared Mommy", as she held back tears. I gave her a hug and the story stopped. She didn't know how to express her emotional need but she knew the story, the content, which described what she was feeling and needing.
A key component to healthy, connecting communication is understanding....
- What we are asking
- How we are asking
The What of Emotional Needs:
Often, in communication, our emotional needs could be considered a request or demand. We communicate our needs through actions or expectations.
- "I need you to tell me you love me more"
- "I need you look at me when I am talking to you."
If we stick with the story, "You don't show affection. I don't feel important", it leaves room for the person to minimize, debate or explain, keeping the conversation at the surface.
Consider this question, to help identify what the core emotional need, feeling or belief is: "What does that (comment or behavior) say about me?"
- "I need you to follow through with what you say" What does that say about me? "I don't feel appreciated"
- "I feel you don't listen to me" What does that say about me? "I feel unimportant"
- "I feel ignored when we are around other people" Say about me? "I'm not valued" "I don't belong"
- Yelling (behavior) What does that say about me? "I feel helpless"
- Leaving the room during a fight (behavior) What does that say about me? "I don't feel safe"
The How of Emotional Needs:
How we communicate our emotional needs is more difficult to explain. We need to understand the difference between expressing our needs from our heart versus our head. Let's start with one of my favorite quotes,
- "Drop the story. Feel the feeling."
If we can express or experience the feeling associated with our needs, rather than describe or talk about the feeling, our chances of creating connection and getting our needs met increase.
Have you ever met up with someone to vent? We talk about how lonely, sad, and scared we are, but we are not necessarily feeling those feelings. Actually, talking about our feelings can be an escape from dealing or feeling them. When I was younger, I went through a bad break up. You can bet I was on the phone with all of my friends telling them 'all about it'. Now, that I am a little older and a little wiser, I can see talking about my feelings was an escape from feeling my feelings. For I knew, if I turned off that phone, I would feel alone.
Expressing or experiencing our feelings is work done without the story. This is where our vulnerability lies. We are exposing a part of us that we are usually trying to protect. We take off the masks, displaying our raw, deep unshielded emotional needs. We are risking potentially being hurt, but we are also taking the chance that we will finally be heard, finally seen, finally cared for in the way which we need and deserve. We need to be not do vulnerable. Of course, someone could still challenge or minimize our emotional needs/feelings. However, if we come from a vulnerable place, others tend to match that vulnerability. They let down their defenses and respond from that same vulnerability. Seriously, having a "heart to heart" conversation. It is difficult to describe, because you can feel, rather than hear the difference, when we bravely communicate with vulnerability and openness. Being vulnerable is not easy and is often uncomfortable. It is something we tend to hide or protect.
Here are some tips to consider as you lean in to your vulnerability.
~Understand vulnerability better. Dispell some of they myths attached to it. Brene' Brown has an excellent TEDtalk and written several books on the topic of vulnerability.
~Identify your vulnerability. Notice how your body feels. Open and relaxed? Tight and exposed? Trapped and heavy? Before practicing being vulnerable with others, we may have to start with ourselves first.
~Practice being vulnerable. Find a safe person, who will not judge or be uncomfortable with your emotions. Being vulnerable with people, who cannot hold that space, will only make you protect that part of you even more. If you are unsure of a person or do not have one, therapy is a good place to start. Or, try teaching people how to treat you. Start small and investigate more.
- "Can you turn off the TV while we talk"
- "I have something uncomfortable to share. Can you listen without interrupting or trying to fix me?"
- "Can you hold my hand, especially if I get emotional?"
- "If you disagree with something I say, can you let me know you hear how i feel, before responding?"
~Protect vulnerability. If it is hard to feel or connect to your vulnerability, identify what are your protectors?
- People Pleasing
- Busy Bee
Our strength doesn't come from how tough we present and how we can stay in control. Our strength comes from letting go of control; control of the situation, others, ourselves, while we get to keep feeling honest, authentic, calm, connected and present.
One of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown, "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage are not always comfortable, but they are never a weakness.