Jessica del Rosso, MSW, RSW
Many of us, especially if we come from a difficult childhood, do not learn or know how to communicate our needs effectively. We react to our feelings, but not to the underlying and core need leading to the emotion in the first place. This leads to feeling not only disconnected from ourselves, but also those we have relationships with, whether it be our romantic partner/s, friends or family (chosen or otherwise). We may wish that those we are in a relationship with could, “read in between the lines” and meet our needs. However, if we do not inherently know what the need is, or how to get it met in a way that feels good for us, I argue that this sets us up for failure and feelings of resentment.
Maslows Hierarchy of Needs describes five essential human needs that impact our ability to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. They are listed as; Physiological needs (food, water, housing, sleep, clothing), Safety and Security (health, employment, property, family, social stability), Love and Belonging (friendship, intimacy, family/ chosen family, sense of connection), Self-Esteem (confidence, achievement, respect of others, a sense of self) and Self-Actualization (morality, creativity, acceptance, purpose).
It is ideal for us to have other humans to meet our needs. After all, we are a social species that thrives off of human connection. Social groups are an inherent part of our survival strategy. However, a main factor of having our needs met, whether by ourselves or others, is being able to identify which need requires attention. We need to feel our emotions and then dig deeper to find what requires tending to. For example, we may feel angry when a partner is playing video games and act out accordingly with unhelpful communication or negative self-talk. Instead, if we dig deeper, we may find that we feel angry because we have a need in that moment for affection and intimacy with our partner. The recognition of our core need may change how we communicate with our partner and we then experience an increased chance of the need being met e.g. “I’m feeling like I need affection. Can we cuddle on the couch in a few minutes?”
It is important to note that how one individual interprets a need being met, may not feel adequate for someone else. For example, someone may have their need of Self-Esteem met by completing a work project, where another may get that sense of achievement by creating a piece of artwork. An individual may have their need for Love and Belonging met through one or two close friendships, where another may need a larger group of friends and acquaintances.
When our needs are identified and met in ways that work for us individually, I feel this is a major way of showing ourselves self-love. During this challenging time, it is even more important for us to be able to meet our needs when others may not be physically around to help us do so.
I asked several individuals how they show themselves self-love during this time of increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. Some of the responses included;
“Allowing myself to rest. Giving myself something I want over others”
“Self love means taking care of my basic needs and putting myself first before others”
“Speaking kindly to myself. Honouring my needs and desires, believing I deserve love and happiness and asking for whatever will help me have that”.
“Making sure I am nice to myself with my internal dialogue. Affirmations, gratitude practice, meditation and breathing”.
“Giving myself permission. I read books, I take a walk, having a bath when there is another hour of work that could be done, cuddling with my cat, engaging in activities that society may not label as “productive”.
“Speaking gently to myself when I am insulting or invalidating my own emotions or experiences. Allowing my emotions to emerge”
“Letting myself feel my emotions instead of shoving them all down”
“As someone who loves physical affection, I will hold myself or use my weighted blanket”.
Some of my own suggestions include; practicing self-compassion, investing in your mental health, gaining an understanding of your limitations and capacity for stress, nurturing your relationship with your partner/s (learning about how you and your partner/s interpret love is a great starting point for understanding our need for Love and Belonging – I recommend the Five Love Languages quiz, which can easily be found online), sexual pleasure and playfulness, adventure and new experiences, healthy boundaries, nervous system regulation and effective communication to have
In a world that teaches us that our needs are not important, this month of love, act in rebellion and show yourself affection and kindness. Identify needs of yours that have gone unmet for too long and meet them in ways that feel satisfying to you.