Regarding Needs as Thirst

Here's a multiple choice exercise for you that you won't find anywhere else. Please complete these sentences:

(1) If you're thirsty, you...

(a) deny you are thirsty and go watch Netflix.
(b) admit you are thirsty, feel embarrassed, and berate yourself for it.
(c) put sand in your mouth.
(d) run ten miles in hot weather.
(e) regard your thirst as an important clue about your physical state and drink a glass of water.
(f) ask someone else to get you a glass of water if you're not at home to do it yourself.

(2) If you're thirsty and you ask someone for a glass of water and he says no, you...

(a) decide you're not thirsty after all.
(b) decide you're unworthy, shouldn't want water, and will never again ask for it.
(c) demand that the person take responsibility for your thirst and give you a damn glass of water.
(d) take the person and his empty water pitcher hostage until they produce water for you.
(e) visit whomever repeatedly dismisses your thirst and repeat any or all of A, B, C, D above (clue).
(f) with integrity and patience, go somewhere else for a glass of water; repeat until you find one.

(3) If you're lonely, you…

(a) deny you are lonely and get drunk.
(b) admit you are lonely, feel embarrassed, and berate yourself for it.
(c) hurt yourself.
(d) refuse to speak to anyone for ten days.
(e) regard your loneliness as an important clue about your emotional state and hang out with yourself.
(f) ask someone else to come over and hang out or sit in a library among others.

(4) If you're lonely and you ask someone to hang out and she says no, you...

(a) decide you're not lonely after all.
(b) decide you're unworthy, shouldn't want company, and will never ask for it again.
(c) demand that someone take responsibility for your loneliness and come address it right damn now.
(d) take that person and her whole family hostage until they fix your loneliness.
(e) call whomever repeatedly dismisses your loneliness and repeat any/all of A, B, C, D above (clue).
(f) with integrity and patience, call someone else and ask him or her to hang out, or, befriend yourself.

How do you treat your needs? 
What attitude do you take toward your longing for a like-minded friend, a loving relationship, a healthy body, or a stable mind? Your attitude matters very much. It will directly inform the actions you take toward, or away from, those very things.

You do feel needy, ok? (No, I don't...). Yes, human, you do. You can't not. Living things cannot exist independently of all other things. If they were to try for too long to be completely independent, they would find themselves quite dependent and powerless down the road. Go without water or company for too long, and you will have monster problems. We have hospitals and prisons full of people with monster problems.

Sentient beings need certain basic conditions and connections in place in order to be ok, and those conditions and connections are not always readily available. They can only be approached, let alone achieved, if we truly know what they are. Because longing and needs are by definition unmet, recognizing them involves discomfort, as well as the ability to relax enough with the discomfort so they can point you to the condition, the awareness or connection, you're missing.

That's not easy, to relax with unmet need. We don't handle the absence or loss of things well. For example, it doesn't feel good to discover that conditions and connections we've gotten used to, like a long-term relationship, are harmful. It doesn't feel good to experience the absence of a condition or connection that we've lost, like a relative who really believed in us, or an unconditionally loving pet, who has died. It doesn't feel good to know deep down that we need something that we cannot get in our day to day lives as they are -- like more affection, more company, more sleep, more exercise, or better nutrition. Feeling bad feels bad but is not bad.

Lacking in some condition or connection whether, we consider it to be evidence of failure or mental illness, is not something to be avoided, feels but is not bad. Thinking needs/longing are bad and therefore to be bypassed (stopped/solved via indulgence or avoidance) is the obstacle. Knowing what we need -- even if it's not currently available -- is one step toward confidence in relationships and health of body and mind. If we refuse to have or know our needs because of how painful or dangerous it feels to have any, there are plenty of people who will know them for us, plenty of advertisements that will pathologize our needs with us, plenty of for-profit products and strategies (including psychotherapy) that will claim to meet the needs we refuse to have.

No one can ever know and address your needs as well as you can. But you have to be willing to really know yourself, through and through. It's crucial and good, every bit as much as it's sad or scary or frustrating, to settle into an unbiased awareness of your uncomfortable unmet needs. From there, you're in charge. You're in perfect position to act in favor of their updating, release, or fulfillment.

If you have trouble knowing or tolerating your needs, try regarding them the way I hope you do your thirst.

We don't argue with or shame ourselves about our physical thirst. We feel parched, which is somewhat uncomfortable, and we seek out water. If we can't find it right away, we don't panic or try to shut it down or loathe ourselves or blame others or make outrageous demands for it.* We respect the need, and we keep looking to meet it. We eventually find water, we drink it, we feel better. There would be dire consequences of refusing thirst and not drinking for too long. We would eventually get so dehydrated that we would be compelled to over-consume water, which at a certain point won't actually satisfy the thirst, and could make things much worse.

We do argue and shame ourselves when we feel "needy" emotionally. We have grown up with messages from family, the media, and other sources that tell us needs are signs of weakness, failure, brokenness. So we don't know what to do with them. So, we try to shut them down. (We can't, but we try.) We dismiss the need however we can, and we stop looking to get it met. Then we experience those monster consequences of denied basic emotional needs and get lost in crazy forests of complicated, starved, aggressive need. We begin making unreasonable demands, we panic, we overindulge, we overwhelm. The list of ways we do this is endless, but the results are the same: regret, depression, anxiety, shame, blame, greed, unwellness.

Underindulging and overindulging need are flip sides of the same coin. Recognizing emotional needs to be as basically good and workable as is the physical need for water (for most of us) -- and therefore being willing and able, early and often, to just know the plain feel of need -- is the efficient way to go toward getting needs met. Simple, but not always easy.

Check out how you react to your needs when they arise. Pay particular attention to the experience of any need arising, whether it's physical or emotional in origin. Rather than moving to dismiss or fulfill the need right away, just check out its texture, location, temperature, and spread in your body. Notice whether you appreciate it or judge it. Either is fine. Just let the need and any reaction to it hang in the space of a few still moments. If you can do that, next time, check things out earlier -- see if you can notice a need's earliest peep.
The very process of tuning into needs as they arise -- again, regardless of what the need is or whether it can be met -- is a brief but profound gesture of self-respect that can lead to constructive awareness and action throughout your day. 

*Unless we live in a place where there is a water shortage or crisis. Not meaning to touch upon that tragic reality here. This is just a metaphor.

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