Rule Two: Ask for what you need.
While I received some resistance to each of the 5 Rules For Holidays That Don’t Suck, the second one seems to have cultivated the most emotional response. You would have thought I asked them to grow sky scrapers in their wombs. The emails suggested that failure was that inevitable, that it was better to just keep our needs to ourselves. One woman described the profound sense of invisibility, that her requests for support fall on deaf ears, a trend that I see again and again in the women in my community.
Naturally, I’ve been there myself, which is the only reason I recognize any of this in others. And I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t matter whether it comes from habit or tradition or codependency. What matters is that we learn to break the cycle. Our success depends on our willingness to tend the gardens of our own lives.
If you’re out of the habit of asking for what you need, here are some assists to ease you back into it:
1. Recognize Your Needs – It is impossible to ask for what you need if you don’t recognize that you have one. When life is spinning all around you, it helps to pause and breathe your way back into clarity. Ask yourself–silently, aloud, or in writing–what need or needs are unmet at this moment. You may be able to recognize fear or loneliness or grief on the surface but stay with it long enough to see what you need. It might be that you need to release the emotions that are overwhelming you. Perhaps you’re hungry. Perhaps your need for companionship is unmet.
2. Accept Your Needs – Asking for what you need is much easier if you believe that your needs are valid. What makes your need valid? You do. If you decide that it’s okay to need to eat three balanced, healthy meals and a snack each day, then it is so. If you believe that it is okay for you to make more money… well, then it is going to be okay. If you believe in your heart of hearts that your need to live in a safe and secure environment with a partner who treats you with love and respect… Well, you can see where I am headed here, right?
3. Practice Asking – Sometimes I have to practice asking for what I need. I will write it in my journal. Then, I whisper it to myself. Then, when I’m feeling really bold, I say it to myself in the mirror. When I can do that without looking away, I know I’m ready to take it to the world. (Ironically, that’s the same pattern I use when I’m releasing self-loathing thoughts and replacing them with loving ones. When you can look yourself square in the eye and say, “I love you,” or “You are beautiful,” you are ready to roll.) 4. Shoot For Simplicity – When you’re asking for what you need, keep it simple. I used to feel like I had to set the stage with a big explanation about why my need is worth being considered but that’s just a coping mechanism, and it didn’t serve me well. You don’t need to justify your existence. Period. Just ask for what you need. If they have questions, let them ask.
5. Remember to Breathe – I’ve been talking about this a great deal lately because it is important. Breath is everything. If you don’t believe me, stop doing it for a few minutes and see what happens. When I’m worked up, I hold my breath and everything feels like it is closing in on me. It feels that way because I’m suffocating. Just breathe. It helps everything feel better.
6. Employ Humor – I’m not suggesting that you utilize self-deprecating humor. I mean communicate your needs with lightness and fun, and I promise, it will suck less. Just this morning, I accepted responsibility for coordinating transportation to and from games for my son’s soccer team this season. I opened the email to the other parents with this:
Dear Parents, You can call me–Transportation Goddess. I waited as long as I could but none of you said you would do it, and so I am. You’re welcome. If you read this email and do what I ask you to do, you won’t have to hear from me again.
7. Include Specifics (if you have them) – When you ask for what you need, it helps to actually ask for what you need. I didn’t follow that great intro with, “Let me know what you can do to help.” I told them exactly what needed to be done to get the boys to games and back. I told them what I would be doing each week and on game days to coordinate. I told them that I needed them to help take their kids and other people’s kids, and what I needed them to do if their child needed transportation. No need for mystery… just tell them. Ask for what you need.
8. Flexibility – It’s important to remember that your needs are not necessarily cause for everyone else to drop what they are doing to jump into action. Having identified and accepted your needs, you are now asking for support meeting them. The other people may affirm, deny, or negotiate their role in the meeting of your needs. When I sent the email about soccer, I offered a structure and asked them to agree to do it my way but it often helps to remain open to other ways for my need to be met. If someone wrote to me and offered to donate a bus for us to use, I’d be all over that. Being open sometimes even cultivates a better solution than the one I proposed.
And when someone declines to be a part of your solution, by saying no or by not responding at all, remember to retain your power in the meeting of your needs. Go back to the drawing board. These are your needs. You’re in charge of finding a solution. I accepted this role as self-titled Transportation Goddess for the soccer team, and if the parents don’t respond with enough support, it’s my need that is unmet.
Yes, it is our boys that need to get there but I took the responsibility. It’s my problem now. If I don’t get what I need, then I have the power to find another solution. I can go back to the soccer coach and say that I can’t do it because I don’t have enough support. I can use the phone to call people who didn’t respond to my email. I can even talk to the boys about how to get their parent’s attention. I can do many, many things but if I get stuck in how everyone is ruining it for me, I let myself down. And then, I let everyone else down too.9. Draw Magic Lines – You can call these boundaries or consequences or whatever you’d like but I like magic lines. When we have needs, and are communicating our needs to others in an effort to get those needs met, we may have to draw some magic lines around our request. It keeps our request from wandering off. This is particularly helpful when you’re working with people who may be tempted to blow you off. (I’m not holding a judgment around their actions. I’m simply acknowledging that life or something else sometimes keeps people from responding to requests.)
Example A – You have expressed a need to learn about the status of your health insurance. You write an email to the person who is responsible for the health insurance. You might include at the end of the email, “If I haven’t heard from you by Friday, I will follow up with (or contact your supervisor, or my attorney, etc.) to help us resolve this situation.”
Example B – You have expressed a need for a more cooperative approach to housekeeping. You notify your housemates about your needs, requesting specific action, and conclude with, “If those results have not been achieved by the end of Thursday, then I will follow up by (hiring a housekeeper out of the sports/cable television/gas money/etc budget, clearing time in your calendar, or doing those tasks myself with time I usually spend playing games/preparing meals/nurturing our relationship, or packing your bags and leaving them on the front porch).”
Ask for what you need.
Is it easy to ask for what you need? Not always but, it is important for our sanity, and it is necessary for us to cultivate healthy relationships. It is important that we stand strong in our personal power, and that we choose to be responsible for ourselves–including our emotions. It’s important that we teach our children, lovers, friends, and coworkers how we expect to treated.
We are not alone in this life but it serves no one for us to pretend we don’t have needs, that we can do it all, and that we’ve got this all handled on our own. Healthy people have healthy relationships. We can care for ourselves well, and support others with the resources we have to offer once our own needs are met. We can learn to thrive in collaboration without sacrificing ourselves for the greater good.
(By the way, that last one hasn’t really gone well in about 2,000 years. I think it’s time to stop trying.)
Of course, none of this can happen without communication. In order for us to be our collective best, we must find the courage to be our best individually. I sincerely believe that asking for what we need is an essential piece of our personal and collective evolution.
We simply cannot hand over our power and expect to enjoy the riches of an empowered life.
Does this resonate for you? Do you have trouble asking for what you need? What helps you ask? Talk to me, share your ideas…