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It has taken me years and years and years to figure out that I have to ask for what I need.
For most of my life I’ve wrongly assumed that those who know and care about me should know exactly what I need without me having to ask. I was wrong. The reality is, more often than not I would become frustrated when my needs weren’t met, only to later realize that I had never actually voiced my needs in the first place.
If we don’t communicate our needs clearly, how can we expect to have them met?
The more I thought about it, the more this realization made me smile. Animals do this naturally–especially my 9-pound dachshund. If she’s hungry, she lets us know. If she wants to go outside, we hear about it. And if she wants to play, she makes certain that we can’t ignore her. She’ll whine, bark, and act obnoxious until we give her what she wants. She’s a tough negotiator and doesn’t take no for an answer.
Until my mid-thirties, I hadn’t ever really considered the prospect of asking. As silly as that sounds, I was of the belief that what I needed should be obvious, and when I didn’t get what I needed I would often resort to pouting and passive aggressive behaviors. As painful as that is to admit, it’s the truth. (Dog strategies just don’t work as well for humans.)
But then I started experimenting with asking.
I learned to successfully ask for a fair salary when negotiating job offers. I learned to ask my employees to perform specific tasks. And I learned to ask for what I need in my personal relationships as well.
Similarly, I had to also accept that I was getting it wrong too. I was incorrectly assuming what other people needed, and they weren’t getting what they needed from me as a result. This became very clear when I visited a local tent city last year. Assuming that I knew exactly what they needed, I showed up with a box full of supplies only to find out they already had a giant tent full of the very same things.
I didn’t ask them what they needed.
My biggest lesson so far has been that asking is a much better approach than telling, demanding or expecting. When we have open and honest conversations about our needs–as difficult as that may be–we get what we need more often than not.
For those of us who are stubborn and like to believe we can do it all on our own, asking for what we need is a bit more complicated. It takes practice, a willingness to admit that we need something from others, and a great deal of vulnerability.
My self-care practice for the day was to openly express my needs in a personal relationship. It was awkward and emotionally charged and messy. But I asked anyway.
And while I know that there will be more uncomfortable conversations to come, and that it will take time to adjust behaviors and expectations, I have to say…it was a huge relief to let go of the negative emotions I’ve been carrying for some time.
What has been your experience with asking for what you need?