I apologize if the title of this post put your brain in a non-stop Spice Girls loop. It just seemed to be appropriate. Last week, I wrote about the fact that love isn’t psychic–and people who care about us won’t automatically meet our needs unless we clearly communicate our needs. I have written about this before, but it seems like a topic that recurs both in therapy and in life. And I promised that this week, we would talk more about barriers to communicating needs, and some steps to navigate those barriers.
Common Barriers & Initial Solutions
Barrier: Not knowing your own wants or needs. This particular barrier is incredibly common. We know that we feel bad, or sad, or upset, or lonely. We aren’t actually sure what would help us feel better, or happy, or calm, or connected. But we certainly want someone to take care of those needs.
Solution: The first step in helping your loved ones be more supportive is to take some time to get to know yourself. Your chances of getting your needs met increase dramatically if you can articulate those needs.
Barrier: Not wanting to burden your loved ones. This barrier is a real struggle for many folks. Patients know that their loved ones are already worried, and they don’t want to make additional demands. Caregivers know that illness is taking a toll, and they don’t want to add additional stress.
Solution: Remember that the goal of relationships is connection. Each of us wants to support our loved ones as much as possible. We owe it to one another to help facilitate those goals. So, if your partner or friend wants to take care of you, maybe you can consider sharing your needs as a way to help them.
Barrier: Not wanting to create conflict. Sometimes, when you let someone who loves you know that they are letting you down, or not meeting your needs, they react defensively. Fear of that defensive reaction can cause some people to avoid sharing their true needs.
Solution: Try to remind yourself that, each time a loved one fails to meet your need, a part of you feels hurt and rejected–whether they knew that need or not. Over time, that hurt and rejection begins to create distance in the relationship. Yes, sharing a need may initially lead to a bit of tension, but that short term discomfort is much less damaging than long-term distance. Learn some good communication tools, such as I-statements, to help facilitate tough discussions.
Hang in There
This kind of clear communication, both with yourself and with your loved ones, is hard at first. Our cultural and family expectation that love be psychic (or that everyone needs and defines love in the same way) has been around for a long time. It takes time and practice to learn to communicate more openly and honestly about what you need. However, if you can hang in there, the results are entirely worth it.
Need help learning how to communicate this way? Feel free to email me or use the schedule button. Have another strategy you want to share? That’s what the comments are for!