When we are children, we are totally dependent on our caregivers to meet our basic needs. As we grow, our needs change and our caregivers are ideally helping us identify our developing needs in age appropriate ways (instead of prjecting their own onto us). This process helps us feel secure in a chaotic world, and gradually gives us the skills required to self regulate as we approach maturity.
So what are our developing needs? A good perspective on needs is described by Maslov's Hierarchy., which posits that we have primary survival needs of psysiological, and safety varieties as our basic needs. As we mature, caregiving/love needs develop that lead us to self esteem needs and finally self actuallization needs.
DEVELOPMENT OF NEEDS: Maslow's Hierarchy
As you can see, our needs get more complicated as they develop; while it may be relitively easy to identify our basic physiological and safety needs (food, shelter, water, love and protection), what they heck does belongingness look like and what is exactly 'self actualization? We start to reach for belongness, these complex internal emotional needs that are not always know to our caregivers.
Because these needs are experienced more internally than externally, a gradual transition of personal power over our needs meeting is needed and generally occurs in late teen years and early twenties. But this process can be difficult; when the parent/caregiver finds it stress, they often employ rescuing or abandonment defenses to manage the complex emergent needs of their offspring, which may be in competition with their own needs.
If we have a lot of unmet needs entering adulthood, our self esteem and felingsof belongingness are likely to be low and our attachment styles insecure, which can stunt our emotional development and make self actualization very difficult. Sadly, these strategies often lead to codependent (anxious or ambivalent attachment) or antidependent (avoidant or ambivalent relationships) between parties that can impact future relationship boundaries.
Co-dependency can be described as unconscious or conscious attempts to use connection to other people to regulate emotional experiences and meet needs. This can also be seen in anxious attachment style in which closeness is desired and separateness creates anxiety. I recommend Therapy Chat podcast's episode on codependent relationships regulalry, LISTEN HERE.
Anti-dependence is a resistence to having emotional needs and aknowledging other peoples' needs. This can also be seen in avoidant attachment in which closeness is desired but connection xreates anxiety.
What seems to work best in adulthood is to be interdependent; to be able to manage the majority of our emotional needs with self compassion and personal responsibility, while showing interest in and have compassion for others' needs.
When we are children, all of our needs are survival based and relationally dependent, but as we develop more complex brain function and survival abilities, we develop more complex private emotional needs that noone else really knows about unless we can articulate it clearly. This means that once we achieve full autonomy, we are responsible for understanding what the need is and how to meet it ourselves as best we can .
Being able to do this reflects a secure attachment style in which we feel safe to have and meet needs for ouselves and others. This helps create internal stability, self regulation, and healthy relationship boundaries representative of interdependent relationships.
Notice the overlap in the middle between the two persons' spheres; this is the amount of emotional needs we retain in neurotypical adulthood that we bring to our partners in interdependent relationships. But we should not expect each other to guess at our needs the way our parents did because we can actually name it and advocate for our needs now as adults.
When we identify an emotional need, it is good practice to meet it to the best of our ability first as a way to understand what our partner can do to help, and then present the remainder to a significant other. Not only does this clarify the need to the individual, it helps to prevent overwhelming an unsuspecting partner with a wall of unmet needs. So how do you know you are doing your due dilligence?
BALANCING YOUR NEEDS
I have found using a ratio helpful to assess my needs and make sure I am not ignoring myself or becoming 'needy'--from this perspective 'neediness' is neglecting to meet one's own needs and relying too much on others' to get those needs met. Here is the way I organize it:
- 70 % of my internally created emotional needs are mine to explore and meet, while external needs are often shared.
- 30 % of my emoitnal needs are relationally created and respond well to involving others in the exploring and meeting process.
What we need from our partner(s) is a willingness to support us in our personal needs meeting, and help us meet our relational needs when we articulate them. I find it helpful to conceptualize these two different needs meeting activities using a 70/30 model.
Since a partner is likely to feel bowled over by having to meet more than half their needs and more than half of yours. If this is a simple matter to correct, using a 70-30 model, to ensure I am meeting as many of my emotional needs as possible to self regulate and improve my emotional experience. In addition, it helps me not overwhelm my relationships with my needs. Conversly, the ratio helps me remember to save some energy for meeting some portion of others needs and aknowledge my needs that only others can met, to encourage compassion, vulneribility and connection in healthy and sustainable ways.
1. Did I learn to identify and meet my emotional needs as I grew up?
2. Do I think my caregivers had interdependent, codependent, or anitdependent relationships when I was growing up?
3. What sort of relationships do I have? With friends? With family? With partners?
4. What do I think my current ratio of needs meeting looks like in a pie chart?
I am capable and worthy of having my emotional needs met and of being in healthy relationships.