Do you struggle with needs and wants? Maybe you have no idea what you want or need, or perhaps you know what you need but feel shame about it. You are not alone. Most (and likely all) trauma survivors struggle with this.
When you were a baby, you were dependent on your parents for all of your needs, and it was their job to meet those needs appropriately. It continued to be their responsibility to meet your needs in an age-appropriate manner as you grew up. In addition to meeting your needs, it was also your parents’ responsibility to help you learn to identify them (along with wants), how to ask for them, and what do to if a need or want wasn’t met.
All of this takes time, connection, and attunement on the part of caregivers—key elements that are lacking in an unhealthy family. Because of these deficits, needs and wants are mishandled in damaging ways.
There are three primary ways needs and wants are mishandled in unhealthy families: shame, lack of boundaries, and neglect. Let’s take a look at these and the dependence issues that develop as a result. I've included a few examples of each.
- Parents shame your needs/wants
- Being needless/wantless (you don’t know what your needs/wants are)
- Lack of boundaries
- Parent was needy and somehow dependent on you
Which leads to…
- Anti-dependence (I know what my needs/wants are, but I don’t know how to ask for them)
- Parents neglected your needs
Which leads to…
- Being too dependent (I expect others to know my needs/wants and meet them, without having to ask)
The wounds from abuse and neglect surrounding needs runs deep, and are laden with shame. As with other issues, the shame will lift over time as you do the healing work around the root trauma that caused your dependency issues. It can be uncomfortable—not only the work itself, but also as you start applying changes in how you handle your needs and wants.
It may not feel like it, but change is possible. As you do this work, you’ll begin to believe that it’s okay to have wants and needs. You’ll give yourself permission to have wants and needs. Eventually, tending to your wants and needs appropriately will be a regular practice.
To wrap up, I want to say a quick word about the difference between needs and wants. Needs have to do with survival (food, clothing, shelter, connection with others, etc), while wants are what bring us joy (I may not need a new backpacking tent, but if I have the means to get one, that would be super fun because I love sleeping in the woods). Both are equally important. Having our needs met gives us a foundation for living a full life. Allowing space for our wants helps us explore and connect with our gifts, personality, and beliefs. I encourage you to give yourself the gift of exploring this part of your story.
Peace on the journey,