Do you know your needs?
I haven’t blogged for a while, but this topic came up in conversation yesterday, and it’s something which has been on my mind recently.
We’re brought up to share, to be with others, to socialise, to fit in, to obey rules about what we can and cannot do and that becomes so much a part of our psyche that thinking about our own needs and planning these into our lives seems almost selfish. But it’s not, is it? Our needs are a fundamental part of who we are and continually putting ourselves in situations that deny this causes us to feel lost, fragmented and uncomfortable with the world.
Realising our needs is nothing new – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been around since 1954, and yet, if we examine it, we may find that only a few of these basic needs are being met. And isn’t there a tendency to think, ‘Well, I have a house, food, a lovely family, I’m so lucky… it doesn’t matter about the other things’? It’s great to be grateful, but the other things do matter – a lot!
So, I wrote a list of my needs – it wasn’t hard because this is something I’ve been trying to put into practice recently, having realised how much the absence of these needs affects my well-being, and, dare I say it, my mental health – yes, it does! There, I’ve said it!
This is a biggy for me. I need space. I need time to be alone. I need days when I don’t have to speak to anyone. Being a mum entails a lot of putting others first, which is great, but equally it means there’s a need to find time to be other things. Also, my daytime jobs, as an English tutor and caregiver, require me to talk, to be up-beat, chatty and enthusiastic. I need a break from that because I am solitary by nature and my main jobs are anything but!
Nature re-charges me. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour ramble in woodland, just a twenty minute walk with the hound or a cup of tea in the garden will do it. This morning, on my hound walk, I stood still for a minute to watch a song-thrush listening for worms – that will keep me going all day!
If I’m not creative, a part of me withers and dies – it’s as simple as that. Painting, writing, drawing, pottery… even gardening and decorating or restoring a piece of furniture, all allow me to be creative, to escape. At these times I feel complete absorption and joy. I find myself dancing, singing, feeling at peace with the world, and if I’m feeling all these things and expressing them, that has to be good for the people around me too.
I need to read. It allows my head to work in a different way by tuning into someone else’s creativity. It literally feels as if neurons are firing all over the place. It crosses over with the need for space too – reading is solitary, quiet and calm, it slows down the pace of life and allows for reflection.
Music is food for the soul. ‘Nuff said!
All of the above has to be balanced. Enjoying being alone can lead to loneliness if the balance isn’t right. Friendship = love, laughter, understanding and sharing experiences. It helps if those you have in your circle of friends know your needs and you know theirs. It’s important to have respect for each others’ needs. For me, friendships have to fit around my other needs too, so overpowering ‘in each others’ pockets’ friendships are not for me and never have been.
This is really important to me. If I’m eating crap, I feel crap. My energy levels dip, I feel frumpy, I feel weighed down and listless. If I eat well, I feel well and feel pleased with myself for eating well – it’s a win-win. Five or six days a week I start my day with a bowl of fruit that I make each morning. You’d think this need was an easy one to express, but it really isn’t. I don’t think people quite get that I’d rather sit down to this than a cooked breakfast any day of the week. It looks amazing, tastes amazing, and kick-starts my day.
You might ask, how do you define this? For me, it’s the feeling of being free and that means the time and space to meet my other needs – those are what give me freedom! Someone once described me as a butterfly – I think that’s a pretty apt metaphor.
A couple of things strike me as really important – we need to be brave in order to meet our needs. We need to be able to say, ‘this is what I need in order to be the best person I can be’, and we need those around us to listen and respect this. You are not being selfish! Equally, we need to be respectful of the needs of others around us. Their needs won’t be the same as ours.
The other thing is, by identifying and meeting our needs we will be happier and more fulfilled. The impact of this on the people around us will be enormous. I know that if my needs are met I am a better tutor, a better caregiver – my ability to help others, to understand and empathise, is better. It works the other way round too – my jobs allow me to focus on the needs of others, which gives me space to step away from me, to step back and engage with other people’s lives.
It’s not always easy to fit in all of our needs, but I know if I go for 2 or 3 weeks without finding time to be creative or have time alone, I begin to fall apart. Balance is replaced by disorder, disequilibrium, the feeling of being crushed in a vice.
Balance = harmony, and we owe it to ourselves, and others, to find it.
As the Dalai Lama says:
So, if you haven’t identified your needs yet – go do it!