This is perhaps the hardest thing for the people pleaser. To get your emotional needs met. You’re so used to supporting others, putting them first, finding the way to their bliss ahead of yours.
A lot of the time you go along with it. Either turning a blind eye to how you feel or perhaps not even noticing it.
Then something snaps:
The monster is unleashed. You lash out momentarily. Or withdraw. Punishment is meted out to the bewildered beneficiaries of your help.
How could you lose it in that way? How could you let them see this side of you. In such a rage. Out of control. Control is a big deal for you. Self control. Managing carefully what others see of you.
Because if you weren’t this person who helped, looked after, supported, who would you be? What would they really see or know about you?
My guess is:
there are two experiences at work here (well at least two).
There is a part of you whose identity is so bound up in the pleasing cycle, it’s difficult to imagine being anything else.
Equally, (or not so equally) there is another part of you, which is starved of light. Of attention. The part that has needs too.
What are your core needs?
You might even be thinking right now:
I can’t even say what my needs are. That’s really common for someone who has experienced emotional neglect.
It’s as if you’ve tuned that part out of you, or at least your awareness of it.
So if you are struggling with naming your needs, you might find it helpful to think of them in these broad categories:
You might find you are in touch with some of those needs more than others. For a high achiever, for example, you might be very in touch with your autonomy, creativity and respect needs.
And less so with your needs to feel wanted or safe.
What is likely though, is that the need for safety and feeling wanted is driving your behaviour. Because those needs might not have been met when you were a child.
When that happens, you build up enormous defences to stop that hurt again. Focus on achievement, compliance, serving others, for example. Rather than suffer the pain of not feeling safe or wanted.
What to avoid
How not to get those needs met...
There is no right way to get your needs met. But before I share some ideas that might help, I should say this.
There is a ‘wrong’ or shall we say, less helpful way of getting your needs met, which often comes with emotional neglect or childhood narcissistic abuse.
1 The way of flight
Getting your needs met in the way of flight is characterised by - it’s a horrible phrase, but let’s call a spade a spade - passive aggression.
When you repeatedly can’t get your needs met, you start to adapt. You numb out or deny those needs. But no-one can go indefinitely without their core needs being met. You find a way.
For many who’ve experienced narcissistic abuse, you find the main way you can get your needs met is to do so passive aggressively.
Going quiet or sulking. Self-sacrificing or martyrdom. Slamming doors or tutting. Going monosyllabic. Just add whatever you do, if it’s missing from this list.
But just a minute here. I want to differentiate these behaviours from emotional flashbacks, though the two can overlap and be one and same.
In an emotional flashback, you are taken back to your behaviour of childhood and flooded with the feelings of that time.
But in the way of flight, you may adopt strategies that served you as a child in the hope that they work for you as an adult. And sometimes they do. Do you see the difference?
I’m saying all this, not to shame or pathologize, though I understand well that these feelings can arise.
Really what I want to do is just to name these as coping strategies which in the long run, are exhausting and frustrating both you and the person on the receiving end.
However you cope with life, I’ve no doubt you are doing your absolute best. I’m guessing though, that there is a part of you that wants things to be different. You’re still reading, after all.
2 The way of fight
If you are in touch with your anger, you may explode or rage when your needs aren’t met. Even if you are more on the passive side, the chances are that when your needs are not met in the long run, your anger surfaces.
It’s deep defence mechanism, saying to you, that your needs are asking for some attention.
In the face of narcissistic abuse, this response is less frequent in my experience because it leads to catastrophic and unsustainable conflict with the narcissistic parent.
If you’re one of those who did fight, you probably left home at the earliest possible opportunity.
The trouble with out and out aggression is that it’s also a form of coercion to get needs met.
In short, you’re scaring someone into giving you something. It might work from time to time. In the long run though, it’s exhausting and unsustainable.
3 The way of fawn
In the way of fawn, your people pleaser gets really dialled up so that you try and influence those around you to give you what you need by recognising your never-ending sacrifice.
There’s more to it than this, but for now, let’s just say that it’s like getting your needs met by osmosis. Or telepathy.
It’s unlikely to work, right…?
I’m not suggesting that it’s just a simple question of stopping any of these behaviours. You’re doing them for a reason.
But I am suggesting that there may be another way. With practice. Self-compassion. Patience.
When you repeatedly can’t get your needs met, you start to adapt. You numb out or deny those needs. But no-one can go indefinitely without their core needs being met. You find a way, however unhealthy. #narcissisticabuse
How to get your needs met
So how to get your needs met?
The first part of this post has all been about what needs are and what might not work so well.
The reason I’ve focused on that is that the foundation of any work to get your needs met better, is to know what they are. That's step 1:
1. Get clear on what your needs really are
Often when you aren’t used to getting needs met, it’s hard to name them. So it’s time to do a little investigation.
Can you name your needs? Take a few moments, to see if you are in touch with them or if they are hidden to you.
Sometimes needs get disguised or hidden. A need for closeness or intimacy, can be expressed as a need for help or co-participation in something, whether it be household chores or day out or a date.
So you need to dig deep here, and really peel back the layers of needs to see what the underlying needs are.
Use the list of core needs from earlier in the post as a starting point.
2 Practise asking for your needs
This takes courage and persistence. Especially if you are in a relationship or family situation where your needs are regularly not met.
Hold on to yourself in this, expressing yourself from the I place e.g. ‘I need…’ rather than drifting in to ‘You need / you never / you always…’
That’s almost guaranteed to shut the door on the conversation.
You might find a way to state clearly and simply, ‘I need to feel appreciated for what I do…’ ‘I need to feel safe when expressing myself or sharing how I feel…’ “I need to feel you are there for me…’
3 Strengthen your boundaries
One of consequences of asking for your needs to be met more clearly, is that you can be met with resistance.
Your boundaries will need shoring up.
Sometimes you need to be able to say no, that isn’t ok. Or no, I really need….
Those who are used to getting an enormous amount from you may not adjust well or readily to you asking for more, whether it’s a parent, sibling, colleague, partner or friend.
If you try this with a narcissistic parent, you really need to expect a reaction. They may deny, ignore or explode at your request. They may collapse into a victim place.
Just remember, it’s not your responsibility to fix this. You’re just taking care of yourself right now. And that’s ok. It’s not selfish. It’s self-care.
Remember, it’s not your responsibility to fix a #narcissist. You’re just taking care of yourself right now. And that’s ok. It’s not selfish. It’s called self-care.
Above all, be kind to yourself with all this. You’re taking courageous steps to be a different way.
Like all changes, this will take practice and persistence. It may not work first or second time or even third. Or it may be plain sailing.
Taking the step is brave. Give yourself that credit. Review how things are going. What are you learning about yourself. What needs to change and be tweaked.
Sometimes the help of therapist or coach can really make a difference, to spark off ideas and share progress. Or enlist a trusted friend who can listen without judgment and giving advice.
If you're struggling with getting your needs met...
Sometimes you just need help with this stuff. A mentor, coach or therapist who can support you step by step. Be alongside you when there are setbacks and difficulties. Because there will be.
This isn't necessarily easy or pain free. But it is the route to greater freedom. Which is priceless.
Why not get in touch to find out how we might work together?
I help people just like you overcome the effects of childhood emotional neglect and narcissistic abuse, so they can reclaim their self-esteem and self confidence.
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