Recently I was working with a client I’ll call Maya. (I’ve changed all the details to protect her privacy.) Maya told me she was looking forward to seeing an old friend soon. They’d met back in high school and stayed close in the decades since. Though it had been years since they’d lived in the same city, they’d visited back and forth many times.
Now Maya was planning another trip to stay with her friend for the weekend. She told me she was excited to see her friend, but also oddly anxious about it. They hadn’t been fighting or anything like that. Why was she feeling so uneasy about visiting one of her closest friends in the world?
I invited Maya to sit with that feeling of uneasiness for a while, just inviting it to reveal whatever was ready to be revealed.
After a minute or so, Maya took a deep breath and said, “I think I know what’s going on. I love my friend, but I always feel like I can’t get enough alone-time when I’m there. We spend hours talking, and I love that, but I also need my quiet time to be alone and read or just think or whatever.”
Maya paused and thought some more. “It might not sound like such a big deal, but I think it might actually be part of something bigger. I have this weird feeling like I can’t ask for what I need, because it would be rude, or maybe she would think I didn’t care about spending time with her. And I do want to spend time with her—it’s so good to see her! I just need some down time too. So I end up feeling like I’m sort of fighting myself and hiding what I’m really thinking, and it all feels weird and messed up.”
Hiding your needs may have kept your child-self safe
For people who are introverted and sensitive, like Maya, it can be hard to ask for what you need. Especially if you grew up in a family, and a society, where quiet reflection was not the norm, you may have gotten teased or judged for being different. Maybe even told or taught that you weren’t lovable just as you were. So you may have learned it was safer to hide your true self, with all your needs and vulnerabilities. You learned to pretend and blend in.
If that sounds familiar, it was likely a very wise coping strategy for you as a young person who needed to keep yourself safe.
The problem is, after a while, hiding your true self can become a way of life. Even when you’ve long since grown up and surrounded yourself with people you know are safe.
But you get to have needs
It can take a long time to rediscover that it’s actually safe and OK to be yourself. To have needs.
But it really is OK to have needs. Everyone does. And just because what you need is different from what other people need, it doesn’t make you wrong or bad. It just makes you you. Completely lovable. Completely worthy.
And you can learn, little by little, to share your needs with the people in your life who are safe. Just like Maya did.
During our conversation, Maya had realized that not sharing her needs with her friend was twisting her up on the inside. “Although,” Maya continued, “I guess maybe that’s on me, because I’ve never just told her. I’ve never just said, hey, I need some quiet time every night before I go to bed. But she knows me really well—it’s not like it would be such a shocker to her. So maybe I could just say to her each night something like, ‘This has been so fun! I’m going to go take some quiet time now, and I’ll see you in the morning!’ I could absolutely do that. And I think it would feel really good.”
So how about you?
Is there one small risk you could take this week, to share just a little bit more of yourself and your needs with someone you love?
Whatever you decide, may you have the courage to take exactly the right step for you. And may you be met with the love and acceptance you have always deserved.