Live out your best: taking ownership to get your own needs met
(The details of the coaching examples provided in this blog are composites based on real situations. Some names may have been altered to respect the confidentiality of my clients.)
Earlier this year, Thomas brought a difficult situation to our coaching conversation. He was working on managing his emotions and dealing with conflicts. Because of his increased self-awareness through coaching, Thomas noticed a pattern of his wanting to correct or convince his colleagues when discussing work topics. Whenever others raise different opinions from what he shares, he feels a sudden tightness in his chest and quickening heartbeat. Most times, before he realizes what’s happening in him, he already has said something insensible that makes everyone unhappy. Thomas wanted to find alternatives to deal with such situations so that both he and others can feel better.
I asked Thomas what it means for him if others disagree with him. He said it means that they don’t acknowledge his abilities as a scientist. I then asked him where else in his life he finds himself not acknowledged. It led us to a deep conversation about Thomas’ unmet personal need. He shared that it is not only at work that he feels he always wants others to acknowledge that he’s right, but also in his social and intimate relationships. Once Thomas realized that he has never received enough acknowledgement in all his life, he became more understanding of his unhelpful behaviors when discussing work with colleagues. Thomas’ specific behaviors were driven by his strong need to be acknowledged. That unmet need is so strong that he wants it to be met in all his relationships.
Since then, Thomas and I have been working on creating healthy alternatives to get his need met so that he isn’t triggered every time others show disagreement. Now he finds himself managing his emotions better when others challenge his ideas in meetings. He intentionally takes pauses in those “hot moments.” Most times he chooses a different path then he would before, including seeing points from others’ perspectives and acknowledging them whenever he can.
Thomas’ challenge is a typical example of holding an unmet personal need. Just as we need food, water, shelter, air, etc. to survive, we also have different types of emotional or personal needs that allow us to be truly who we are. Some examples are our need to be liked, acknowledged, heard, understood, respected, cherished … Every one of us is raised with different backgrounds and experiences, therefore we can hardly have the exact same set of personal needs. Although you may think that those needs are universal, the degree to which we need them may vary. While Thomas badly needs to be acknowledged, his colleague sitting besides him may have a much less intensity in that need probably because they have received a good amount of acknowledgement throughout their life.
When we were children, we often did not have a say in getting all our personal, emotional needs met. As adults, it is important to take ownership and responsibility for our needs and to make sure that they are satisfactorily met. Unmet needs can drive behaviors and choices that we may later regret. A classmate of mine had experienced an early separation from her father when he abandoned her and her mother. Later in her romantic relationship, she always felt terribly insecure when her boyfriend was late for their appointments. She immediately believed that their relationship was about to end so she got so angry at him. Later when we talked, she realized that it was her unmet need to be treasured that drove her emotions and behaviors.
Taking ownership of our own needs sets us free from the behaviors that make us not ourselves. Quite often we may hear people say “I’m not lovable,” “I’m not worthy,” … We are not our unmet needs. When we think we are, we are trapped in a victim mode, believing that we can never get rid of those negative emotions. However, once we take responsibility to get our needs met, we are able to live out our strengths, potential and true character. The question is how we get our needs met.
If we are lucky enough, a few personal needs may have been unconsciously met in our relationships. For example, you may have an unmet need to be appreciated and your wife/husband is good at frequently showing gratitude and appreciation in your relationship. But there are times when we do need to consciously get our needs met, especially when the situations or relationships we are in do not offer them. In that case, we need to learn to appropriately ask. For example, in Thomas’ case, learning that he really needs to be acknowledged more often at work, he found a way to share it with his supervisor in a developmental conversation, asking him to let him know when he had made progress or demonstrated satisfactory results. At first it can feel embarrassing to discuss what you need and ask for it from others. But if we don’t take the risk of being vulnerable, things may never change. Even if the other person says they can’t do what we ask, it doesn’t mean that it’s a failure. We can move on to another person or surround ourselves with people who can meet our needs. Ultimately you need to decide what is acceptable and what is not.
A masterful mentor coach of mine, Marion Franklin, MCC, encourage her clients and students with unmet needs to start with people who they trust and cherish. The assumption is that the more we get our needs met from important relationships, the less likely it is that we need them from other relationships. Take the example of people who have a strong need to be liked. If they can truly feel that they’re liked by their close friends and families, they will not feel that they need to be liked by everyone. Therefore they will less likely to compromise themselves in order to please others.
Unmet needs is a deep topic. By no means do I think that there’s a “golden way” to get our needs met. Nor do I think that the way I introduced is the best or only way. It’s just based on my personal learning, experiences and life coaching practices. I would love to hear any thoughts, ideas or an approach that works for you.
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Lucy Qian, Life Coach, PCC (ICF)
About Lucy Qian, International Life Coach
Lucy’s clients say that she has a superpower for helping them see clear direction and next steps, no matter how confused they are in the beginning. Through coaching with Lucy, they become clear about who they are and know what they really want.
Lucy is a certified coach in different settings: Professional Certified Coach (PCC) by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), Certified Laser-focused Life Coach by the Life Coaching Group, and Organizational Coach by the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership.
In her blog, A Journey to Clearness, Lucy shares life experiences and lessons from her practice as an international life coach.
Learn more about Lucy.