October 14, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 3: Unmet Needs, or a Tantrum?

Our reasons (which are sometimes motives) for keeping a stressful belief can also be seen as a list of unmet needs: "I need to be right." "I need to be in control." "I need a purpose." "I need you to listen to me."

It's not a problem to have needs; it's fine to find ways to fulfill them. It's only a problem when we expect that the world will meet our needs when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary that this isn't going to happen. That's when you know that you're not experiencing the stress of an unmet need; you're throwing an inner tantrum.

Fighting with reality in the form of attachment to stressful beliefs that do not serve you (or no longer serve you) can never fulfill our needs. Identifying our needs (as opposed to our desires) is the first step towards understanding the source of a problem, as well as the first step towards the fulfillment of our needs.

Byron Katie likes to say that fighting with reality is about as effective as trying to teach a cat to bark. If you want a barking animal, how much easier would it be to simply get a dog! (Or, if you're allergic to dogs, a burglar alarm. Need fulfilled, cat off the hook!)

This has evolved into a cliche among people who do The Work: "How do I know I don't need ____? I don't have it, and I'm still breathing." That's true, but for most of us, it's not so easy to shrug off a perceived need with a "Katie-ism." We have to see it for ourselves. Still, the word "need" can be problematical.

I give workshops with a teacher of Nonviolent Communication who has a Buddhist background and also does The Work. In NVC, they use the term "need" a lot, especially around authentic communication of said needs. I told her that I wasn't comfortable with the word "need," as I could see where I always have what I need in the moment, that "I need" is a story of the future and therefore never real right now. She agreed that, from a Buddhist standpoint (and a Worked one), there are no real needs, so I could swap out "needs" with "values." For example, "I need connection" becomes "I value connection." That feels truer to me.

So, "I value a serene work environment," communicated peacefully, isn't "You play that stereo too loud! You should be more considerate of your neighbors!" That's a tantrum. Rather, as a practitioner of NVC, or anyone who has identified what they value, would say, "I am upstairs working and finding it difficult to concentrate. Would you be willing to lower the volume on your stereo? " This respects the needs, or values, of the person who likes loud music, without making them wrong. There's no manipulation in it; it's a request, one that may or may not result in the fulfillment of your needs.

If I've done my Work, and I'm clear that I don't need my neighbor to do what I want, and she doesn't turn down the bass, I have a choice to put on noise-reducing headphones, work somewhere else, ask her again...and not go to war with her or with my life, even if it means that eventually I will call the management company to let them know there's a noise "problem."

Next, how a TV cliche can help free us further: Part 4, The "Dr. Phil" Question.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.


Meg DesCamp Renner said...

I love NVC but have always had problems with the "needs" language. Thanks so much for giving me the term "values" instead.

PCarino said...

This is timely! I am taking an NVC course, and whenever I get to the word "need" I have that same thought--"Well is it REALLY a need?" But I think you've reconciled both languages well here. I think NVC and the Work mesh well together. Throw in some EFT and you got a party.

Kathryn Dixon said...

Beautiful and clarifying distinction, Carol! Thanks so much for sharing...

daniomri said...

thaks Carol, enjoyed much this "small" article that also solved for me a "big" problem. Values... good. we have this monthly meetings here in Israel where we do the work for two days in the weekend. last time Arnina guided it and she is much involved with NVC. i had the same unease with needs, on the other hand it was clear needs are there to be communicated.. and here you nicely "solved" it for us. since there is another meeting tomorrow - i will share your article with the group [with your permission].

the thought came to mind - perhaps you and Arnina can create a workshop in Israel together... best Dani Omri

Carol L. Skolnick said...

Dani, nothing would please me more than for you to share the article - or for me to come to Israel!

daniomri said...

thanks Carol, we just finished our firs of two days doing the work here - it was a great. we choose a different subject each gathering - this time it is about sex and love. i have shared your article and we loved your insight.
Israel is just a thought away, you are most welcome. dani

daniomri said...

i also invited our small commuity to log onto yout blog as i find it most refreshing and interesting, we have few facebook and other blogs yet they are in Hebrew... thanks again, dani

Fabrice said...

I have never resonated very well with the argument "How do I know I don't need ____? I don't have it, and I'm still breathing." It does not address what we perceive as the meaning of the word "need" and tends to sound to me as flippant. If I've been beaten every day as a child and I state that I "need" parental love, the "I'm breathing" argument does little to bring me back to reality. I like the term "values," but it does not seem to cover the same territory. As long as there is an "I need..." question on the JYNW, the meaning of "need" will have to be addressed.