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Not Taking Others’ Needs Personally: A Brief Exploration

Humans have needs. Period. That’s it. That’s the blog.

Jk… I do love nuance, so let’s get into it… Humans have needs, and when someone else (your teen, parent, partner, friend, colleague) expresses their needs, it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong. It just means they have needs.

Hum… I made it seem so simple again. In a way, it is simple. AND, sometimes, you might take direct communication personally. Your nervous system and stories about your “not-enoughness,” not belonging, not being significant, can become activated when someone else shares about their status. This is also very human! AND we can work with this; we can create more space.

Not Taking Others’ Needs Personally

The Four Agreements is a book that I have reread more than any other book. (In full transparency, I don’t often reread books–lol. But I’ve read this one several times.) I’ve recommended The Four Agreements to clients of all ages, and it’s a book I’ve talked about with friends and colleagues regularly across the years. The second agreement comes in handy in the moments that we feel activated by someone saying, “I need some support on this” or “I need affection” or “I would really prefer some downtime today.”

The second agreement is this: Don’t Take Anything Personally.

Taking someone else’s needs personally might look like this: A friend tells you, “I need some space this weekend.” You immediately start thinking things like “They don’t like me,” “I’m too much,” or “What did I do wrong?!” Note: Your friend was not offering commentary about you; they were only naming their need, and you are missing it!

When we tell ourselves the not-enough stories, we go into a contracted state. Here, we are unable to really hear and see and witness the other person. For example, when I take someone else’s needs personally, I typically react by trying to “fix” the situation or hurry and get out of the discomfort by defending myself.

Some of the ideas from this blog, which is focused on the second agreement and friendship, might resonate and support this process of receiving someone else’s needs as simply needs, communication, and an attempt to be authentic with you.

Focusing on Connection

In order to focus on the connection element of another’s communication, you first need to be honest about your feelings. If you are activated by someone else sharing a need, the first thing you need is a break. During this time, you can acknowledge your own feelings and offer yourself a bit of comfort– affirmations could be a handy practice for this type of moment.

It can also be helpful to remind yourself that it’s a compliment when someone is willing to share their needs with you. They are opening up, trusting you, and inviting you to meet them where they are. Of course this doesn’t mean that conversations will never be uncomfortable or difficult to navigate. But it means there’s a foundation you are starting from together.

Then, when you are ready, you can reengage with them. Ideas for reconnection include:

  • Thank the other person for their willingness to share their need with you.
  • Repeat their need back to them + ask them if you are understanding clearly.
  • Ask if there is anything else they want to add or share.
  • Suggest a timeframe to check in again about their needs.
  • Tell them “I hear you” and practice really listening.
  • Ask them how you might support them in getting their needs met.

There isn’t a formula for what connection looks like, so you’ll have to go into each situation with curiosity– about yourself, about the other person, and about how to be human together. Notice what it feels like (in your mind, body, and heart) to really listen to someone when they share a need with you. Likewise, notice what it feels like when you share a need with them.

As you explore these ideas, you may enjoy documenting your support system with this guide + map.

*Photo credit: Anna Selle on Unspltwash

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