After a recent consultation with friend and colleague, Lydia Minear, we found ourselves talking about the needs of the people we work with as well as the general concept of human’s basic emotional needs.
And as we were talking about working within the counseling field, there was a realization that we tend to be asked and to ask ourselves this seemingly simple question quite often:
“Why does he/she/I do that??”
I tend to chuckle a little and reflect about how that is a very good and very complicated question; the question of all questions. I hear theories from family members, victims and friends that tend to be on the right track, but can take a wrong turn due to linear thinking and perhaps an understandable lack of knowledge or empathy. For instance: “He hits me-he is such an angry, angry man”. Well, he may or may not be an angry man, but I’m willing to bet there is far more going on at the root of this issue.
We all have basic emotional needs. Validation, love, security and affirmation are just a few. They are needs, which implies that if/when they are not met, we have a void in its place. These needs are classically met (or not met) by our initial caretakers, and from our experiences, we begin to interact with the world and ourselves from the filter of either the met needs or the void formed from its absence. From this space, we devise strategies and develop skills (consciously and likely subconsciously) to find a way to meet those needs because of the implicit truth that they are simply necessary. But it’s hard to find the path to meeting these needs healthily.
Here’s a classic scenario: This is a generation of men raised by a generation of men (and again, raised by another generation of men) who have learned that to “be a man” you show no weakness (read as: emotion) and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And so we can tend to find an overabundance of adult boys walking around with an absence of validation, affirmation and significance. Top those unmet needs with a cherry on top that is a society which further isolates those needs from men with messages of what it means to act like a man, and we have ourselves a disastrous recipe that could look like so many things. Perhaps it manifests with domestic violence, the inability to commit to relationships or to take risks, overcompensation, crippling passivity, substance abuse and so much more.
Or how about how society values women and the messages women receive? We will place conditions on how valued you are based on how you look compared to fake people on magazines and reinforce this unreal standard at every opportunity. What’s a girl to do with an undeniable need of feeling loved and affirmed for who she is within a social construct that will choose to meet those needs only when she submits to how she should be, paradoxically invalidating her need for validation for its own sake? So she instead obsesses over her weight, surrenders her morals, believes herself worthless or submits to who she “should be” and leaves herself behind.
Needs is the most basic human language, but we can be highly untrained in speaking it. We get so caught up in the waves of the world and lose the real cause. And so from people pleasing to manipulation, to fishing for compliments to refusing them, to endlessly chasing after the wind, we find ourselves suffering the symptoms of our unmet needs through the experiences that have shaped us. However, when we begin to speak the language of our true needs, we step into a healing atmosphere of vulnerability and liberation combined with opportunity toward fulfillment and from that, everything within you and around you changes. It takes courage to look at who we are and where we’ve come from, but in it lies the key to freedom.
Why does anyone do what they do? The real conversation lies in our NEEDS.
Learn more about Phil Zaffos, MA, LAPC & Heidi Zaffos, MA, LMFT, LAPC and Foundation Counseling .