As I discussed in the last blog post about our Basic Needs, we all have certain undeniable emotional needs, which when not met creates in us wounds. From these wounds (or met needs), we develop a filter through which we view ourselves and the world around us.
As I’ve been talking to clients over the past few weeks and as I’ve reflected about my own life, I’ve come to a harsh conclusion: Many of us live in a reality where pressures and conditions have been inappropriately mixed into our basic emotional needs.
Imagine witnessing this scene: a young child goes up to her mom and asks for a glass of water because she is thirsty. The mother looks down at her child and asks, “well, have you done your homework, cleaned your room and brushed your teeth?” The young girl stares up at her mother and replies, “no”. The mother disapprovingly retorts, “Then the answer is no, you can’t have water.” The little girl presses, “but Mommy, I’m really thirsty”. The mother turns away and as she is leaving says, “you’ll be fine”. The girl walks away feeling confused and dejected.
I have no doubt that all the parents or any bystanders who witnessed this account would be horrified that this mother refused to give her child water. Everyone knows that you just do not withhold a basic need from a human, no matter what. And yet, in talking with my clients and in thinking back on my own past, it seems we as a society have done exactly that-withheld a child’s basic emotional needs based on his or her performance.
What does this look like? It’s extremely subtle. Imagine a rule we’re all very familiar with: you can’t eat dessert unless you eat all your vegetables at dinner. This is a healthy and natural consequence for a child, but how we execute it is the subtlety. So often, clients tell me how ashamed they have felt when they didn’t “eat their vegetables” and how his or her mother or father gave such a disapproving look or how upset they reacted when they didn’t perform a task as expected. Not only did they receive their natural consequence, they also were given a helping of wounds through the withholding of a basic emotional need. Perhaps in that moment, the child loses the feeling of security or safety, feels unloved or invalidated, insignificant or disconnected or small and unaffirmed. And ever so quickly, this child learns that their needs are met when they perform as they should. The child’s self worth, which is often predicated to a large degree on our emotional needs being met, gets inappropriately tied to our performance.
I’ve heard countless stories from clients who were wounded by parents or caretakers because of how they dress, how they present themselves, the grades they have earned, the spouses they have chosen, the decisions they have made. And so they go through life with these notions of worth and performance being inappropriately mixed and live in a reality that is filled with pressures and conditions just to feel okay with themselves. Is it any wonder why so many people are so anxious and depressed? Why so many people find value in their job and then neglect their families? It has created an epidemic all around us and has destroyed too many lives and too many families.
My goal, in my life and in my client’s lives, has been to find these conditions and uproot them. To remove their existence from our hearts and in its place, plant new seeds of unconditional worth, despite what we do. To accept ourselves for who we are no matter what. To not let our natural consequences from life inappropriately shape and dictate our value and worth as a human being. To do this creates a calm. It breathes life into a space that for so long has been suffocating, crippling the minds and hearts of so many. It creates a world of peace, contentment and freedom.
Learn more about Phil Zaffos, MA, LAPC & Heidi Zaffos, MA, LMFT, LAPC and Foundation Counseling .