Why is it so hard to share how we really feel- and to ask for what we really need? Part of it, but not all of it, is surely our socialization (traditional gender roles, anyone?). People of all gender identities have difficulty with expressing themselves authentically and deeply, though. So, what's really going on here? What do we really want? And, how can we go about getting it more effectively?
Let's face it. We live in a world where we're often harshly judged or criticized for expressing our needs or being vulnerable. On the one hand, many of us- especially women- have been taught to be more attuned to others' needs than our own while, on the other hand, many people- historically men- have been taught to be tough, stoic, suck it up, and otherwise have no emotional needs. I know men who simply can't cry. Are we to believe this is the way it's supposed to be? That's not realistic! It's only human to want to be touched, comforted, respected, and accepted- to name a few basic needs.
It's frightening to express ourselves honestly because to do so means to open oneself up to rejection- a perceived threat to our survival. Being kicked out of the clan in the olden days, after all, generally didn't end well for us. Luckily, our new minds have evolved to think complexly and compassionately, allowing us to work through these old often irrational fears. Here's a tip from Nonviolent Communication's founder Marshall Rosenberg, "Over and over again, it has been my experience that, from the moment people begin talking about what they need rather than what's wrong with one another, the possibility of finding ways to meet everybody's needs is greatly increased."
Rosenberg provides a formula for asking about what we truly want that boils down to sharing observations, feelings, and needs... before making a request. Here's an example: When you said you'd come over and then you didn't (observation), I felt disappointed (feeling) because I want to be able to count on your words (need). The final step to nonviolent communication is making a request. What specific actions might fulfill your needs? The speaker in the previous example might request: Would you be willing to give me a call or text a few hours in advance if your plans change in the future?
There is a whole book on the subject of nonviolent communication. This is just a taste. Does it take a little practice? Yes- but it's practicing doing what's proven to be more effective, if we need motivation. It makes us more likely to hear each other when we come from a place of understanding rather than shaming or blaming. This isn't to say you should keep engaging with someone who's behaviors are repeatedly unsafe. That's exactly what boundaries were made for. But, with the right words and intention, you might find that unworkable situation to be more workable than you thought.
So, remember, the next time you're hurting or fuming mad and want to scream, you have a right to your feelings but that doesn't mean that sharing them right there and then will benefit you in the long run. When we're extremely upset we shift into our old mind- a place of not thinking clearly, seeing things in black-and-white, and otherwise being in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Not a helpful place to be for decision making or fostering the relationships we desire. Instead, take a break until you can have the conversation that will help you gets your needs met. You'd deserve it! And, you can do it!
Hint: If you're thinking about how the other person always or never does (insert hurtful behavior here), this is a signal that you're in old mind. Just thinking about a tough situation can put you there. But, you won't find useful information here. If nonviolent communication is new to you, it will feel foreign at first. Expect to make mistakes along the way- but, remember, you are only responsible for your 50% of any interaction. Let yourself off the hook for hurting other people's feelings beyond that!
Here's to asking for what you really want- and finding people who are able to offer it to you!