Getting Others to Give Us What We Need

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We are hurt when we don't get what we need. It is healthy to act in ways that move us toward what we need. We use our best cognitive maps to guide us in figuring out what we can do to get what we need. Sometimes we use a poor map and, not only don't we get what we need, we actually create the opposite of what we need. Here we will examine a very common way this happens.

One of Abraham Maslow's most enduring contributions was his map for a hierarchy of needs. He pointed out that there are different kinds of needs and that we have to have met certain lower order needs before we can fully establish the higher order ones. We have to have shelter and food before we can fully experience self-esteem and affiliation with others.

When it comes to the lower order needs of things like food, water, clothing, etc. we can get what we need by having others give them to us. If I am hungry and you have a sandwich and I can prevail on you to give me half, then you have met my need. I was able to get you to meet my need. I may come to believe that I get my needs met by getting others to change how they treat me.

But the higher order needs are different. They are not physical objects which we can receive or be denied; they are qualities which are created out of the relationships we create with others.

If, as a child, I had parents who were curious about what was going on with me, I was repeatedly invited to discover my own feelings so I could tell them. I was thus taught how to attend to myself by the fact that they gave me attention. I will then be able to grow to adulthood as someone who can attend to my Self. I enjoy the attention of others, but I don't need it.

On the other hand, if my parents didn't pay attention to me, I did not learn to attend to myself, and I grew to adulthood as someone who doesn't know how to attend to my Self. I will need to get attention from others since I don't know how to create it for myself. I will be needy for attention.

When others attend to me I will sense a great relief as those needs are met. But as soon as the light of the other's attention is focused somewhere else, I will be plunged into darkness, will be hurt and angry at the other for leaving me bereft, and will go in search of someone who will attend to me.

Suppose then I find someone who gives me attention and affection. We build a stable relationship and enjoy the comfort and security we build for each other. When at some point I do something which disappoints or hurts my beloved and she responds by withdrawing, I will be afraid and angry. I may demand that my beloved return to being my source for attention and affection. She gave it to me before. I can't create it on my own. I have to get her to give it to me.

The problem here is that the very things I may do to try to create what I need are most likely to get me the opposite. Since my cognitive map for our relationship and my way of getting my needs met is that she is my source for affection and she has met that need in the past and could meet that need now, I will have to demand that she return to meeting my needs.

But affection is not a sandwich. This is not something she carries around in her pocket and can choose to share or not. Affection is a quality which is created in the relationship by the choices we each make. For me to get what I need, I will have to repair the relationship we both want. The more I blame her for not being who I believe I have a right to insist she be, the farther I will move from the relationship I need. It is not that I can't get what I need. It is that she can't give it to me. I will have to create it for my Self. And that may take learning some skills as an adult that I didn't learn as a child.

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