Would Walmart be your first choice if you were jonesing for fresh produce? Sure, you might find something that resembles local and organic fruits and vegetables. Yet, if we are looking to really be nourished we are likely to feel dissatisfied with what we end up getting at this store if we go there expecting a variety of healthy choices.
And this is exactly what we do when we go to the wrong place searching for our emotional needs to be met. We really want that one thing– connection, reassurance, affirmation, sound advice, assistance. And somehow we end up at the wrong store to get it. There might be nothing wrong with what the store has to offer, it is just not the place where you’re going to find what you’re looking for.
This metaphor comes from one of my wise mentors, Deanna V. Johnson:
If you are burdened with the disappointment of having unmet needs in a relationship, maybe you’re going to the wrong place to have that need met. It’s like going to a local store that you know doesn’t carry a certain item you need for your recipe. You can keep going to that store hoping that it will carry that one item—but, more often than not, their inventory has not changed much. You’d probably be smart to try a different store that you know has consistently carried the item you are looking for. Does that mean that you don’t go to the local store anymore? No, it just means that you don’t go to that one store for that one item…You can still enjoy all the other great things the local store carries and perhaps try a different recipe with those ingredients.
In the past (and sometimes now) I’ve had this uncanny way of going to precisely the the wrong places looking for what I needed. Part of the problem was that I have not always been so clear about the fact that I even have needs. It has taken a fair amount of personal work to unpack the notion that needs and even neediness are not inherently bad things. I perpetuated this habit of neglecting and negating my needs. My emotional needs aren’t being met = I don’t have needs. My needs don’t matter. No one will ever come through when I need.
What are you needing? Companionship? Empathy? Nurturing? Humor? To be challenged?
The other side of this problem is that I had misguided expectations. It was akin to expecting Walmart to carry locally grown brussel sprouts in November. Why wouldn’t they? It is a store, they sell things… How come they aren’t attentive to my tastes and needs?
What has experience taught me about what I can expect from this person? Good in crisis? Great listener? Problem solver? Advice giver? Butt kicker?
So, I have a lot of practice going to stores that don’t have what I am needing. I have had enough experience with this to be able to laugh at myself and say, what did I expect? What has started to change over time is that I am no longer as disappointed and angry. And I am not as apt to dismiss that what I really want.
I, first, acknowledge and validate my own need. Then, I notice and intend to accept that person for what they do offer. There are aisles and aisles of precious gifts that person has to share but sometimes I don’t notice because I am focused on what I didn’t get. It is my job to accept and embrace my own needs and go to another store for that ingredient.
I still will call that girlfriend who is always multitasking while we’re on the phone and only half-way listening. But I might think twice if I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. I’ll still reach out to the friend who is fun to be with but not too touchy-feely. But she is not my go-to when I am craving emotional intimacy. There are family members who I have stopped going to for heart-to-hearts. But I can count on them swap funny stories or gripe how the rest of the family is crazy.
Lastly, the fact is that sometimes the friends who are my go-tos for certain items are closed. They are not available. They have their own stuff going on and it’s my turn to be the store providing compassion, humor, or trust– whatever my special offering is.
It has taken me a long time to understand this concept and I still practice and must be reminded regularly. This metaphor has helped me time after time. I am given the chance to be more aligned with my own needs and, at the same time, accept what gifts my relationships do offer.
Do you acknowledge and honor your own needs? Are you going to the right places for help with meeting those needs? Is it time to switch things up?