We often think we know what we want, but don’t. Connecting to deeper needs in any given situation can be game-changing.
Recently, I asked my 15-year old daughter to help me take some photos for a project; I needed at least two people to make it work.
I planned the time, set the date, reminded her multiple times, and then enthusiastically looked forward to spending time with her in this way.
At the agreed upon time, I was all ready to get started, and she received an invitation to go and hang out with some friends. “Mom, my friends are meeting for dinner soon and I really want to go, so can I just give you 30 minutes?”
Disappointed, but still eager to get my pics so I could start the next step of the project, I decided to make it work. As we created scenes and moved furniture around, she was clearly distracted, impatient, and in a hurry.
I felt myself getting frustrated and angry. Couldn’t she see how important this was to me? Didn’t she agree to help? WTF. I was triggered.
I started silently judging and accusing her of breaking her agreements, of being unreliable, of caring more about her friends than her mother, of being selfish … But, I held back from saying it out loud.
Instead, I turned on myself for being selfish, for caring more about myself than her needs, for the assured dysfunction of relying on my child to meet my needs, for agreeing to let her go with her friends instead of insisting she follow through on our plans, for being wishy-washy and resentful … the list goes on and on.
I will spare you more internal dramatics.
As my judgy, critical victim-mind (the part of me that sees something “wrong” and wants to blame “them” or myself and then feels harm done by) was revving up, an important question emerged and took center stage:
What do I really want?
What do I actually want?
Do I really want to guilt her into doing this? Do I really want to lead with anger and criticism? Do I really want to do a project with someone who isn’t “into it”?
No, No, and No.
Dropping my attachment to the photo project, I put my attention on my deeper longings and things begin to get clearer …
I want to spend quality time with my kiddo, playing and enjoying something together. (And this clearly isn’t working.)
I want to nurture our relationship and care for her needs.
I want to know my needs matter to her.
I want her to express her truths and preferences to me as we go.
I want some support and help in getting a photo project completed.
Tender feelings began to stir up. Annoyed began transforming into an ache. I talked myself down:
OK. So, there are billions of people in the world. I even know some of them. Someone else might actually enjoy helping me and find this fun. My daughter is not one of them at this moment, at this time. There are other options.
Contemplating “What am I actually longing for right now? What do I really want?”, more feelings surfaced in waves, carrying little movie-snippet memories from younger days …
I flashed through instances in my childhood in which adults’ needs were privileged and my own needs as a child were invisible. Thought-fragments like “it doesn’t matter what I want” and “no-one is available to help me” crested on the waves of emotions surfacing.
My eyes welled up; I was taken aback by the intensity of the loneliness that washed over me. As I felt my way into the tender feelings (instead of converting them into judgment, blame, and anger) more tears flowed.
That’s the thing about memories and emotions and tears. They never surface at convenient times, like when I am alone.
Nope. They have to surface in the middle of projects and when I have a million other things to do and people to attend to. Ugh.
“Mom? What’s wrong?”
I took a deep breath and brought myself back into the present moment and the task at hand. Knowing I would process memories and feelings later with my adult support system, not my teenage daughter, I shifted gears.
She wanted to understand.
“I’m feeling sad and disappointed. I was imagining that this would be fun to do together and I was really looking forward to it. But as we rush through it, it isn’t feeling fun to me at all and I’m feeling stressed. I know you are willing to help me, but you also are waiting to be with your friends. I need some time to sort out all these feelings because a lot of them aren’t even about right now. I just need some space to figure it out.”
“Mom.” She sat down and gave me a hug. “Those feelings suck. I hate being disappointed too.”
When we can hold disappointments together instead of turning on each other, magic can happen. I hadn’t attacked or criticized her and she hadn’t responded with a defensive explanation of her side of things.
My heart softened and I hugged her back. “Let’s get you to your friends, I’ll take some time to feel my feelings and then we can figure this out later, OK?”
I used to respond to disappointment by trying to control an outcome, judging myself and others, and insisting on getting my way.
I’d get so distracted by what I thought I wanted (the photos, the pretense of fun, the time I had been promised by someone) that I’d lose touch completely with what I actually wanted: to matter, to be valued, to be known, self-connection, self-understanding, empathic and caring connections with others.
The more we’re able to hold our strategies lightly and our deep needs tightly, the more we’re willing to surf the unpredictability of life and feel what we feel without turning on ourselves and others, the more we are able to find new, empowered, empathic ways of navigating through life, together.
So, the next time you find yourself quick to judge, criticize, or control someone (or yourself) ask yourself:
What do I really want here? What am I actually after?
You may be surprised at your own answers.