Why We Don't Ask For What We Want
Updated: Mar 14
Asking for needs to be met in a relationship is one of the most difficult things we can experience.
Firstly, quite often, many of us actually don’t know what we want or what our needs are. We may have spent much of our childhood being told what we should want or having the things we want ridiculed or invalidated by peers or caregivers. We learn that having our own needs can weigh heavy on others and be uncomfortable for them to receive. When as children we act with frustration, how we are supported in that frustration (which can look like a tantrum) is generally met with punishment. And so we grow up into adulthood, not feeling safe having needs and certainly feeling unsafe asking for them to be met.
We can end up feeling selfish having needs and wants. That we are asking too much of others. That we are centering ourselves in relationships. This can feel even more so if the person you are with doesn’t ask for needs to be met. It can feel one-sided. Needy. We can begin to feel like we are ‘high-maintenance’.
The option of not asking for what we want is resentment. We can get into the habit of expecting people to just know what we want. That the hint we might make or talking about a friend or colleague and how in their relationship they are having a certain need met, we believe that these hints will be enough. That our partner should just ‘get it’. Part of this can come from our inner-child wanting in some way to be rescued. To be seen, to be valued, to be considered - without the need to ask. Most likely because growing up there were needs we had that weren’t met and we then create this fantasy or longing of our partner or others around us healing that wound and meeting those needs.
What I have learnt though is that no-one comes to rescue you. People can’t know what you want unless you ask them. So this is the next discomfort to face - asking.
The fear of asking can be because we fear rejection. If we ask directly for something and there is a chance the other person says ‘no’ (which they have every right to do) we then find it’s easier not to ask. The rejection from a ‘no’ can feel personal - that we aren’t important enough or special enough. If we have feelings of low self-worth it can almost feel like that ‘no’ is agreeing with an internal dialogue of not being good enough, and it can feel too painful to hear. The ‘no’ can be the person simply looking after themselves and having boundaries, but our inner story can create some other story about our sense of worth or importance. So a good practice I was introduced to at a play event was thanking the person. So when you ask for something and the other person says ‘no’ because they are placing a boundary, you then reply with ‘Thank you for looking after yourself’. This practice can completely change how we see that ‘no’.
We can also be afraid to ask for what we want because of how the other person may react. They may get angry, sad, defensive, or have a counter ‘want’ etc… all of these emotions can be because they trigger something in the person you are asking. Their behaviour is projecting onto you how they feel about themselves inside. They may be experiencing feelings of guilt, that they weren’t doing this already, which can then induce shame because they feel bad for not already doing it. They can feel they are not good enough. They can feel resentment because they are not asking for what they want. They would like to ask you, however their inability to ask and then receive from you the ‘want’ can mean they feel that their needs aren’t being met and are being sidelined or forgotten.
You may not ask for what you want because you don’t feel worthy to do so or worthy to receive it. That in some way you don’t deserve it. Maybe you give to everyone and prioritise everyone else’s needs above yours so that you can in some way ignore your own needs. Ignoring them allows you to be in servitude always of others. You get your sense of worth and value by being there for everyone else. You can, in effect, become a martyr. Doing and being for everyone, and for some this can mean they get to really drop into their inner-victim. The part of them that likes to identify as being the person who is always at the bottom, not thought about, not considered… it can be very comfortable here. Because being in the victim is not taking responsibility for ourselves. It isn’t putting ourselves out there. Putting ourselves out there meaning asking for what we want. The bravery that’s required to do that. With the risk that someone might say no and how that ‘no’ might feel in the body.
The thing is with a ‘no’, is the more frequently you hear it from a person, the more you can trust their ‘yes’. If you know that someone has good boundaries and you can trust that they will do something for you, only if it feels good to them, what that means is that when you hear the ‘yes’, you can trust it. You know without a doubt that the yes is full-hearted. That it’s coming from a desire of theirs to want to be there and support and help you.
Because when you receive a ‘yes’ when you ask for something the fear can be that the person doesn’t really want to do it. That we can feel we are asking a lot, we are being too much. We are being needy.
So we fear the ‘no’ and we fear the ‘yes’ - so the easy option is simply not to ask.
Then when we ask for a need to be met, sometimes the difficulty can be in accepting it. This can bring up for us a lot of discomfort. Not feeling worthy to accept it or fearing not being independent enough. Accepting help was a lesson I personally learnt recently. I like to consider myself independent and have over the last couple of years really taken myself on a journey of learning to ask for help and for my needs to be met. I notice that old patterns are still there. When I was at the train station recently I needed to get down the stairs with a heavy suitcase. I was tired and feeling tender from an emotional few days and was really craving connection. The stairs symbolised for me the effort that I continually need to gather for myself to move forward. As I took a moment’s pause at the top of the stairs a stranger offered to carry my case down. My immediate reply was going to be ‘no’. It is automatic for me not to want help with my case because I like to see myself as strong and independent and able to carry my own case. However, today I noticed the need for connection, for someone else to carry some weight. And although they weren’t offering to carry the emotional weight I was carrying, the physical weight felt symbolic.
I accepted the offer. The human in me recognising that community is what keeps us safe. Community helps us to regulate our nervous system. Community and connection sends juicy hormones like oxytocin to travel through the body and create bonds and support collaboration.
I recognised that in that moment, that the human standing in front of me had qualities that I was struggling to find in myself - physical strength.
The journey has been and continues to be allowing people to support me in my life with the qualities that I don’t have or might be limited in. In return I offer my qualities to support others who may not have them or when they may be more limited.
I understand that, and I remind myself every day that…
We aren’t meant to do it alone.
To be alone.
We are created for collaboration.
We are created for community.
We are created for connection.
We are created for intimacy.
It’s just that somewhere along the line we were told that it isn’t safe to do that. We created unhealthy patterns of disconnection and hyper-independence which harbour within us feelings of shame and isolation. Which we can then project onto others with the resentment we feel for not being seen or valued. These feelings we indirectly cause ourselves to experience by not giving ourselves permission to be a part of a community. Whether that be a community of two people in a relationship, a nuclear family, shared housing, or your village or city.
We all have a strong human need to connect and belong.
Asking to have needs met is about collaboration.
Asking to have needs met is about community.
Asking to have needs met is connection.
Asking to have needs met is intimacy.
So my invitation to you today is to ask yourself…
‘What do I want?’
And then ask…
‘Who can I ask to help me with this?’
And as you sit with the discomfort of wanting, and sit with the discomfort of asking, and sit with the discomfort of receiving a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’, then the further discomfort of accepting if it’s a ‘yes’, know that today you have been courageous.
That you wanted something.
And you asked for it.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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