I hate when people oversimplify the concept of “ask for what you need.”
With complex trauma survivors it’s just not that simple.
Complex trauma survivors have not only a complicated relationship with our needs— we have a complicated relationship with the very IDEA of HAVING needs.
Of all the words that tend to be repulsive to a complex trauma survivor, “needy” is among the MOST repulsive.
We’ve often learned to blame ourselves— specifically, the fact that we have needs— for what happened to us.
Sometimes we’ve had experiences where we HAVE expressed our needs, we HAVE asked for our needs to be met— and had it all used against us.
Sometimes when we’ve expressed our needs, we’ve been mocked.
Sometimes we’ve been ignored.
Sometimes we’ve been refused in ways that were cruel— even scarring.
The thing about the very concept of having “needs” is, it’s necessarily entwined with the concept of vulnerability.
Complex trauma survivors tend to be EXQUISITELY aware of how vulnerable expressing our needs makes us.
After all, when we express our needs— let alone ask for them to be filled— we are showing someone else a vulnerable side of ourselves.
I HATE when people frame “ask for what you need” as a matter of courage versus fear.
It’s just not that simple specially for victims of abuse and neglect.
I’ll spoil the suspense: you’re NOT an “oversensitive, needy piece of sh*t” for just wanting— or needing— to be comforted when you’re feeling sh*tty…no matter how you feel.
(Yes, I took that turn of phrase word for word from someone— not a patient of mine— who expressed feeling that way.)
Needing comfort does not make you child-like.
Needing support does not make you weak.
Most human needs are universal— and when we’ve had experiences like abuse or neglect that deplete our resources and damage our nervous system, those needs become even more important.
After all, as Abraham Maslow hypothesized, it’s really hard to get higher level needs, like self-esteem, met, if we’re still struggling with more basic needs, like shelter or safety.
If you feel a certain kind of way about having needs, let alone expressing them, you’re not alone.
If you struggle to identify your needs, you’re not alone.
If you struggle to believe that you are worthy of getting even your most basic needs, like safety or comfort, met, you’re not alone.
You need to know that that ambivalence about getting your needs met isn’t about fear or weakness. It’s about what you’ve been through.
Complex trauma survivors, by definition, know the cost of vulnerability.
We know the potential costs of being expressive about our needs.
We know that there really ARE people and institutions out there that WILL take advantage of our neediness. That’s not our post traumatic imagination— that’s real.
The thing is: it’s far, far riskier to NOT be in touch with your needs, than it is to realistically acknowledge your needs.
Yes, we often have to pick and choose how and to whom we express our needs. Yes, the pool of safe people to be openly “needy” around is often smaller than we’d prefer.
But we’re not gonna realistically recover if we deny, disown, and stuff our needs indefinitely.
Needs, like feelings, don’t stay stuffed.
As the saying goes, we banish them to the basement— and they go down there and lift weights.