Not really needs

Just as with ‘feelings’, it’s possible to sound like you’re talking about ‘needs’ merely by throwing the word into the sentence, without actually connecting with what is going on inside you.

If you hear yourself saying “I need to do (xyz)“, you are probably listening to a ‘want’ or a disguised  ‘should’ – what a part of you thinks you ‘have to’ do or someone else expects you to do. Needs are there underneath somewhere, but they are not conscious and they are not expressed.

Take for example, “I need to go shopping now“: No-one actually ‘needs‘ to go shopping now: for example, you could eat what you have in the cupboard, or go out for a meal, or borrow from your neighbours, or go shopping later, or fast: going shopping now may be a strategy to meet a need for sustenance, or caring for your children, or social acceptance… or it may be just a habit or a distraction..!

Or how about: “We need to go now, or I’ll be late for work!“: Will people will be critical or stroppy if you’re late for work? So, you want acceptance, or ease? Or do you even think you’ll lose your job if you don’t show up on time? You want to avoid that risk – a need for security perhaps?  A job is a strategy, not the need itself?

It might seem trivial to quibble about this kind of everyday use of language. The reason I disagree is that I see how it affects my entire consciousness and experience of daily life when I attach my needs to specific strategies, and tell myself that I cannot survive unless I follow in the well-worn rut of society’s expectations of how things have to be. I get stressed or depressed, in fact, when I believe stories about what I ‘need’ to do! And when I notice such stories and let them go, I have a sense of freedom and relaxation

One stage more violent than “need to do xyz” is “You need to do xyz!“, as in “You need to tidy your room up before we go to the park!“, or “You need to listen to what I’m telling you for once!“.  This would be blatantly rude language to use to another adult, but strangely enough it seems to be considered quite acceptable when directed at children. Indeed many children’s entire upbringing seems to consist of being told what they ‘need’ to do.

In between these two misapplications of the verb ‘to need’ is a more devious and manipulative form which appears to establish a common interest in our obeying someone else’s instructions. And it’s the favourite of parents and partners who think of themselves as considerate and respectful of others and who would avoid the more blatantly authoritarian “You need…“. Just by changing that form to “We need…“, it becomes totally legit, apparently. So, we hear things like “We need to get your room tidied and clear the dishes away for mummy now, don’t we Johnny?” I cringe when I hear injunctions like this, not just because they seem dishonest and manipulative, but because I love my needs, they are almost sacred to me and I want to save the word for ‘real’ needs.

Here’s some more examples of when a ‘need’ is not really a need.