“You want to go for a walk? No? Oh, that’s OK. Let’s just do your thing then”. Let’s see what neglecting your needs like this can do.
Do you recognise yourself in that dynamic? Do you adapt to other people’s needs like it’s all the same to you? “Honestly, I don’t really care”. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this dynamic. And it’s possible a bunch of activities are really just the same to you. But when does this pattern become a problem?
If you are anything like me, this opening will have struck a string. In my own life I have a tendency to portray myself as a ‘low maintenance’ guy. To me, it feels easy to give and I tend to prefer meeting other people’s needs over the ‘hassle’ of getting my own needs met. Because “I don’t feel that strongly about it anyway”.
The truth is, however, that deep down it’s just very scary to share our needs: What if the other person doesn’t want to meet my needs? What if they think I am selfish? Will the other person leave me if I ask too much of them, if I’m too difficult? Unfortunately, this strategy of portraying yourself as needless backfires on you. It makes it very hard for people around you to meet your needs. How can they meet your needs, if you don’t even communicate them?
One way low-maintenance people try to get their needs met is by making covert contracts. I will do x for you, so that you will do y for me. And I will assume that we both know about the contract without actually talking about it.
For example, ‘I will give you a back massage, so that you will give me sex’. Or, ‘I will help you move your furniture, so that you will give me sex’. Or, ‘I will listen to you talk about what an asshole your ex was, so that you will give me, you guessed it, sex’. (Oh dear… There is a lot of sex involved in covert contracts it seems…).
At one point, the low-maintenance person will think: “Wait a minute, I did all these things for you, and I got nothing back for it. Who do you think you are?”. The other party in the contract will never live up to their part of the deal, because they were never aware of the covert contract in the first place. And when they keep breaking the covert contracts, the low-maintenance person will start feeling betrayed, resentful. “Why does nobody take care of me, like I take care of them?”.
Because you never asked for it, dumbass!
Covert contracts and care-taking only lead to frustration and resentmentRobert A. Glover, No More Mr. Nice Guy
To be loyal to your own boundaries and values simply means to speak up! Don’t abandon your own value system to meet the other. It will only make you resentful. Instead, simply stick with your own values, and accept whatever consequences follow from there. You will sleep safe and sound knowing you were true to yourself.
Now you might tell me: “Hold on, I don’t even know what my boundaries are. How am I supposed to articulate them?”. And you would be right to ask. Boundaries are hard to know. “I have a first date with this girl this evening. Will it be OK for me if she tries to kiss me?”. No idea! And the reason that I have no idea is because I am not in that situation right now. I cannot feel what the situation would be like. And it’s much easier to feel boundaries than to think about them.
As we talked about in Everything starts with embodiment, your body contains a lot of wisdom. Your body can tell you, during that situation, if a situation is a big ‘yes’, a definite ‘no’ or simply a ‘maybe’. If boundaries are a complicated topic for you, as they are for me, these three labels can be very helpful.
There is nothing wrong with doing something, if you feel a ‘maybe’ or even a ‘no’. To give you an example: two friends invited me to go swimming this week. (As I write this, it’s January and the water temperature is about 5°C…). I was initially excited about the idea, but this changed when I arrived at the water and started taking off my gloves and winter jacket.
Before long I was standing naked next to the icy water and was feeling a sharp ‘no’. I mean, what was I even doing there? I went into the water despite my ‘no’. I am not going to lie, the water itself was fucking cold, and I was out of the water only minutes after getting in. But afterwards my skin and muscles felt wonderfully relaxed and the experience of my tingling skin warming up again was very pleasant.
If I would have stayed on the water side because I felt a ‘no’, I would have missed this experience. The take-home message here is that our needs start and end with ourselves. There is nobody else who can take responsibility for them. And there is nobody else who can give them a voice. So share your needs.