Thursday, March 4, 2021

Getting Your Needs Met: How Do You FInd the Right People, and are Tribes the Answer?

In my last post, I outlined why it's important to learn to ask for what you need, and how to go about doing it. I didn't address an important point in that post, though:

How do you get your needs met if you're surrounded by people who, for whatever reason, can't or won't meet your needs?

Not everyone possesses the emotional maturity to engage in healthy relationships where each member of the relationship feels safe and secure enough to voice their needs openly and honestly. Or worse, not everyone cares about our best interests. That's usually why the problem starts in the first place. It certainly did for me.

My Early Life Experiences

I grew up in a pretty weird environment. Both sides of my family had some significant dysfunction that went back at least a generation or two, yet nobody ever talked about it. Appearing "normal" was important. I think this was intentional; it was their attempt at killing the cycle of generational shittiness in order to give my generation of offspring a chance at a life better than they experienced. For the most part, they succeeded. Except in the realm of expressing needs. 

I learned from a very young age that expressing my needs came at a steep price - it indebted me to the people I asked. It was kinda like asking a favor from the mob. They'd grant it, but then you owed them. When they came to collect on the debt, it would be fine if I could fulfill their request. But if not? 

That's where things routinely turned pretty dark. People, especially the women in my family, would start negatively gossiping to other family members or friends of the family. The goal seemed to be both getting me to comply with the request and/or punishing me for not fulfilling the request. I was made out to be a bad person in the eyes of my family, and it hurt. A lot. I'm kinda prone to depression, especially seasonal affective disorder. If this kind of thing happened when I was experiencing a bout of depression, my mind went to very, very dark places. Which was made infinitely worse because I couldn't express that to anyone.

Needless to say, it was a cycle I needed to break for self-preservation. I naively tried actually fixing the dysfunction years ago, but that turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. The only workable solution was to severely limit interactions, which is lonely and royally sucks, but it's better than the alternative.

To the point, though, it taught me to avoid asking people to meet my needs. Instead, I developed a lot of shitty passive-aggressive strategies to try to get my needs met without actually asking for them. If I didn't verbalize them, they couldn't be used against me. That's the "Nice Guy" problem I mentioned in the last post.

Luckily, it wasn't too difficult to fix this issue. It WAS incredibly difficult to take the first step; I still vividly remember the first few times I directly asked Shelly to meet some of my needs without resorting to my old subversive tactics. But experiencing her joyfully acting to fulfill those needs was powerful. It was a "Holy shit, I can't believe this actually works like this" moment. Almost immediately, the problem mostly disappeared.

Why mostly?

Because I had to learn another important lesson - how do you determine WHO you can trust to share your needs with and who do you need to avoid? Learning that lesson was a little more tricky.

Authenticity is the Key

Shortly after discovering that "Nice Guy" pattern, I started analyzing the relationships in my life. I quickly realized some people fell into the "safe to share my needs" category and others fell in the "unsafe to share my needs" category. The difference between these two? The former were all people Shelly and I met and befriended AFTER we started trying to live as authentically as possible. And by "authentically", I mean letting our inside selves shine by not erecting a facade of, well, "normal."

Like attracts like. And the "likes" we attracted were the kinds of people who could and would meet whatever needs we expressed without some ulterior motive. They were emotionally safe, and this safety created wonderful, lasting friendships. 

Once I kinda discovered that there were people out there who could and would willingly meet whatever needs I had, all those "unsafe" relationships started to feel really, really toxic. SO I started gravitating towards the safe people and away from the unsafe people. And every aspect of my life improved remarkably. 

The Tribe

At some point in this process, I realized there was incredible mutually-beneficial value in curating a group of people who all cared about each other unconditionally. That realization slowly grew from an abstract idea to the "Tribe" plans I've been planning and developing, which I'm documenting on one of my other blogs

The basic idea - We have a lot of needs, many of which are social in nature. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors got these needs met by their tribe. That's why we're hard-wired to have these social needs today. But we don't have tribes today. We have a lot of individuals living individualistic lives. We get our "tribe" needs met by rooting for sports teams, identifying with political parties, or maybe joining a church. And the loneliness of these topical connections causes a whole lotta needs to go unmet. It's no surprise so many of us are riddled with depression and anxiety.

So I set out to create a Tribe. Or as close to a "tribe" as we can get without sacrificing the benefits of modern society. Brandon, one of our Tribe Members and co-founder of this project, provided us with some excellent criteria to decide who we wanted in the Tribe, which I describe in detail in this post.

Our Tribe is a little bit unique in that it is formed around that authenticity idea in the last section. Our current and future Tribe Members come from our jiu jitsu gym Shelly and I own. When we're at the gym, both of us are our authentic selves. And people either love us or hate us. There's not a lot of middle ground. So we attract people who tend to be like-minded, which creates an awesome foundation for the Tribe.

Specific to the point of getting your needs met - the kind of people we want for the Tribe are the precise kind of people who either already understand the reciprocal nature of healthy relationships or, in some cases, have the capacity but need to learn how to ask for help. Like I was back in the "Nice Guy" days. 

Reciprocal Rings

A researcher by the name of Wayne Baker developed a concept known as a "Reciprocal Ring", which is a tool groups can use to develop equitable reciprocity within a group. It basically teaches people how to use the group to get their needs met. And it's a tool I plan on utilizing for our Tribe. It works like this.

You gather the group together. One person expresses one need they have to the group. I can be a physical need, social need, emotional need, spiritual need, financial need... whatever. The group then brainstorms how they can, collectively, get that need met. Then they actually do it or make a plan to do it. This continues around the group until everyone has expressed a need. 

Done repeatedly, this quickly evolves into what amounts to a group "Pay It Forward" virtuous cycle where group members quickly build trust in each other that allows them to rely on the group. In short, the collective group becomes a powerful resource to get any and all needs met for each individual within the group.

But What If You Don't Have a Tribe?

I'm fortunate in that I've had an incredibly supportive wife who I could rely on to openly express my needs, which has given me the opportunity to be able to curate a Tribe of reliable, emotionally healthy friends. Not everyone has that resource available to them. In that case, it's important to learn to recognize emotionally-healthy people. 

For people trapped in some cycle of emotional fuck-upedness, that can be really difficult. If all you've known are emotionally-troubled people, you don't know what healthy looks like. Worse, we tend to be drawn to the people who make us comfortable. And if all we've ever known is emotionally-damaged people, those are the people we'll be drawn to. 

There are a lot of guides out there that will explain what an emotionally-healthy person looks like. Lifehacker, one of my all-time favorite websites, produced a nice article explaining 15 good traits to look for. As much as I like their list, I also have some criteria I use personally, usually by asking questions. These questions determine if they're:

  • Honest
  • Competent
  • Reliable
  • Kind
  • Able to persevere after setbacks
  • Willing and able to accept blame when they're at fault
  • Compassionate
  • Modest and humble
  •  Have the ability to control their emotions

So what are the questions? What behaviors help me determine if an individual "fits" this ideal?

  1. How do they treat service workers, especially retail workers, receptionists, and restaurant servers? Do they tip well?
  2. How do they treat animals?
  3. How do they treat children and the elderly?
  4. How do they treat people who have poor social skills?
  5. Do they get angry frequently?
  6. Do they do random acts of kindness, especially when nobody appears to be looking?
  7. Do they brag excessively?
  8. How do they handle failure?
  9. Are they excessively gullible and fall for conspiracies, multi-level marketing schemes, etc.?
  10. Do they try to control others?
  11. Are they prone to excessive jealousy or envy?
  12. Do they have a victim mentality?
  13. Do they intentionally hurt people, physically, emotionally, or mentally?
  14. Do they blame others for their lack of success?
  15. Are they passive-aggressive?
  16. Do they engage in revenge fantasies?
  17. Do they routinely make other people uncomfortable?
  18. Do they have confident body language?
  19. Do they talk on the phone in public or in the presence of others without trying to excuse themselves.


And, of course, there's the gold standard hack for evaluating others - simply pick a particular trait, then ask someone how often they see that trait in others. It's based on the idea of psychological projection - we frame the motives behind other people's behaviors within our own motivational framework. A happy person will see happiness in others. A manipulative person will assume everyone is trying to manipulate them. A compulsive liar will assume everyone is lying. A genuinely kind person will see kindness in others. And so on. 

Taken together, these strategies can be super useful when it comes to identifying the kinds of people who can and will gladly help fulfill your needs versus the toxic people who will not. Surround yourself with the former and life gets a whole lot better. Surround yourself with the latter and life ain't so good.



We all deserve healthy relationships where we can feel safe expressing our thoughts, feelings, and needs. We all deserve healthy relationships where we will have those thoughts, feelings, and needs heard and acknowledged. Surround yourself with those kind of people, and follow my advice from the first post on getting your needs met

You deserve it.



How To Ask For What You Need


Recently, I was having a discussion with an old friend who has trouble asking for what they need from others, especially in relationships. This has always been a topic close to my heart because, for the vast majority of my life, I had this exact problem.

And it sucked. 

In my own experience, it basically turned me into a "Nice Guy", which caused me to habitually hurt the very people I cared about the most. The gist of the behavior - I'd do shit for people in the hopes they would reciprocate in some way, thus meeting my unspoken needs. Unsurprisingly, this led to a lot of problems. I'd create a feedback loop where I'd feel a need, obsess on figuring out how I could get that need met without pissing anyone off, then would engage in passive, indirect behaviors that never worked, then get resentful and angry towards those people for not meeting my unspoken needs, which caused those initial needs to get even stronger. It royally sucked for me, and it royally sucked for those around me.

My own experiences with this issue stemmed from behavior patterns learned in childhood and accidentally reinforced into adulthood, and it took years to correct. Mostly because it took years to actually identify the problem. In my past writings on this topic, I largely helped people solve this issue by fixing the underlying problem, but the aforementioned conversation with my old friend led me to explicitly addressing the issue head-on.

So Why Does It Matter?

Without exception, EVERY person I've ever met who had trouble expressing their needs to those around them have had a "giving" personality. They genuinely enjoy helping others... even the men who, like I used to do, engage in "Nice Guy" behaviors. The problem, though, is our ability to help others is entirely dependent on our own health and well-being.

My all-time favorite analogy for are - oxygen masks. 

If you've ever flown on a commercial airline and paid attention to the emergency procedures flight attendants go through when the plane's still on the tarmac, you know what I'm talking about. In the event of "cabin depressurization" (i.e. - the plane is falling apart), oxygen masks drop down from the overhead compartment. We're supposed to put OUR mask on before we help other people put THEIR mask on.


Well, if we pass out because of a lack of oxygen (which thanks to jiu jitsu, I can confirm does not take long), we can't help others. Then we all die.The lesson?


We have a right and a responsibility to ask for what we need in a relationship, and we're in the best position to determine exactly what it is we really need. After all, we are the experts on ourselves.

If we don't take care of our needs, we run ourselves into the ground physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And we run the risk of falling into the martyr complex. We're actively damaging our self-worth and our value.

In addition, if we're not getting our needs met, we're unconsciously sabotaging all our close relationships. 


Learning to ASK to have your needs met can be an incredibly difficult thing for many of us. I know it was for me. It was really terrifying and just felt so... wrong. 

Damn that early life conditioning!

Anyway, before we get to HOW to ask to get your needs met, let's talk about the needs themselves.

What Do We Really Need?

We all have needs that require other people. We are, after all, social animals. Some of those needs include:

  • We need support. We need someone who has our backs.
  • We need affection.
  • We need to feel intimate physical contact. Think cuddling.
  • We need companionship. 
  • We need to feel physically and emotionally safe.
  • We need to feel like we're a priority.
  • We need to feel heard and understood. 
  • We need to feel financially secure.
  • We need to hear positive affirmations from those we care about.
  • We need to feel valued and appreciated.
  • We need to feel connected to others.
  • We need to be nurtured sometimes. 
  • We need sex and the resulting physical connection.
  • ... and so on.

If we're missing any of these, we tend to feel what could best be described as "emotional hunger." And that emotional hunger gnaws at us whether we recognize it or not. 

How Do We Know if Our Needs Aren't Being Met?

One of the weirdest parts of habitually not getting your needs met is you don't always recognize your needs aren't being met... usually because they've never really been met in a healthy way. So the needs manifest in other, strange ways, including:

  • We resent others because they're not "reading our minds" and fulfilling the needs we expect them to fulfill.
  • We get stressed out, feel anxiety, and feel depression because our needs aren't being met.
  • We feel contempt for the people who aren't meeting our needs.
  • We get angry at others for not meeting our needs.
  • We feel neglected and rejected by those we love.
  • We feel unimportant because we're not being heard or seen. 
  • We feel unloved because our partners don't seem to be willing to put in the same level of effort we're putting in the relationship.
  • We find ourselves minimizing our own needs to make them seem less of a priority compared to other people's needs.
  • We withdraw from those we love. 
  • We start picking silly fights. 
  • We start "testing" those we love to determine if they really love us.
  • We start "keeping score."
  • We start fantasizing about greener pastures... a lot.
  • We start seeking attention elsewhere.

 Why Don't We Ask for What We Need?

There could be all kinds of reasons we don't ask for what we really need. In my past, I did so because I was terrified I would make people angry by expressing my needs, and they'd ultimately abandon me. In retrospect, it was a pretty fucked up train of thought that wasn't grounded in reality. Or even logic. But it's how I felt.

We may have all kinds of reasons for not asking for what we need, including:

  • We think asking for what you need will cause conflict (which may have happened in the past.)
  • We don't want to trouble or inconvenience others.
  • We may not know exactly what it is we need.'
  • We feel what we need, but we have trouble articulating the need to others.
  • We were punished in the past for asking others for what we need.
  • We don't want to feel needy because we see ourselves as being strong, independent, and resilient.
  • We're afraid of making people angry.
  • We may not want to admit we're dissatisfied.
  • We don't like feeling vulnerable.
  • We're afraid of being judged negatively.
  • We grew up in an environment where a parent or both parents somehow used our needs against us.
  • We never learned how to express our needs in a healthy way.
  • The voind of not having our needs met, while feeling bad, also feels comfortable. And comfortable is less risky than asking for what we need.
  • ... and so on.

Usually part of this problem stems from some sort of emotional abandonment we experienced in childhood or in our early dating life. This causes us to initiate relationships with people who avoid the intimacy required to create an environment where both partners can and do freely share their needs. The crappy relationship satisfies some of our needs for a connection to others, but the emotional distance feels safe. Even if that relationship is defined by constant fighting, addictions, infidelity, and other forms of shitty abuse. 

What if I Don't Deserve to Feel Good?

 I intentionally left this one off the list above because it deserves its own treatment. Thinking you don't deserve something is a big fucking cowardly cop-out. Harsh, yes, but true. To see how absurd this is, do this thought experiment. Think of your all-time favorite ice cream flavor. Now think of your all-time least-favorite ice cream flavor.

For example, my favorite is fudge brownie in mint ice cream. Whatever that's called. My least favorite? Coffee-flavored. A little ironic given I love black coffee. Anyway.

Now imagine you just entered an ice cream shop and you're deciding which flavor to get. Would you choose your absolute favorite flavor of ice cream? Or would you settle for that least-favorite shitty flavor because you felt you "didn't deserve" your favorite? Settling seems pretty damn absurd here, doesn't it?

I know I'm choosing the brownie mint stuff, not the gross-ass coffee ice cream. And you would, too.

So why should your needs be any different? 

Still not convinced? Do this thought experiment. Think of your kids. If you don't have kids, imagine a future when you do. If you don't want kids, think of a beloved pet. Part of parenting is wanting what's best for your kids. We want them to have a life that will make them happy. We want them to have the life they deserve.

As their parent, you're their most influential role model. If they see you ignoring YOUR needs because you feel you don't deserve to have your needs met, they will grow up and ignore THEIR needs because they will feel like they don't deserve to have them met. It doesn't matter what we say. It matters what we DO.

So How Do We Fix the Problem?

When people can't ask to get their needs met, they typically use a few strategies that are guaranteed to fail almost every time. Maybe we try using guilt or shame on others. Maybe we use our unmet needs as weapons. Maybe we buy them gifts or do them favors (even the sexual kind!) Maybe we use passive-aggressive tactics like withdrawing or throwing tantrums. Maybe we try dropping subtle hints. Whatever tactics we use, they always result in the same shitty outcomes - we're left emotionally starved.

But the solution is pretty simple! And there's only TWO steps!

 There's really two steps to this process. The First Step is figuring out exactly what it is you're missing, which can be really difficult. Let's call this step "Naming the Need." 

I know when I started this process, I had never even really consciously considered my own needs, even though I was constantly trying to get them met. And being a god damned psychology teacher.

Yeah, kinda embarrassing.

For me, it helped to see a list of needs people actually, well, need. Scroll back up to that "What Do We Really Need" list above. Start there. Whether we consciously feel it or not, all of us share all of those needs; they're universally human. So note which needs are currently being met and which ones are not.

In addition to this, we can do a thought experiment. Ask yourself "If I could have anything I wanted in a relationship, with NO limits, what would it be?" What would that relationship look like? What would that relationship feel like? Don't hold back here; be selfish! This is YOUR fantasy; have fun with it!

Once we do that, the second part of step one is important - taking personal responsibility for our own emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Tell yourself "I am personally responsible for getting these missing needs met." Repeat that ten times. 

That second part of this first step is important because, even though we disguise it with a lot of different rationalizations, our inability to ask to have our needs met is really a shifting of responsibility from ourselves to other people. We need to change that. Taking personal responsibility means we have to be willing to ask for what we need. 

Now on to the Second Step - actually asking for what we need. Pick one need at a time, and figure out who in your life is best able to meet that need. It's probably going to be a significant other, but it can also be a friend, a family member, or even a coworker. WHO isn't critically important.  

The first thing we need to do is make sure you and the other person are calm and relaxed. Don't do this is you're stressed, angry, or in a hurry. Now describe the situation. You want to describe the situation in a way that doesn't blame them, so stick to factual terms. You want to encourage connection, not conflict. For example, let's say our partner doesn't hug us as much as we need. We could say:

"We don't hug as much as I need us to hug."

Simple and to the point with no blame or judgment.

The second thing we need to do is explain how we feel, preferably by using "I" statements. Again, it's important not to blame the other person here. You're simply expressing how the behavior in the last part makes you feel. For example:

"Our lack of hugging makes me feel unloved."

The third thing we need to do is request the desired behavior in clear, actionable terms. What can they do to meet the need? We need to make it easy for the other person to meet the need we just expressed. 

"I need to start hugging each other when we both get home from work."

In this last step, it's important to only request behaviors. Don't ask the other person to change their values, attitudes, desires, motivations, or feelings. Behaviors only. And limit each request to ONE or, at the most, TWO specific behaviors. 

It's also important to TELL your partner what you need. Don't ask. Don't say "will you please start hugging me when we both get home from work?" Directness establishes boundaries; it tells other people how you expect to be treated. Being direct prevents people from walking all over you because being direct tells them where to step. And people LIKE that. We LIKE boundaries. It makes life much, much easier.

That's it. That's all we need to do. It's really simple. HARD, but simple. 

Luckily, this is a process that gets wayyyyy easier with practice. So start small, maybe with the needs that are easier to fulfill or require less action on other people's part. 

The cool thing about this process is the feedback is usually pretty immediate. In healthy relationships, we'll quickly find our partners (romantic or platonic) are happy to meet our needs, not angry we're expressing them. Humans are, after all, hard-wired to help each other. We wouldn't have survived as a species if we weren't designed this way.

It doesn't take long to start to realize we're worthy of having our needs met, and we deserve to feel wonderfully fulfilled in our relationships. We deserve to to feel safe expressing our thoughts, feelings, and needs, and having those thoughts, feelings, and needs heard and acknowledged. 

So How Did This Work Out for Me?

It's been around a decade since I learned to start asking for what I needed from any relationship. And damn, has it been liberating. All my relationships are far more authentic; I no longer feel I need to act a certain way in the hopes of getting my needs met. 

Importantly, I also don't have unmet needs. Asking for exactly what I need from any given relationship has become so second-nature, it's not even a conscious thought process. I no longer ruminate about how to get needs met without upsetting people. I just do it. And it's awesome!

The real payoff, though, is my relationship with Shelly. I've been writing this article for three days. During that time, I've been plumbing the depths of my psyche to find any needs I have that she can provide that I'm not getting. I can't think of a single one. We've been together for quite a long time... somewhere in the ballpark of seventeen years. Since discovering how to ask her for what I need, our relationship has truly blossomed. 

12,000 feet. Literally on top of the world.

Long gone is the feedback loop where my unmet needs caused all kinds of personal angst. Long gone is the feedback loop that led to anger and resentment of others. I can finally engage in relationships and enjoy them for what they are. That authenticity has enriched my life in ways that are difficult to explain in writing. That's doubly true of my relationship with Shelly.

So yeah... it's well worth the effort of learning how to identify and ask for what you need from others. NOT doing this really kinda limits the quality of your life, negatively affects those you love, and limits your ability to make a real, sustained difference in the world. 

If you don't currently have people in your life that you can rely on to meet your needs, I'll give you some pointers in the next post.

Hopefully that old friend internalized these ideas and will start working on learning how to ask for what they need. Because like all of us, they deserve nothing less.