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.
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.
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.
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:
- Able to persevere after setbacks
- Willing and able to accept blame when they're at fault
- 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?
- How do they treat service workers, especially retail workers, receptionists, and restaurant servers? Do they tip well?
- How do they treat animals?
- How do they treat children and the elderly?
- How do they treat people who have poor social skills?
- Do they get angry frequently?
- Do they do random acts of kindness, especially when nobody appears to be looking?
- Do they brag excessively?
- How do they handle failure?
- Are they excessively gullible and fall for conspiracies, multi-level marketing schemes, etc.?
- Do they try to control others?
- Are they prone to excessive jealousy or envy?
- Do they have a victim mentality?
- Do they intentionally hurt people, physically, emotionally, or mentally?
- Do they blame others for their lack of success?
- Are they passive-aggressive?
- Do they engage in revenge fantasies?
- Do they routinely make other people uncomfortable?
- Do they have confident body language?
- 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.