PQ 7.1 — How do I directly ask for what I need?
People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
For the longest time, the idea of asking for what I needed directly? Well, it terrified me.
Not because I didn’t know what I needed. I did. I ached with need.
And that was exactly the problem. I needed things so much that I confused wants with needs. And the things I wanted, my desires, with myself.
The problem with asking back then was that I was crushed by a “no.” If someone told me no, I’d honor it, sure (never been one for much steamrolling). But no hurt. No was devastating. Letting other people know what I needed (or even that I needed) opened myself up to ridicule of my desires, of myself.
Back then, I preferred the familiar suffering of always wanting. Never getting. It was less scary than the disappointment of hearing no. And the possibility that the person I asked would find me needy or weak for asking. High maintenance.
I suppose it doesn’t help that I come from a long line of New England stoics. When we burn with fever, we fix ourselves oatmeal and sweat through our blankets. We’re not ones to clog up emergency rooms for anything under 102 F. We wait for several months to pass before telling anyone about a sinus infection. When my uncle cut his thumb on a table saw, he winced, told me it smarted, glued it back together with a bottle from the bench, and went back to processing boards for my grandma.
And good girls, strong girls, ones allowed in the workshop? Well, they don’t whine. They take care of themselves. If they need something, they go get it themselves. No bothering anyone else.
In the early years I was married to Seth, my first husband, we always collided while carrying groceries into our apartment. As soon as the trunk was open, I scrambled to pick up every bag. And I mean every bag. I draped several on each forearm, more in my fists, hanging plastic bags up and down my arms as though they were 80’s bangle bracelets and not bundles loaded with soup cans. Seth would try to grab a few I was wearing, to try to bring in something, be helpful somehow. Causing consternation from me and the occasional torn bag. Dented can. Broken bottle.
New Englanders are famously stubborn and independent. You have to be, especially in rural Maine. If you can’t fend for yourself, the winter will swallow you. If not the snow, then the darkness.
Seth and I were no exception. We knew how to survive, but we had no idea how to cooperate. And certainly no clue how to ask directly for what we needed.
That last bit? I learned by getting my ass kicked by life. By being forced by circumstance to ask, even though it was terrifying at first.
And by having a few wonderful people not respond to my requests with dismissal or derision but by considering them.
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And trust me, whether the answer is yes or no, you want to know.
The more I asked people for what I needed, the less personally I took the answers. And gained clarity on the difference between my true needs, my desires, and myself. Which meant that I learned to understand that not getting what I want or need isn’t a rejection of me; it’s just a denial of a request.
But a lot of times? I manage to get what I need. And sometimes even what I want.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.