I was lying in bed with a migraine the other day. I seemed to have everything I needed – water, essential oils, a cold washcloth, a blanket, and my phone. But the longer I lied there in pain, the longer the day seemed to drag on. I didn’t feel well physically, but even worse… I felt lonely.
Some days are tougher as a single parent. Migraine days are some of the toughest. I have one lively kiddo, and I am often his one source of interpersonal interaction when he’s home. (Unless you count our sweet dog, whose presence we do appreciate!) When you become a single parent, your kids’ needs don’t change… so unless you have family around to help, you still have to pick them up from school, make sure they are fed, make sure they’re not getting into trouble, handle arguing and discipline, fill their love tanks, occupy them with things to do, and generally be “on” all the time. There is no one to share that load.
So, being stuck in bed with a migraine can pose parenting challenges. On migraine days, you just try not to let the pain turn you into a crabby mess, but instead you force the smile and try to be kind. Then you direct them to play or do a project or practice piano or brush their teeth… and you generally miss out on quality time with them. And then you are sad because it feels like you’re just surviving.
So we were having a rough day. I needed to be in bed for much of it. I wished there were someone there to just be with us and fill in the gap with some positive energy. The loneliness grew even bigger than the pain, and I felt sad.
A friend texted and offered to come over, if I needed that. Hmmm. Did I really NEED someone to come over? I felt sad and lonely, but I had everything I needed… right? My head hurt so much though, and I desperately wanted to not be alone any longer. To be hugged and spoken to in that moment would really have felt like a refreshing drink of water! But did I NEED my friend with me? I decided that no, I didn’t “need” company. There was no big task to accomplish, and my son was content for the moment playing video games.
Later, my friend and I talked about this conversation. I reluctantly admitted that I really had wanted company that day, and my friend referred to my “want” for company as an “emotional need.”
For some reason I could not get that phrase out of my head… “emotional need.”
Is that what that lonely feeling was trying to tell me – that I had an “emotional need”??
In my coaching work and as a friend, I often help people navigate and validate their emotions. But not too often have I allowed myself to consider my own “emotional needs” as real, legitimate needs. To tell you the truth, I always thought feeling lonely or wanting a hug was more like “neediness”. And we all know that neediness is NOT healthy.
But why had I never thought of myself as having legitimate emotional needs? I would never tell a client or a friend that their emotional needs aren’t important. Why would I tell myself that I shouldn’t have emotional needs?
I now realize that when my own emotional needs come up, I often listen to this quiet but negative voice inside telling me: “You’re just needy.”
I think a combination of things have contributed to this negative belief:
1) When my family of origin gets together, usually there’s a task to accomplish or a holiday to celebrate. We don’t usually get together just for the sake of being together or because we miss each other. I mean, we enjoy that part, but usually we are primarily focused more on the task of getting together. That’s just how we roll. Even thinking back to when I was a kid, I remember crying and feeling like no one cared that I was sad. I don’t remember why I was crying; I just remember the feeling that how I felt didn’t matter to anyone. How I felt was not important. With this mindset, can you see why the concept of “emotional need” as a good reason for my friend to come over might seem silly? All that to say, our childhood memories and our past can play a huge part in what we subconsciously tell ourselves about emotional needs now.
2) Going through a destructive marriage, where my emotional needs were not valued or met, fed even further into the lie that how I felt didn’t matter to anyone. Now, when I do have a friend I can trust, my emotional needs feel even stronger with that person. I had this empty, parched emotional void that is finally getting poured into again with healthy relationships. If you have been in a destructive relationship, can you relate? We have been so neglected emotionally by the people we expected to be our person, that we really need those emotional connections now in order to heal, and when we find them, we never want to let them go. We have a new appreciation for emotionally safe people, we probably love them harder, and we might even feel extra sad when we have to say goodbye after spending time with them. But doesn’t this make us needy?
I don’t think so. I think it makes us human. Here’s why.
- Every human has emotional needs.
- It’s normal and healthy to have emotional needs.
- Some emotional needs are born out of the trauma or neglect from destructive relationships, and meeting those emotional needs is a huge part of our healing. In fact, we cannot find healing without experiencing emotionally safe and healthy relationships.
Having emotional needs does not make us weak or needy, Mighty Sensitives. So let’s stop accusing ourselves of weakness, start to recognize our emotional needs, validate ourselves, and learn how to appropriately get those needs met. That is healthy, shame-free self-care.
What are your emotional needs? Do you need comfort when you are sick? A shoulder to cry on when you miss a loved one who passed away? A friend to talk to when life feels overwhelmingly messy? Maybe you need some time alone to think and talk to God… or maybe you just need someone to bring you chocolate ice cream. (Chocolate can be a seriously legit emotional need – trust me on this one.)
Leave a comment telling the rest of us about a time when you experienced an intense emotional need. Did you express your need? What helped you?