This article discusses an often misunderstood element of life. If we don’t occasionally speak up about our own needs, then we are truly being selfless. Yet, without worrying about the self in some way, we are leading ourselves to burning out, thus further limiting the kindnesses we want to provide. From a Jewish perspective, this is a concept taught in Ethics of our Fathers: “if I am not for me, who will be for me. If I am only for me, then what am I.” We need to balance self and others when being kind.
The article below provides a Christian faith perspective.
People-of-Faith often struggle with making our needs known.
Telling someone what you need is almost universally awkward, but people-of-faith often struggle against the idea that telling others what they need runs counter to the call to be generous, selfless, and committed to working for the good of others. For Christians, this struggle is crystallized by the misapplication of John 3:30 that says, “He must increase while I must decrease,” but by no means have Christians cornered the market on misplaced guilt.
-Being Faithful AND a Person: A Possible Dream…-
The impetus to place another’s needs before one’s own is genuinely admirable, but doing it to the exclusion of meeting one’s own needs can lead to burnout or “compassion fatigue.” Worse still, for the person-of-faith, being irresponsibly selfless is one of the most common reasons I see people giving up on their religious faith. They can’t figure out how to be faithful and still be a person. It doesn’t help that pastors, family, and other members of one’s faith community often give advice that appears to suggest that you can’t, or shouldn’t, do both. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it.
To be a unique and unrepeatable person made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27) means, at least in part, that God expects the needs he built into you to be met. Why? Because getting your needs met is what enables you to come fully alive and, as St. Irenaeus put it, “the glory of God is man, fully alive.” An artist is most likely to be praised for his work when his painting most perfectly reflects the subject he painted. An author is most likely to be praised when his writing most perfectly captures the imagination of the reader. And the Creator is most glorified when his creation is fully alive–which necessitates that his creation’s needs be met.
Making Your Needs Known: A Path to Loving Others
But responsibly making your needs known does more than help you glorify God in becoming your best. It’s also an important way you show your love for the person to whom you’re speaking your needs.
To love someone is to work for their good. When you tell someone your needs, you invite them to grow in ways they could never grow if you weren’t in their life.
God puts people in our life specifically to pull things out of us that couldn’t be brought out any other way; things that he wants us to examine, to change, to develop. When people trust me enough to tell me what they need–whether a spouse, or a child, or a friend–I work hard to see what they’ve communicated as an invitation from God to grow in ways he needs me to grow so that I could, ultimately, become the person he created meto be.
When we respond generously to the needs of another person (assuming that a particular request isn’t objectively immoral or personally demeaning), we’re actually saying, “yes” to an invitation God has written on that person’s heart; an invitation to grow in ways we never would if that person wasn’t in our life.
The same applies to you. Responsibly telling others what you need invites them to grow in ways that allow them to become the generous, loving, people God wants them to be. Refusing to state your needs is, in essence, refusing to extend God’s invitation to others to grow and change in ways that are important to God’s plan for their growth and development. Keeping your needs to yourself isn’t loving at all.
Responsibly Stating Your Needs: A How-To
Still, knowing that communicating your needs is a loving thing doesn’t give you the right to boss people around or act as if your needs must be met immediately upon request. You’re a person, not a potentate.
We do have a right to expect that someone who loves us will want to meet our needs, but we also we have an obligation to be considerate of others’ concerns as we work with them to get our needs met. It’s not merely expressing our needs that makes us selfish–it’s expressing those needs without regard for the common good (between ourselves and the other) that makes us selfish.
Theologians tell us that we humans find ourselves by making a sincere gift of ourselves. Of course we should find little ways every day that we could be a gift to be a gift to others, but along the way, make sure you’re also giving others a chance to be a gift to you.
To learn more about respectfully getting your needs met, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts. Making Peace with Difficult People (Popcak–Crossroads)
Woman with headache photo available from Shutterstock.
Gregory Popcak, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping people-of-faith find effective solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems.
The author of over a dozen popular books integrating solid theological insights and counseling psychology (including; For Better…FOREVER! , Holy Sex!, Parenting with Grace, Beyond the Birds and the Bees), Dr. Popcak directs a group pastoral tele-counseling practice that provides ongoing pastoral psychotherapy services to faithful couples, individuals and families around the world.
Together with his wife and co-author, Lisa Popcak, he hosts More2Life, Airing M-F, Noon-1pm Eastern (Tune in online or to podcasts at http://www.AveMariaRadio.net). A sought after public-speaker, Dr. Greg has been honored to address audiences across North America, Australia, and Hong Kong.
For more info on books, resources, and tele-counseling services visit http://www.CatholicCounselors.com.