Many of us grew up in homes where one or both parents were stable, kind, loving and set good, healthy boundaries.
But many of us grew up the opposite of safe and healthy. In unstable homes, one or both parents were unhappy, unkind, and didn’t allow us to grow as needed.
Some of us couldn’t function on a higher level of consciousness because we were too busy trying to make sense of what was happening around us.
Human beings come into the world with two powerful needs: the need to eat and the need to feel loved and accepted.
When one or both of those needs are warped or missing, it throws off the ability to live a “normal” life. We are scratching and clawing our way to survive instead, desperately searching for what we didn’t get.
I grew up in a home with two loving parents. Early in my childhood I felt safe and happy.
But not too many years into childhood, everything changed.
My father joined a religion that destroyed our family.
My mother’s childhood trauma, which she’d successfully buried for over a decade, reared its ugly head once my father’s behavior changed and my mother’s mother developed breast cancer and passed away.
As a child just trying to have my daily needs met, the feeling that life was falling apart left me confused, sad, and angry.
Trying to understand my father’s extremely controlling decisions was baffling.
Sorting through my mother’s trauma, now coupled with fresh abuse that had occurred to me, was equally as confusing.
It would take many years to begin to heal, and in between the trauma and the healing were many years of mistakes, mismanagement and messes to clean up.
What I’ve learned from growing up with unmet needs is this:
- Unmet needs will cause you to question just about every aspect of your life.
When your basic needs are not met, there is a level of distrust that forms, not only a distrust for others, but a distrust of self.
It’s as if you feel like there has to be something wrong with you, because as children, we have an uncanny way of making ourselves the center of every problem. (Part of that is simply that children are self-centered, and unfortunately that selfishness can be detrimental when we turn it on ourselves.)
Because we become so distrustful, we begin to question every decision made by us and others, overthinking and over discussing every situation until we are filled to the brim with anxiety.
- Unmet needs will cause eating disorders, alcohol use disorder, body dysphoria, sexual promiscuity and more.
When you grow up in an unsafe environment where your basic needs are not filled you will search for every way possible to fulfill that need.
If you’re needing love and acceptance, you might find it any way possible, be it physically, mentally or emotionally.
This might look like promiscuity, hanging with the wrong crowd, or even “healthy” things that are not healthy for us because we’re using them improperly, such as an unhealthy addiction to popularity, people-pleasing or exercise.
Unmet needs also lead to comforting ourselves with the wrong thing.
Maybe you use alcohol to escape. Another person might sit in front of the TV with a bag of Lays potato chips and reality TV. (I did both.)
When we freeze and distract ourselves, it’s a coping mechanism that unfortunately only brings more anxiety because we are filled with shame afterwards.
- Unmet needs lead us to relinquish control over our own lives.
Probably the most harmful part of trying to have our needs met is that the above issues cause us to give up control of our life.
We grow distrustful of our ability to make decisions so we allow others to make them for us, even when they’re not in our best interest.
We end up dating or marrried to someone with the same qualities of the people we were trying to escape.
Or we become the epitome of people-pleasers, desperately seeking to make everyone happy in order for us to feel “loved” and “safe.”
What happens in all of the above cases is that we end up hating ourselves.
We wake up one day and realize that most of our life hasn’t been lived for us, but for other people, and we’ve allowed it simply because we were trying to have basic needs met.
Is this you?
Have you spent your life searching for the basic needs you were supposed to freely get as a child?
Did you grow up in an environment where you were forced to survive instead of thrive?
Here are some tips for overcoming unmet needs:
- Go back.
As hard as it might be, take some time one day to be alone in a quiet place. Maybe light some candles or turn on some consciousness meditation music, and close your eyes.
Put yourself back in that environment, and pinpoint exactly what it was you needed that you didn’t get.
It might be that you grew up in a home that seemed fine. Maybe you had great parents, but you needed an affectionate mother and she just wasn’t the touchy-feely kind.
Maybe your parents had expected to have a sports star, but you were the book nerd. They still loved you, of course, but you always felt like you’d failed them.
Or maybe you grew up with significant lack and trauma. That’s okay. Even so, go back there, and pinpoint those moments that you felt hurt.
- Offer your younger self the love you needed then.
When you go back to that moment, don’t judge the little girl or boy you were. Don’t judge your parents, either. Don’t judge at all.
Instead, offer your younger self what you needed and didn’t get. Tell him or her that they are beautiful, whole, worthy and loved.
Allow yourself to feel a little silly. It may seem fruitless to go back to a time you can’t change, but I promise you, going back in time to that spot and talking to yourself is cathartic.
The kind words you tell your younger self will be worth it.
- Start getting comfortable with discomfort.
The hardest part of healing is allowing yourself to feel discomfort. Many of us have been self-soothing and surviving for so long that we’ve become accustomed to running for comfort in all the wrong places.
But you have to sit with a little discomfort as you grow. Learn to say no; be fearless about setting strict boundaries both with yourself and others.
Telling yourself no first might be the hardest step. Our brain is wicked-good at taking care of us, but oftentimes the care part gets twisted.
My body (my habits) might want a chocolate-chip milkshake for escape. My brain says, “Yes! Survive! Zone out!” but my higher-self says, “Nope, not good.”
You have to be more comfortable allowing yourself to feel the discomfort of no. As you grow more comfortable setting boundaries for yourself, you’ll grow better at setting them around other relationships, too.
The survival mechanism inside you became adept at doing whatever was necessary to make it from day to day.
But you want more. As a society, we all need to move from surviving to thriving, right?
So go back, offer yourself some healing and then get to work.
Set those boundaries, tell yourself and others no, and form new habits that take you to a better place.
Because you have the right to make your own decisions, and it’s time you took back the power to determine the outcome of your life.