I’m stealing a post from another therapist, Dr Henry Cloud. I’ve posted before about the importance of sharing our lives with other people. Well, here’s some scientific evidence of the positive effects of this from our friends, the monkeys. As I have walked the path of my daughter’s lung transplant, this need has become so apparent. I am more calm, in part because of the support system I have. This past week I was concerned about how she was doing. We have learned that one of her medication levels was too high which was a contributor to her nausea. No big problems, just little ones. It was a friend who helped me put my concerns in perspective which brought a calming effect. Left to myself, in isolation, I can percolate on problems and turn them into seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Ah, the gift of companions!
Dr. Cloud says, “One of my favorite studies was done years ago with monkeys, measuring the effects of relationships on cortisol levels in the brain. (Cortisol is a hormone associated with high levels of stress.) In this particular experiment, a monkey was put in a cage and exposed to a high level of psychological stress, including loud noises and flashing lights. They pretty much scared him to death.
When the monkey was totally terrified, the scientists took a baseline measure of stress hormone levels in the monkey’s brain as it was exposed to these stressors.
Next, the researchers introduced one change into the experiment: they opened the door and put a buddy, another monkey, into the cage. That was it. They exposed the monkeys to the same loud noises and flashing lights, and then took another measure of stress hormones. The Result? The level of stress hormones in the brain had dropped in half. The lone monkey was only half as good at handling stress as the pair was together.
So my question for you guys… who’s your monkey?!”
I got a kick out of one person’s comment to this. She said there are certain monkeys she has to remove from her cage. They don’t help her at all. She is choosy about the monkeys she lets in. Good advice for all of us!
We’ve been pondering needs for a few weeks now. We’ve looked at what needs are as well as the value of knowing who you are in determining your own needs. Now we have arrived at the conclusion: the art of communicating your needs in a way that increases the likelihood of getting your needs met. There are no guarantees this will happen. The reality is we can do everything right and still end up with an unmet need. There are ways we can communicate our needs that will pretty much guarantee the need will not get met. Speaking your need at a time when the listener is otherwise occupied, exhausted, or unavailable as well as bombarding the potential “need meeter” with eight different requests all at once will not result in a met need.
As discussed in Part 1, the needs I am highlighting are linked to enhanced relational connection. In a way, having your needs met increases your level of bonding in the relationship. I like to think of expressed needs as giving the other person in the relationship a way he can “win” with you. We typically want to be good to the people we are in relationship with; speaking your needs helps him know specifics which you consider good. Another note, the needs we are talking about are not literal life and death needs. You may think of them as wants or desires. That’s fine. The point is without these elements being met, the connection in the relationship is compromised. It may be minor and not a big deal to you or it may be a major compromise in which you begin to question the health of the relationship. If you need your friend to keep what you say in confidence and he shares your information with others, it’s best not to invest too much of yourself in the relationship. If your wife doesn’t want to work out a budget with you, your relationship is likely to be hurt but you won’t divorce her over it.
Remember, speaking a need is not demanding something of the other person. It is giving her an opportunity to connect with you. If she chooses not to, you are responsible for how you deal with the disappointment. Not getting things we want or need is part of life. You may choose to meet your need yourself or find a friend who can help. Getting nasty or demanding about your needs is not acceptable, healthy, adult behavior; nor is seeking to fill a legitimate need illegitimately. For instance, if your husband is not connecting with you at an emotional level, it is not ok to have an affair to get the need met. Put the rejected need through a filter. Is this need something that you must have in order to feel safe or connected? Then evaluate the relationship. Suggest joint counseling to the person if the relationship is legally bound or important to you. Give the person time to learn how important this need is to you. If the person still refuses to meet your need, you may need to draw a boundary around this, clearly stating what you are ok with and what it means for the health and future of the relationship if the person refuses to change.
Here are a few examples of how to speak a need:
I am feeling sad. I need a hug. Will you give me a hug?
We have been so busy lately and I am feeling less connection between us. I would really like to spend time with you; can we set something up that will work for both of our schedules?
I need to feel your touch. Would you be willing to hold me or sit close to me?
I’m confused about where our money is going. I need clarity regarding our finances. Would you work out a budget with me?
We have been so focused on finishing this project. I would like to spend time just hanging out. Would you be up for having a work-free lunch?
I need down time. Would you be ok if I just veg in front of the TV for a half an hour?
These are just a few examples. Notice I put a question in each of those phrases, an opportunity for the other person to say no. Be prepared for the rejection! I know I said this once already, but the best way to get a need met is if we are adult about it. Maybe a bit after the “no” the other person will realize she is being a schmuck and will come back with a “yes.” If you’re in a healthy adult state (as opposed to the child-like pouty state) you are much more likely to welcome the delayed yes. This will set the stage for continued growth and more needs being met. Another point, those who are willing to meet the healthy, legitimate needs of others are more likely to have their own needs met. 🙂