By Joshua Downs, LCSW
Our Basic Human Needs
As a therapist I often find that my children teach me a lot about my clients. I don’t mean to say that my clients are childish, only that they have the same basic emotional needs as my children. To me that says that human needs do not change drastically over our lifespan. And this is encouraging because it tells me that instead of complicating our ideas about what we want and need out of our relationships, we can keep things simple by focusing on children.
One of the lessons I have learned from my children is that humans need their hurt to be acknowledged by people that matter the most. My daughter is known to fall down on occasion. She will sit where she fell, typically with tears or a moan, and ask me to kiss the ouchie and give her a hug. Thankfully it’s usually a superficial or non-existent wound. A majority of the time she stops crying and goes back to playing once me or my wife has responded to her.
I am not a physician but I know there are no medicinal properties in kissing a wound. I also know that for the most part my daughter is feeling some sort of pain or discomfort—and she’s not “just being a baby.” I know she will be fine and be up on her feet in less than a minute. But in that moment her hurt is very real to her and that is all she can think about.
So if her pain is real to her and my kiss and hug have no medicinal value, the healing must be coming from our interaction.
We kid ourselves if we believe that adults have outgrown the need for empathy and acknowledgment when we experience emotional “ouchies” in life. Our pain is real and it often worsens the more alone we feel in our experience. We feel alone when our pain is dismissed. This may be deliberate as in when someone is feeling defensive because they have caused the pain. Or it may be unintentional when someone is trying to get us to look on the bright side or compare the pain to someone who has it worse. It can also happen when someone is trying to apologize for hurting you but their apology seems to be more about how horrible they feel.
The Antidote to Feeling Alone
The antidote to feeling alone in our hurt consists of at least two parts:
The first part is that we outline our pain in the clearest way possible. When I consider the role my daughter plays in her healing I see that she is very specific with me about where she is hurting. She points to it, I see it, and then I treat it. She knows if she screams at me or runs the other way in embarrassment then I cannot help. Too many times we allow our hurt and pain to be packaged in anger or withdrawal and it keeps us from getting acknowledgment from others, especially if they are the ones who have hurt us. Although this reaction is understandable and legitimate it will eventually have to give way to vulnerably talking about the hurt.
The second part of the antidote is up to the other person in the interaction. Again with my dear daughter, her healing comes from seeing that I see when she is in pain, that I care about her being in pain, and that I won’t leave her alone. When she feels like someone she loves has entered into her little universe of pain to be with her in it, she is more likely to believe that she will be fine and get back up.
I do my part.
She does her part.
A connection is made.
And in the words of Brene Brown, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
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