Meeting Unmet Needs in Times of Suffering

Meeting Unmet Needs in Times of Suffering

Whenever I try to write for someone else or for some audience regardless of who it is, something that has to do with my heart gets lost in the writing; not all the time but some of the time.  It’s as if I self-edit so much that the meaning or intent of what I am really wanting to convey gets completely lost.  Does this ever happen to you?

In reflecting, I realized how much of this has happened in my life – not just in my own writing but in other aspects of my life (my speech, my actions, my choice-making) but I didn’t really know how to name ituntil I began to read Michelle Robinson Obama’s book entitled, Becoming. And in reading this book, I felt inspired to look again at this process of self-editing.

I was drawn to this book in great part because of its title, Becoming. As one who has been studying the science and practice of being for over a decade and a half, I was curious about how much of being as juxtaposed with doing might be within the practice of becoming.  Furthermore, I was intrigued as to what someone I idealize might have to say about it all (more specifically the only First Lady in all the first ladies that have ever been, except for Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom I have felt a deep connection).

There is so much about this book that has pulled me in, pulled at my heart strings. And there is also so much about this book that has pushed me into some new and not so new-found convictions. So, when it came to reflecting on this over-editing approach, I’m not sure whether it was a push or a pull, but regardless, I found myself looking again at this innate not-so-new nature I have of not wanting to overwhelm people with my speech (verbal or written) or my actions so much so that I would spend more time self-editing than just being with what I was experiencing with grace and kindness toward all involved.

What I once thought of as a little, simple, country girl way of being kind had in reality become a strategy to belong, a defense to go unseen, and an offense to avoid confrontation.  Who was I to be so bold after all?  I don’t know enough; haven’t experienced enough; I haven’t “whatever” enough.  My historical way of being kind, of being polite turns out has nothing to do with kindness.

As I aged and was slowly introduced to mindful compassion practices, the mindful compassionate eye observed that the root of this over-editing behavior, woefully mistaken for kindness, was suffering.   Suffering perhaps created by embodied rejection. Suffering perhaps created by believing others’ judgments of not enoughas true. Suffering created perhaps by abandonment or unhealthy attachments.   Regardless, mistaking kindness for people pleasing behavior had at is core, suffering.  And this form of suffering was a moment when one believes that the preservation of another’s human’s dignity outweighs the desire to honor one’s own human dignity – one’s own awareness of what is whole and complete.

So, I still notice this desire to over-edit in my writing and in my speech primarily and sometimes in my actions.  I notice the rising of a desire to honor another’s version of their human dignity over my own version.  And the mindful compassion practice that helps me meet this noticing is a specific self-compassion practice adapted from Kristin Neff.  Here are the steps I love to follow, when I remember to practice.

  • First, is this practice of noticing the suffering. “I feel icky – something is not OK within me about what was just said (or done or witnessed or directly experienced).  I don’t want this icky feeling to be here.  I don’t like it and I want to be experiencing something other than this… as in, I want something different than what isright NOW.”
  • Then, it’s time for the wisdom of the pause or stop and breatheto arise – noticing the soothing sensation of the breath in the belly for as long as it takes until I can remember the next step to practice.
  • And the next step is the silent naming of the suffering as suffering. “This is a moment of suffering.” That sounds crazy, but when I just silently recognize that I am wanting something to be other than what it is right now, some internal struggle begins to lift and as such, I have more access to clarity of seeing what it is I am actually experiencing.
  • Now, thanks to Michelle Robinson Obama’s book, I know how to a name the suffering(which is the next step) and so I silently can say, “I am suffering because I feel the need to self-edit in order to honor this other person’s version of their human dignity over my own human dignity.”
  • And then, I can notice the feelingsthat may be associated with this particular experience of observing this type of suffering. And for me, it varies, it might be anger, or sadness, or frustration, or irritation, or shock, or confusion where I am questioning whether this person does deserve a higher level of human dignity in this moment than I do or I might feel embarrassed because implicit bias is not unveiling itself to reveal that I just behaved as if my needs were more important than this other person’s.  In the wisdom of the pause and breathe, some feeling arises and I can silently name and notice where it is taking up residence in the body.
  • Next, Dr. Kristin Neff recommends silently offering oneself soothing words. To me, it is a lot like Dr. Laura Rendon’s validation theory in action, except the validation is directed toward the self, as opposed to other. And often, my soothing words begin with a common humanity phrase– a way to connect myself with other humans so as not to feel so alone in the moment (another Kristen Neff recommended practice), “Of course, I am feeling [fill in the blank of the feeling]; who wouldn’t be feeling this way in this situation?”  This common humanity practice really helps me gain access to soothing words; the words I would offer my best friends if they were in this situation, words like, “It’s okay to feel this way, of course you feel this way.”  Sometimes, I will even tell myself, “uh hum, I hear you. This is a shitty situation to be in right now.”
  • And after that practice, what usually arises is an awareness of some underlying feelingsuch as fear of not being seen or heard, or sadness about how much pain is right here within both of us or we wouldn’t likely be in this type of conflict right now where one is feeling less human dignity than the other. And if I can, I’ll silently name that (however in my practice, most of the time, I am zooming right past this step).  The good news is that this awareness can come later and the naming of it can come later… as I reflect on a situation that I want to handle more skillfully in the future, I can say, oh wow, I was really feeling fearful, or responsible to fix this [whatever this is] for everyone involved and I couldn’t fix it.
  • And then I can identify what the unmet needs arefor me. Perhaps, I am feeling a need to be heard or seen; perhaps I am feeling disconnected from the team… all of that is valid, however, what are my specific needs informing these feelings?  I can softly name that need OR, if courage is present, rather than self-editing some sort of response that elevates one person’s human dignity over another’s, I can say, “I hear you saying this [insert whatever this is].  And when I hear that, I need for you to know that I am concerned that these other people might be jeopardized in this specific way or that I might not get [insert whatever it is] that I feel I need right now. Can you help me understand how that won’t be a plausible outcome of this decision [or whatever it is]?
  • And thenoffer compassionto whatever happens next. What I mean is offer kindness to yourself if you are not sure you can identify what your needs are. Offer kindness to yourself if you get more caught up in judging the other person’s needs as selfish or even judge your needs as selfish. Offer kindness to yourself if you were courageous enough to speak to your needs and the other person dismissed them or you don’t feel your needs were heard.
  • And if appropriate or even possible, determine how you can meet your now silently or perhaps audibly named unmet needs. I hear you, sometimes, it is not possible particular if the cause of my suffering is needing someone else to realize something they are not realizing. But then I have to ask myself the question, “why do I need them to realize it so much?  Is there some way I can meet my own needs without being attached to this other person meeting my needs? Is there someone else I can work with to have these needs met?”
  • And finally, how can you offer yourself compassionwhen you can’t find a way to have your underlying needs met? Perhaps practicing this sequence again may be useful.

Sending you all my love and light,


Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

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