How often do you consider your own needs?

Recently, I have been trying to eat more intuitively, listen to my body's hunger signs and eat more mindfully. I was eating beans on toast for lunch the other day; the beans were left over from the previous night and needed finishing. As I ate my lunch, noticing the taste and flavour of the food, I realised that I do not like baked beans. I have eaten them for my entire life without giving any thought to whether I enjoyed them. I have eaten them because people around me eat them, and I just didn’t consider whether I enjoyed them.

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This got me thinking about how many things in life people go along with and don’t consider their own likes/dislikes. Do you find yourself letting other people make decisions for you? Maybe going along with their choice of restaurant, film to watch, holiday destination, food to eat, leisure activity etc. If so, this article might be for you. 

As a toddler, you were probably freely vocal about things that you wanted and things that you didn’t like and would have made your needs known to others without considering their reaction. Toddlers don’t worry about the reactions of other people when they are having a tantrum because something isn’t right for them. However, life events, family values and social norms become quickly absorbed by a growing child and you will have learned that you got praised for conforming to the expectations of others.

As children grow, their circle of social interaction expands and they become influenced by school, friends, and media. The input from other people grows and whilst some children are confident enough to maintain their own beliefs and values, others lose sight of what is important to them and absorb the values of influential others. This is a behaviour which results in the child being liked/accepted/valued or praised. For some children, learning to fit in with others may have been a survival technique – a way to reduce the risk of bullying or abuse.

If you strive to be accepted by other people, it is likely that you identify as a people pleaser. Maybe you have noticed that you don’t consider your own needs and feel that it would be selfish to put yourself first. Maybe you don’t recognise your own likes/dislikes or go along with other people's wishes because it is “easier” and avoids confrontation.

Maybe you feel that your needs aren’t important, or you really don’t have an opinion. Often, the fear of disapproval from others is so great that people squash down their own needs which can result in being unable to recognise or voice their own emotions, needs or opinions.

If you find yourself going along with other people’s wishes and situations that aren’t right for you, it’s likely that you will feel a sense of discomfort; maybe an underlying awareness of feeling anxious, irritated, or angry. You might feel unable to voice or recognise your own needs but know that you aren’t happy in the life that you are living. It is likely that you feel hurt, disappointed, and let down when other people don’t appear to consider your needs.

I have worked with many clients experiencing anxiety and depression, who have squashed down their own choices to the point that they find it hard to recognise their own likes/dislikes. It can be daunting to consider your own needs when your training is to please other people and judge your worth based on the reactions of others.

Putting other people's needs first, to the extent that you don’t recognise your own needs, is a learnt behaviour. You weren’t born this way. You have adapted the way that you respond to situations to avoid confrontation. Because this is a learnt behaviour it makes sense that you can unlearn the behaviour or develop a different way of being which is truer to yourself. 

Change often feels scary, you might be worried about potential conflict or upsetting the feelings of other people if you disagree with them. A counsellor will be able to help you explore ways of recognising and expressing your own needs in a way that feels comfortable for you. They can work with you to discover whether the beliefs and behaviours that you developed as a child are still working well for you, or contributing to difficulties that you are experiencing now.

I stayed the night in a hotel recently and ordered a “cooked breakfast with no beans.” Nobody was upset with me or fell out with me because I didn’t like the same thing as them. Truth to be told, I don’t think that anybody else even noticed but it felt good to have made a choice that was right for me...

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Lathom, Skelmersdale, Lancashire, WN8
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Written by Sandra Killeen, BACP Accredited Counsellor; Supervisor
Lathom, Skelmersdale, Lancashire, WN8

I'm an accredited counsellor with over eight years experience, both in private practice and for a charity commissioned by NHS. I specialise in working with people experiencing low self-esteem and anxiety and have a special interest in working with adults whose tough childhood experiences continue to impact negatively on their life.

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