On Needs, Interdependence, and Responsibility
Hello dear ones,
I am in a hard moment right now, but I am happy to share these reflections with you.
A few reminders and FYIs before we dive in:
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I recently saw this post circulating on Instagram that read: “A person’s emotional response to your need isn’t about you. You could be the best communicator in the world asking for a basic need, yet people will always perceive you through the lens of their own experiences, perceptions, and emotional capacity. How people receive your needs isn’t about you. Remember that.”
At one point in time, I would have read this post and exclaimed YES!! (in fact I know that I have said something similar to this in my boundaries workshop.) Because the truth is it can be really hard to receive another person’s boundaries, to hear their needs, especially when those needs conflict with your own. I know all too well how your needs can be turned against you by those who do not like your boundaries, who over-responsibilize you for having needs to begin with — and so it makes sense to me that we do not take other’s responses into account when stating our needs.
It may also be the case that another person’s need triggers something inside of you. I used to get so activated by people needing space to process their feelings while we were in conflict because it triggered my past trauma from my father and brother pulling away from me during conflict and never coming back to resolve and repair. My triggered response is my responsibility and should never be used to make someone feel bad about their need.
And, the reality is that our needs can and do impact those we’re in relationships with. To place the onus entirely on the human who is having their response is to negate our responsibility to one another. I’m grateful for the humans in my life who have articulated their needs and have been willing to collaborate with me, so that we both feel supported. Through them articulating their need, and me being able to share my own response, we have deepened our intimacy and have healed some old relational wounds.
To say that “people will always perceive you through the lens of their own experiences, perceptions, and emotional capacity” is lacking in nuance. To act as if our responses happen in a vacuum of past trauma or lack of emotional capacity is not only pathologizing, but it ignores our interdependence. This way of thinking contributes to the ways in which folks on the radical left have weaponized the language of boundaries to justify being unaccountable. They will say “This is just my boundary. You don’t have to like it. I’m not responsible for how my boundary makes you feel” end of story. In this way, boundaries can be used to minimize your responsibility to those you’ve chosen to be in connection with.
I worry about how a sentiment like “another person’s response isn’t your responsibility” works to erase the ways in which sometimes our reaction to another person’s need isn’t just about us. There is something very neoliberal to me about this approach to boundaries and needs. As my bestie said to me as we chatted about this IG post: “That’s some neoliberal, every man is an island, bullshit. It’s anti-connection and anti-responsibility.” Where is the space for you to have a need (and for that need to be valid) and for that need to maybe have an impact on me? As much as folks on the radical left would like to believe, boundaries do not negate our responsibility to each other. This isn’t an either/or situation.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote that my bestie shared with me:
“Indigenizm is characterized by slowness: Considering the full history and balance of your relationship with someone, or something, before taking action upon them, takes time.” Oftentimes, our needs feel so urgent, like I must have this right now!! (always a great sign that our nervous system is activated and we are not in our window of tolerance.) The more and more I question the urgency impulse, with its ties to colonialism, white supremacy, and capitalism, the more I realize that there is space to slow down, pause, connect, and collaborate.
When I tell someone what I need, I think about the context of our relationship, the differentials of power and oppression that we hold, and how we have related with one another up until this point in time. Our needs get to shift and change over time. And if our boundaries are drastically shifting from what they have looked like in the past, maybe we should talk about that a bit? This requires a commitment to slowing down, to giving ourselves the time and space to look at our boundary within the context of our relationship with another person. I know that I have seen my current humans through the lens of my past experiences and have erected boundaries with them that represent what I needed then but didn’t get — and do not reflect what it is that I need now. The reality is that this kind of collaboration takes more time; it is a slow process that requires us to get curious, ask questions, and brainstorm possibilities.
In wanting to bring more nuance to this conversation, I am curious about whether our response to another person’s need is always, 100% about us. Sometimes people can express their needs in ways that are callous, unkind, and unthoughtful (and not because that person is callous, unkind, or unthoughtful, but likely because they are activated and are trying to protect themselves). In my relationships, there’s a big difference between saying “I need space right now” and “I know my need space right now might feel jarring. Is there anything you need to feel supported before I step away?” As someone with a lot of abandonment trauma, I have shared with partners and loved ones that it is helpful for me to receive some affirmation of our connection (“I love you/care about you”) and a timeframe for reconnecting (instead of “we’ll talk later,” it’s “let’s talk in an hour”). In this way, expressing our needs to another becomes a kind of collaborative process, an act of care that acknowledges our interdependence and responsibility to and for each other.
How can we express our needs in a way that acknowledges our interdependence? How can we stand strong in our boundaries, while holding space for impact? How do we care for ourselves and each other during these moments? I want there to be space for both me and you when it comes to honouring our needs.
Right now I am in a sea of grief and heartache, so here are some things that are bringing me joy and getting me through right now:
1. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City has co-created a television series remake of A League of Their Own and it is so gay and trans and beautiful.
This deer having the best time in the water:
I devoured Imogen Binne’s 2013 novel Nevada, which was just reprinted. The book follows a twenty-something trans woman named Maria who is lost and confused and burning it all down.
During hard moments in time, I offer myself the reminder that I am capable of being with the discomfort. And I am also learning about the delicate balance between processing and ruminating. It’s important to be with the hard feels when they come up and we don’t need to be with them at every single moment in time. Sometimes distractions are necessary. Is there a show you can watch? A book you can read? A walk you can take? A friend you can call? It’s okay to titrate our feelings.
During my trip to LA, I met this wonderful human named Ryan and they are about to have top surgery! If you are able to donate and/or share their GFM, that would mean the world to me — and, more importantly, to them.
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