Find Yourself Again By Differentiating Between Your Needs and Wants

Have you abandoned yourself in a relationship with another person — a spouse, lover, friend, boss, or spiritual teacher? If so, you’ve probably lost sight of your own needs and wants.

You may have been in a codependent relationship as the helper, a narcissistic relationship as the victim, or a family relationship trying to meet parental expectations. Or maybe you’re still in a relatively good relationship but you tend to compromise more than your partner.

You can recover from a toxic or unhealthy relationship, and never enter another one again. One of the first steps to recovery is learning to articulate your own needs and wants.

Why is this important? Without consciously engaging in a healing process, re-establishing your identity, and reclaiming your power, you’re in danger of repeating the cycle and entering another damaging relationship.

So, let’s get to know your needs and wants.

What Is a want? What Is a need?

So, what is a want? What is a need?

According to the online Meriam-Webster Dictionary:

need is “a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism.”

To want is to “to have a strong desire for.”

A need is a requirement, it’s essential to your health and well-being.

A desire may also be extremely important to your well-being, but it can sometimes be fulfilled in an alternative way. Or, you can consciously choose to focus on a different desire.

The problem comes when you abandon your needs and your desires in a relationship.

For example, if you always put others first, you may have given up your need for rest or time for exercise, which can have a detrimental effect in the short and long run.

Or, you may have given up your desire to pursue your own profession because your partner told you he wanted you to stay home. Or maybe he said you’re not good enough to achieve success. This kind of sacrifice can eat at your soul.

How to get back to you

A very simple exercise that will help you get back to who you really are is to make a list of your needs and wants.

Use two different pieces of paper or draw two columns on a single sheet and label the first “needs” and the second “wants.”

You could approach this exercise in brain dump style and list whatever comes to your mind in one go and in no particular order. When you feel complete for the moment, set the lists aside but leave them in an accessible place. Continue to add to your lists over the next few days as more needs and wants come to your mind.

Alternatively, you could do this exercise using categories like physical, mental/intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Use these or create your own set of categories, ones that resonate for you.

As an example, here’s a short list of needs by the categories listed above. It’s not exhaustive because I want to give you space to come up with your own needs and wants.

Remember, there are no right or wrong ways to do this. You are doing this exercise to understand yourself, not to meet another person’s expectations. So be utterly honest with yourself.

Physical Needs

  • Rest

  • Hydration

  • Safety

  • Soothing when stressed (self-soothing counts)

Mental/Intellectual Needs

  • Intellectual stimulation

  • Peace and space

Emotional Needs

  • Healthy Connection

  • Beauty

  • Respect (self-respect + respect from others)

Spiritual Needs

  • Quiet time

  • Self-Awareness

  • Learning

Repeat this exercise for your wants.

Going deeper into your needs and wants

Once you’ve completed your lists, here are six additional questions for reflection or journaling that will help you better understand yourself.

  1. How did it feel to list your wants and needs?

  2. Acknowledge the needs and wants you honor and fulfill by placing a symbol next to them like a star or a bright dot.

  3. Acknowledge the needs and wants you neglect by placing a symbol next to them like a different color dot or a dash. This can serve as a reminder to return to and address them.

  4. What do you want to do next about your unmet needs and desires? Begin with small steps. Move on to bigger ones as you gain more confidence.

  5. f you’re still in the relationship, how would you feel talking to your partner, parent, or boss about one or more of your unmet needs or wants? Is it realistic to expect your needs and wants will be met in this relationship? Answering this question for yourself can tell you a lot about the health and safety of a particular relationship.

  6. What causes you to abandon yourself in a relationship? Why and how do you give yourself away? What steps can you take to change that?

If you don’t know all your needs and wants right away, that’s okay. Give yourself time. Be gentle and kind to yourself.

Denying your needs and wants may have become a deeply embedded habit. So ask yourself several times a day, “What do I need right now? What do I want right now?” Learning to get in touch with your needs and wants will get easier with practice.

The initial purpose of these lists is to help you reconnect with your needs and wants. The point isn’t to immediately share it with your partner, friend, or family member. Instead, find ways to begin to express your needs and wants in small ways. With time, you’ll gain confidence and be able to express your most important needs and wants as well.

But never put yourself in a dangerous situation or talk to your partner or the person in question if it might result in ridicule, humiliation, or physical harm.

Healthy compromise or self-abandonment?

We all make compromises in relationships. When does healthy compromise turn into unhealthy self-abandonment? Sometimes, it can be hard to know.

But if you’re constantly abandoning parts of yourself to meet someone else’s expectations or to avoid their judgment, criticism, ridicule, or even physical abuse, you’ve crossed a line. If you’re constantly making excuses for someone in the hopes they’ll change when they haven’t so far, it’s time to realize you’re living in a fantasy, not in reality.

Remember, no one can make you abandon yourself. This is a pattern in yourself that you need to acknowledge, heal, and change if you want to live a happier and healthier life. It’s possible to reclaim yourself, but it’s up to you to begin. And a great place to start is by getting in touch with your needs and wants.

To sum up

It’s not uncommon for women to abandon themselves in a relationship. Don’t hate yourself for it. Instead, begin to get back to who you really are by getting in touch with your needs and wants.

  • If you’ve abandoned yourself in an unhealthy relationship, you’ve probably lost sight of your needs and wants.

  • Getting in touch with your needs and wants will help you recover.

  • Brainstorm a list of your needs and wants. Use the questions listed above to journal about them.

  • Begin to express and act on your needs and wants in small ways. As you gain more confidence, you’ll be ready to express your most important needs and wants too.

Everyone deserves to have their needs and wants fulfilled, including you!

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