Deeper Personal Challenges in Being able to Attend to Needs

A question in my feed at Quora triggered me to write an answer about some of the challenges that we confront when we attempt to attend to needs–both our own and those of others. Organizations have their very own issues with the shift from exploitation to need fulfillment as a business value proposition. But business cultures are also what emerges from the sum total of the people who staff the organization, and from the quality of their interactions. What we bring to the organization personally contributes to the overall culture of the organization, so that change must also begin with each individual.

Attending to needs is something which the whole of modern society has been struggling with for hundreds of years, as we make the transition from authoritarian patriarchies to genuine democracies which is still ongoing today. What we have learned at home and in society we bring with us into our organizations, and we will need to reevaluate many of the strategies we have learned at home in terms of their usefulness and productivity for our role in organizations focussed on fulfilling needs as a value proposition.

It may seem from a business perspective like a step too far to think about needs on such a personal level when considering what makes for business success. Inevitably, however, when we understand that it is our ability to connect with our employees and customers on a needs level that marks success in today’s markets, we have to think about how we can develop the capacity for connection individually as people as well.

Here is the post from Quora: Adult emotional health depends at its root on our internal capacity to attend to our core needs.  “Connection,” “attunement,” “trust,” “autonomy” and “love-sexuality” belong to the core needs whose fulfillment is essential to well-being. As the primary care-givers who attend to an infant’s needs, parents play a huge role in the development of emotional and neurological capacity for “self-regulation.” If our care-givers connected with us well, were attuned, and trustworthy, then we likely developed a neurological and emotional capacity for the same.

When core needs are not met, especially at an early formative stage of infancy, we show psychological and physiological symptoms of compromised self-regulation, sense of self and self-esteem. Typically, we develop predictable survival strategies to compensate for the early trauma of unmet core needs. An adaptive survival style is a set of physical states, feelings and thoughts we develop when the core need behind the survival style has not been met. For example:

– In a connection survival style we disconnect from our physical and emotional self, and have difficulty in relating to others

– In an attunement survival style we find it difficult to know what we need, and feel that our needs do not deserve to be met

– In a trust survival style we feel that we cannot depend on anyone but ourselves, and feel we always have to be in control

– In an autonomy survival style we feel burdened and pressured, and have difficulty setting limits and saying no directly

– In a love-sexuality survival style we have difficulty integrating heart and sexuality, and self-esteem tends to be based on looks and performance

The survival strategies the brain develops to adapt to developmental trauma come with a high price: we survive, but at a much diminished capacity for happiness, fulfillment, relationships, health and productivity.

The good news is that it is never too late to attend to our core needs. Good friends and family can provide deep support. However, the survival strategies are their own barrier when it comes to meeting the needs they were developed to compensate, and family and friends are rarely trained to understand the relational dynamics which can be the result.

To compensate for unmet needs, we develop shame and pride-based identifications which fortify the survival strategy and make it resilient to change. For example, in the connection survival style we tend to feel shame for existing, and feel like we don’t belong. To deal with the shame, we will often feel pride at being a loner, in not needing others, and at not being emotional. A friend who responds to a perceived need for connection may be rebuffed, as his response challenges our identification as a loner, and so the identifications stand in the way of the fulfillment of exactly the core need they compensate for.

To heal the trauma of early failure to attend to core needs as an adult takes a little help in understanding our needs and strategies, and a lot of time to gain new experiences to address our core needs. We know we are doing this successfully when we experience an increase in our capacity for connection and aliveness in our relations with ourselves and others, and the better physiological and neurological health that comes with good self-regulation.

I can recommend the book of one of my training supervisors, Dr. Laurence Heller, a behavioral  psychologist specialized in developmental trauma, for a deeper explanation:

Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship: Laurence Heller Ph.D., Aline Lapierre Psy.D.: 9781583944899: Books

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