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: Amazon.com: Books

A Zen Story About Dealing With Our Demons

In a discussion thread at Naked Capitalism I found this Zen teaching story about dealing with a troubling hallucination (below). It shows how perceptive and practical Zen discipline strives to be. The master sees the ghost for what it is (a figment of the learner’s imagination), and he thinks of an experimental way the learner can discover for himself where the ghost comes from. Telling the man the truth would contradict his experience and lead to denial. Enabling his own discovery of the truth resolves the problem.

The challenge of teaching lies in having just such ideas again and again, in ever-changing circumstances, for people seeking answers to problems that cannot be resolved because they are sustained by the perception of the seeker himself. Objective answers reinforce the belief behind problem. Insisting on the truth of what one says leads to unresolvable debates–secondary rationalizations employed to win arguments that only obfuscate reality.

Even more challenging is that most of us don’t know what we are looking for when we ask for answers to our problems, as the learners in Zen stories never fail to express in their surprise at what they discover.

Mastery develops when the teacher can be relied upon to enable an effective learning experience for the learner. Even greater ability is demonstrated when he has given up wanting to teach altogether, and begins to respond without purpose as the situation demands.

The larger historical issues addressed in the Naked Capitalism post are beyond individual actors to influence. Change comes through collective experience, to which we can be but witnesses. But to witness is not passive. Collectively, awareness can move mountains.

The Subjugation of a Ghost

“A young wife fell sick and was about to die. “I love you so much,” she told her husband, “I do not want to leave you. Do not go from me to any other woman. If you do, I will return as a ghost and cause you endless trouble.”

Soon the wife passed away. The husband respected her last wish for the first three months, but then he met another woman and fell in love with her. They became engaged to be married.

Immediately after the engagement a ghost appeared every night to the man, blaming him for not keeping his promise. The ghost was clever too. She told him exactly what had transpired between himself and his new sweetheart. Whenever he gave his fiancee a present, the ghost would describe it in detail. She would even repeat conversations, and it so annoyed the man that he could not sleep. Someone advised him to take his problem to a Zen master who lived close to the village. At length, in despair, the poor man went to him for help.

“Your former wife became a ghost and knows everything you do,” commented the master. “Whatever you do or say, whatever you give your beloved, she knows. She must be a very wise ghost. Really you should admire such a ghost. The next time she appears, bargain with her. Tell her that she knows so much you can hide nothing from her, and that if she will answer you one question, you promise to break your engagement and remain single.”

“What is the question I must ask her?” inquired the man.

The master replied: “Take a large handful of soy beans and ask her exactly how many beans you hold in your hand. If she cannot tell you, you will know that she is only a figment of your imagination and will trouble you no longer.”

The next night, when the ghost appeared the man flattered her and told her that she knew everything.

“Indeed,” replied the ghost, “and I know you went to see that Zen master today.”

“And since you know so much,” demanded the man, “tell me how many beans I hold in this hand!”

There was no longer any ghost to answer the question.”