Growing up in a society where qualities of independence, maturity and responsibility are highly valued it has always felt like a weakness to admit vulnerability.
In a culture that prides itself on working hard and long hours, wearing high levels of stress as a badge of achievement; admitting that we have needs has a sense of giving in to being flawed or weak.
Understanding how our brain has grown and evolved has been pivotal in my realisation that we do have very real needs that cannot be ignored and must be managed if we are to work towards achieving a healthy body and mind.
Rick Hanson, author of Resilient, outlines these three core needs and their evolutionary origins.
PRIMARY NEED FOR SAFETY – This is thought to have come from needing to stay alive and run away from predators and when met gives us feelings of being secure.
SECONDARY NEED FOR SATISFACTION– This perhaps evolved to give us the motivation to get things done and to achieve feelings of success.
FINALLY OUR NEED FOR CONNECTION– This is a connection with ourselves, our self-worth and connection to our community. The feelings of being loved, understood and heard.
These needs have emerged from the progressive evolution of our primitive brain over the last 600 million years.
The oldest part of our brain is the Brainstem, known as our REPTILIAN or Lizard brain; it is primarily concerned with raw basic survival.
The next structure to evolve from the brainstem is the Subcortex known as our MAMMALIAN or Hamster brain; wired to seek satisfaction.
On top of both these structures lies our crowning glory- the Neocortex, known as our PRIMATE or Monkey brain; concerned in particular with social connection.
During the flow of our day, there are many different situations that can easily threaten our wellbeing- if we let them. They evoke various emotional reactions which, if we take a moment to be witness to them, are designed to show us where the work is to be done.
3 STEPS TO RECOGNISE, ACCEPT AND MANAGE OUR NEEDS
Name the emotion to yourself, be it anger or feeling unhappy, lonely or unheard.
There is a lot of work written about the power of witnessing and naming an emotion as it arises instead of pushing it back down…guaranteed to resurface again when you least expect or want it to.
This is my work in progress. Painful and difficult they may be, to not run away from those emotions but to name them and through awareness, stay with them.
Incredibly difficult to do and very easy to write about; I know deep down I can only teach this to our boys through my own self-practice and discipline.
They give me plenty of opportunities to experience a wide range of emotions and for them to see me PAUSE, NAME and STAY with the moment without an instant reaction is, I feel, the biggest gift of emotional wellbeing I can give them.
But my goodness it is so hard. I am failing often but I can happily say I am making progress as I keep in mind what I want to achieve:
To develop an emotional intelligence that both boys can witness and mirror for themselves.
Recognise which of the 3 needs to be addressed.
NEED FOR SURVIVAL:
You may experience a situation that triggers the stress response as your brain recognises your reaction as a threat to survival.
An example could be someone cutting you up at traffic lights and your reaction is to feel threatened and angry. The Lizard brain translates this as a threat to your need for safety.
EMOTIONS FELT: Stress, panic, anger, frustration.
PRACTICE TO MANAGED THIS NEED: When these emotions are felt I urge you to revisit my post on Pressing Pause to give your nervous system time to calm down and realise that you are not about to be eaten and you don’t have to run away from a dangerous situation…you have actually got this.
NEED FOR SATISFACTION:
An example may be missing out on a promotion and feeling disappointed or feeling overwhelmed, trying to juggle many different tasks and failing.
Your Hamster brain translates this as a threat to your need for satisfaction.
EMOTIONS FELT: Rushed, overwhelmed, burnt out, hectic chaotic schedules, rushing from one thing to the other, exhausted, constantly needing to meet the needs of others.
PRACTICE TO MEET THIS NEED: If you start to feel these emotions, I urge you to try setting up this practice of “Finding Life Rafts in the beautiful Ordinary moments of your day”, to help carry you from one task to the next.
NEED FOR CONNECTION:
An example here is feeling hurt or inadequate as a result of an interaction or misunderstanding with your partner or close friend. Your Monkey brain translates this as a threat to your need for social and peer recognition.
EMOTIONS FELT: Lonely, taken for granted, feeling unworthy or not good enough.
We have evolved to be highly social animals, thrive on tribal support and finding solace in sharing our struggles with others. We get a sense of relief and strength when we find others that can support us and mirror our feelings.
PRACTICE TO MEET THIS NEED: Living in a world desperate to conform, what resonates the most for me is understanding that true inner strength lies in our imperfections, flaws and differences. I urge you to visit my post on the beautiful practice of Kintsugi.
I am currently researching a future post on the practice of self-appreciation, self-talk and self-worth now widely understood as the key to many sporting successes, weight loss, spontaneous remissions from terminal diseases and very important for me : key in developing emotional wellbeing.
The more I have tried to be strong and stand alone, the more I have come to realise that strength comes from admitting my vulnerabilities and needs, embracing them and sharing them with our community.
This realisation gave me the strength to write my blog and be here now as my authentic self.
…And to love what it means to be on this human journey of being vulnerable and exposed; if it means that I can share, help and heal through my words and experiences…I’m in this for the long run.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me.