Somewhere between experiencing an eating disorder and then recovering from it, in the different types of therapy I went through during that eating disorder, and then in my own personal studies of psychology and sects of it like neuro-lingistic programming (NLP), or probably from a little of each, I learned something profound. Something I think too many people go through this life not knowing.
I learned that a human being who is not emotionally well cannot think or see beyond beyond their current needs or their current moment. A person who is not emotionally well focuses most of their life on two things: “how can I be okay?” and also “how soon can I be okay?”
Now, it might seem silly to you that I’m exclaiming how “profound” something this basic is. But I’ve learned that it’s more profound than we give it credit for, so long as we remember it. (Which we mostly don’t.)
In order to explain, let me back up a little and establish why this happens to people in the first place.
Because human beings are animals, we are motivated by self (and “preservation of self”) first and foremost. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you can see that primal needs like food and water are more essential to living than emotional fulfillment. If you’re starving, you’re going to worry more about getting food than you are about whether your friend is mad at you or not.
What that means is, naturally, wherever your needs fall on Maslow’s list is what you’re going to be focusing your attention on. Got the primal stuff? Got the safety? Next you’ll need to feel loved and a sense of belonging. That need will motivate your thoughts and actions until your fulfill it. Got the loved and belonging part down, too? Now you’ll want to build confidence and self-esteem. And so on and so forth up the list.
This leads us back to the idea that when someone is upset, depressed, anxious, or has really low self-esteem, for example, those unhappy feelings are actually unmet needs which rule their minds and actions. (I understand that in this light, focusing on the idea of not being “emotionally-well” is possibly taking for granted our lives in a first world country, but for the sake of my audience, I’d like this post to more relevant in your daily lives than it is metaphorical.)
We all go up and down Maslow’s lists on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s just because we’re hungry, then we eat, and go right back up the scale to wherever we were before. Sometimes it’s because our friend or significant other said something unkind, and we need to resolve the conflict to regain love or esteem, before going back to where we were.
These preoccupations, these motivations, these needs, are inherently “selfish”, yet not in any bad use of the word. They are selfish because they are self-motivated, as they very well should be. It’s part of the human condition. We have many moments in our lives when we cannot think about anything but ourselves, and we can’t even help it.
This leads me to the “profound” part. You see, all of this also means that our friends, and our family, and even strangers we walked past today have lives full of moments when they cannot think about anything but themselves, and they can’t help it either.
Is it any surprise that none of us understand each other, when we’re all looking at the world through our own needs and our own emotions?
This can be dangerous for our happiness and for the happiness of the people we love! For example, this confusion is how most breakups happen:
It starts with two people who want to be together and are fulfilled by each other. Naturally, through their own self-motivated thinking, one or both people slip up and offend their partner’s needs somehow. Now, when the couple fights about a slip up, each individual is expressing their needs and wants (often not in an effective or loving way). When those needs are not properly communicated or understood by their partner, they obviously cannot be met. This leads to anger, frustration, and resentment, in varying degrees. Now both individuals have unmet needs and fight with their partner to get them to fulfill it. Neither of them can see beyond their own needs in order to listen to and fulfill their partner’s. Of course, it’s very predictable that when a person’s needs within their relationship are not met, the relationship satisfaction goes downhill, and before you know it, bam. Relationship over.
People who are self-aware enough to recognize their own needs and can effectively communicate them to the world get what they need more often and are much more fulfilled in life compared to those who don’t. But too many people aren’t self-aware.
We need to be conscious of the our thoughts and our feelings, and the needs we have that are running them. As importantly, we need to be conscious of the fact that others have needs that rule their thoughts and emotions, too. We can love others by not only understanding this concept, but by seeking out their needs, and by working to help them fulfill those needs. It’s the only real way to love and be loved in this life.
The level of consciousness I’m talking about takes a lot of effort and a lot of patience. But this new view of others (in my experience) completely shatters all judgement for humanity in your heart and mind, when you simply realize that no one is a bad person. No one wants to be miserable and hated and misunderstood. We’re all just people who go through life thinking about how we’re going to be okay every day.
Just like you.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -Plato