Almost Roadkill; Creating opportunities for trust

I wouldn’t trust my bike brakes. The other day I was out mountain biking on a thin trail and quite nearly ran completely over a living woodchuck. He stood in the middle of the path, obviously stuck in deciding which way to go, frantically turning one way and then the other. I get it. I often don’t know which way to go either. So I would’ve loved to stop for him. But I couldn’t… because my brakes are far from trustworthy. I was so sure of collision in my helpless situation that I had already braced for the impact when he dodged out of the way last second.

With my brakes as an example, let’s talk about trust. Trust is built through the following cycle: you have a need, you express the need, there is a positive response to the need, and the need is satisfied. I have a need: to stop for the uncertain woodchuck. I express that need: I squeeze on my brakes. There is a positive response to my need (best case scenario): I slow significantly. And the need is satisfied: Woodchuck goes on his way without being hit nor having a heart attack from a dreadfully close scare.

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Let’s pause for a happy celebration.

Okay, back to real life. In real life, this trust cycle fails us on a fairly regular basis. When any step in this cycle goes south, mistrust happens. Often we blame those around us when we feel we can’t trust. Sometimes this is fair. Sometimes this is us in victim mode, though.

After all, you are responsible for at least half of the steps in this cycle: recognizing and then expressing your need. And this might just be the hardest part.

Recently I wrote a blog post regarding needs claiming that we all have legitimate needs and even have the duty to determine what they are (because we are worth it). However, even once we go through the process of recognizing our needs, it’s a whole other ordeal to express them.

I’m reading a highly recommendable book called Keep Your Love On written by Danny Silk. The author claims that “Expressing our needs and building relational connections are closely intertwined–in fact; they are dependent on one another.” His argument is hard to compete with when he lays the evidence that

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“God, the one Person in the universe who knows all things, and knows us incomparably better than we know ourselves, never says, ‘well, obviously, I know your needs, so you don’t need to tell me about them.’ Instead he repeatedly tells us to ask Him for what we need… He won’t meet our needs outside of a connection where we have to show up and crack our hearts open to Him, because that very connection is what we need to have our needs met in the first place.”

Hey. If even God–who freaking created me–asks me to share my thoughts and needs with him, can I expect any human in my life to simply know and respect my needs without me first communicating them? Can I blame him/her for our lack of trust because he/she didn’t somehow just “sense” my needs and help meet them?

Yeah… so maybe I ought to practice expressing my needs.

But to make things a little more complicated, Mr. Silk points out that, not only do we need to express our needs, we need to express them appropriately. We may think we’re expressing our needs when we complain, “I’m hungry” or when we accuse the other person, “you’re not listening to me or helping me.”

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These, however, are judgement statements. According to Mr. Silk, “A judgement statement says ‘I’m too scared to show you what is really going on inside me. I’ll only feel safe to show you what I’m feeling if you first agree with my assessment of what’s wrong with you and then promise to never be like that again.'”

When he puts it that way, it’s hard to claim that that approach is exactly fair.

Appropriately expressing needs begins with a focus on what I am feeling. “I feel scared when you yell.” It’s vulnerable. It’s hard. AND it is a demonstration of authentic power.

Once the feeling is expressed, then the need can be offered. “I need you to use a gentler voice when you’re talking with me.” …and, ta-da!, you’ve appropriately opened yourself up for others to help meet needs. And given trust an opportunity to grow.

Easy? Ha! No! But worthwhile. Connecting with others is what creates meaning in life. Connection requires trust. You are not a helpless victim; you have a part to play in building trust.

My bike brake metaphor fails to embrace the entirety of this concept. Yet, even here there is an applicable aspect. I could blame my brakes up one side of the fence and down the other for not working when I tell them to. But I’m perfectly capable of tweaking my brakes so that they are reliable and work correctly. I am not a victim. I just have to get my hands dirty and do some of the hard work.

Acknowledge your needs. And express them through feelings. Perhaps you will discover there are a lot more trustworthy others out there than you ever anticipated.

Complaints & desires; communicating needs positively

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The other day my boyfriend was washing the dishes and I quite almost literally kicked him away from the sink, taking his place, and complaining, “You wash dishes so slowly!” After the dishes were done, we were going to go rollerblading and I just wanted to get a move on and start enjoying something fun together (more fun than dishes, that is 😉 ).

As it turns out–oddly enough–that complaint didn’t send the message that I couldn’t wait to do something fun with him. Instead it communicated to him that he wasn’t competent nor enough for my standards. …Oops.

A fantastic podcast I was listening to today claimed that whenever there is a complaint, there is a desire. For example, I complained about my boyfriend’s dish-washing speed because I desired to get out of the house and have fun with him. However, instead of communicating the desire, we so often slap the complaint onto the person we love… been there.

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I complain about you being on your phone all the time because I desire more genuine connection with you. I complain about you being too loud at night because I desire to fall asleep. I complain that you never help with housework because I desire support.

The advice from the podcast was, instead of complaining, to express the desire that you feel and come up with a suggestion to help meet that desire. For example, I could address my boyfriend, “I would love to get out of here quickly. Can I take a turn washing dishes to speed up that process?”

“I want be more intentional with our time together; would you mind setting aside your phone consistently for an hour or two?” “I need to get some sleep; could you watch that with earbuds in? Or else take the activity downstairs?” “I desire to feel supported in our relationship. Can you help me with dinner tonight?”

When it comes to needs, feelings, and boundaries, there are hundreds of ways to communicate

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better… all of them worth studying. However, when it comes to real life, real time application, we have to start simple. The simple suggestion that I’m determined to make use of is finding the desire behind every complaint I make (or am tempted to make) and taking the courage to express it as such. Then, on my own or with the help of whoever I’m talking with, I plan to take the next step of making a suggestion for what might be done about it.

I have needs and desires. But I never want to make anyone feel inadequate as I work toward getting those met. My apologies to everyone I’ve complained to. Will you give me grace as I learn to express my desires? And will you challenge me to reiterate my thoughtless complaints as such? I’m working to figure out this crazy life and I make plenty of mistakes along the way.

I have legitimate needs. I need to set up boundaries.

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My recent discovery is that I have needs. Legitimate needs. And I need to make sure they get met.

On the one hand, your first thought might be, “Well, duh. Very insightful, girlfriend. Everyone has needs. For example, everyone needs water, food, love…” Or it could be the opposite, “‘Need’ is a very strong word. Most of what you think you need is really a want.” I would know; I’ve tended to ride these extremes.

However, the fact of the matter is that there is a middle ground–one that deserves our attention. Sometimes I inaccurately frame my “wants” as “needs.” But just as likely, I fear, I dismiss my sincere and legitimate “needs” as only selfish “wants.” And that isn’t fair to myself.

I, after all, am a princess of the True and living God, complete with needs deserving much more than flippant dismissal. I am worth fighting for and I–being the one best aware of my needs–have the responsibility to fight for them.

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Honestly, it is a bit humbling.

It’s humbling to admit I have needs. It’s humbling to put a limit on what I can do for others because I need to take time for myself. It’s humbling to ask for things I need.

But I’m worth it. So I’ve been learning to set up boundaries. Not to control others. But for my own safety–out of self-respect. It’s not easy.

First, I have to recognize needs that I have a right to: Respect. Trust. Truth. Space… 

Then I have to set up realistic, concrete boundaries.

“I need rest, hence I can help you, but only until 10 pm.”

“I need respect so if you continue to use that tone of voice with me, I will walk away.”

“I value our relationship, however, I need it to be grounded on trust and if you continue to lie to me, I will have to remove myself from this situation for my own safety.”

“I need someone to listen, so even if it might inconvenience her, I will call my friend.”

“I need help with dinner, so I need you to turn off the TV.”

“I need your attention, so I need you to set aside your phone.”

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While the concepts are always true, most of my specific boundaries are grounded in some time and circumstantial frame; things I need in certain moments, but not all the time. For example, some nights I can stay up later than 10 talking to a friend. Sometimes I can grin and bear it and make dinner alone. Sometimes I can just journal instead of talking in real time to a friend. However, just because they aren’t always a need doesn’t dismiss them as never a need.

I definitely don’t claim to know the trick to determining when a desire is a want versus a need. That’s a struggle I’m dealing with every day. Do I really need time alone or am I just wanting it? And then there are other confusing conflicts; I need time alone to rest and she needs someone to be with her and listen to her. What then? My mom needs to be treated with respect, but her son needs to be heard and loved regardless.

So, no, I don’t have that down yet. But for now I’m giving myself space to recognize that I do have needs. Legitimate needs. And, being a human created in the very image of our great God, I have a right to treat myself with respect. In fact, I have the duty to stand up for myself–to make sure my needs are met. Because I’m worth it.

You’re worth it. And you do have needs. And that’s perfectly okay. It’s right, even. So give yourself space to listen to your needs. And then set up boundaries to take care of yourself. It’s how God created us. Self-respect is not selfish.

Comment below. What are some needs that you legitimately have? What are some boundaries that are appropriate, even though they may sometimes feel selfish? What do you do to differentiate between a want and a need?

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