In Part 1, we talked all about the unique work-life stressors women face as they take on loads of responsibility both at home and in business. If you missed it, read it here! In Part 2, we identified how sharing the load, and being able to name your strengths and successes when things get hard, can help you not only cope, but also thrive. Read Part 2 here.
Let's continue to explore scenarios that present common work-life stressors for women, and then learn how to think like a BOSS to help yourself through them.
Remember that the acronym BOSS will help you remember how to stop suffering and start tackling what's wrong:
B – Be aware of your needs;
O – Open up about them;
S – Share the load; and
S – Say your strengths and successes.
Let's focus now on the B and the O. This topic calls on big concepts, so bear with me and please reach out to me if you need help making sense of this information for yourself!
The issue we're focusing on in this post is that of putting everyone else’s needs above your own. One of my clients recently put this so beautifully. We were talking about some of the thoughts and behaviors she’d adopted in her marriage that continued not to serve her. I thought I was the resident expert coming up with an awesome list of communication and thought changes we’d need to help her make, and when I asked her “what else?” she paused and said,
“I need to stop thinking that by meeting everyone else’s needs somehow it will mean my own needs will be met.”
And I was just blown away. How often have you felt that by putting everyone’s needs above your own, the result will be your own miraculous fulfillment? How often, as women, do we believe that meeting other people’s needs actually IS the equivalent of meeting our own needs? When I ask my clients about their needs I almost always receive a blank stare, and then, “I don’t know.” Needs? I can tell you what everyone else needs, and I’ll bend over backwards to give, but me? Clients even ask me, “How do I begin to tell what I need?”
I can say with confidence that knowing what you need is the absolute first step to being able to receive what you need. And being able to receive what you need often requires straight out asking for what you need. Hold on to this fact for now -- We’ll get back into this essential concept in a minute.
First I want to fully recognize this unique challenge that women face. How can we help ourselves get our needs met when we’re comfortable and conditioned to expend most of our energy knowing and meeting everyone else’s?
So let’s talk needs for a bit right now. A superb and effective boss is superb and effective precisely because she anticipates and responds to multiple levels of her employee’s needs – from their most basic all the way up to (and especially) their higher-order emotional needs. What I’d like to help you do now is think critically about your own needs; so that you can also better anticipate and respond to them. Doing this actively helps to alleviate the fight or flight stress that comes when your needs aren’t being met.
First, let’s explore basic needs. Remember our great boss? This boss would send you home when you are sick, encourage you to take your vacation and enjoy it. She’d give you flexibility when you need it the most. She’s also the boss who tells you to stop dropping crumbs into your keyboard because you’re spending every lunch staring into your computer monitor. These basic needs consist of eating; sleeping and rest; doses of fresh air and sunshine. These are all non-negotiables to stay well as a human. At a basic level, I want you to reflect on your ability to give yourself space for these essential low lying fruit. PAUSE
Now how about second level needs? What are they and how do they affect us? Let’s go to a place that thinks about how to grow and retain employees more than anyone else – Google. Google provides its employees with gyms, prepared nourishing food, on-site learning and experiences, social interaction, getaways, and on and on. (and yes, I am jealous of everyone who works there). It’s because Google knows that by surpassing those basic needs and going even further to ensure that they meet higher-order needs of its employees – the need to move, to play, to laugh, to talk, to connect, to learn, to stay healthy, to escape – that all of this results in loyal, well, and committed employees. So when you are pausing to think like a boss, I want you to ask yourself: to what extent are these higher order needs being filled? PAUSE
Then there’s the highest order of needs. These needs are deeply psychological, and they are the most critical of all – and yet they are the least recognized and attended to in our popular media. They’re the least talked about and the least written about. When these highest order needs aren’t met consistently, it’s the culprit of employees quitting jobs and marriages ending in divorce, which are work-life parallels of each other. Before going into full time private practice, I was a clinical supervisor for a counseling organization that served clients across the country. In my time managing and growing teams of master’s level clinicians, as well as in my experience as a women’s therapist, I know that the real thriving happens when our highest order mental and emotional needs are beings met. And I also know that people struggle when they are not.
Before we identify what they are, let’s also recognize that these deeper needs exist as equally important in our work life as in our family and personal life. So what are they?
- Our need to feel appreciated.
- Our need to be acknowledged.
- Our need to feel seen.
- Our right and need to be respected.
- Our need to feel valued.
- Our need to be challenged in a way that helps us enter a state of flow.
- Our need to be loved.
- Our need to feel truly heard.
These are the psychological needs so rarely recognized by women, and by all people, consciously and in the here-and-now of their life. Without these essential needs being attended to, we wither, as employees, as mothers, as partners in life and romance – we turn inward, lose hope and momentum. And when these needs are stoked regularly? We flourish. We feel confident. We get closer to ourselves and to our meaning in life. This is why the foreign and often uncomfortable work of knowing, and fully embracing your own needs as real and important, is so essential.
In my earlier example where I embraced a wooden spoon and lost it on my husband, I pause to reflect what needs weren’t being met that led me to that place of high stress and breakdown. My lowest level needs; rest, nourishment, personal space were certainly not met that day. Second order needs; connecting to others, productivity and play; definitely not met. Then my highest order needs, the need for my struggle to be acknowledged, for my efforts to be seen, and then to be fully supported were just absent in that moment, and for me this was the cherry on top of the sundae of need depletion.
Now I have to pause here just to give my husband a break just in case everyone is judging him by now! Because he’s married to me/a therapist, which is definitely a double edged sword, my husband often now knows and anticipates my needs better than I do. When I recently tried to cut back on childcare to “spend more time with my daughter” my husband pushed back hard, citing my need to spend time alone, have the time to take care of myself, or even just attend to unexpected business matters. And, he was absolutely right. With the good intention of wanting to spend more time with my daughter, I would have stretched myself too thin and lost my mind trying to juggle it all and he knew it before I did. This is how talking about our needs helps those around us get familiar with them so that they can often call us out on them before we do.
Now let’s return to something I mentioned before: that knowing what you need is the first step to being able to receive what you need. So what is the second? Being able to ask for what you need.
The well-known marriage and relationship expert, Terrence Real says,
“leave work at work… but bring your work skills back home.”
He then describes the essential process of being able to shift from complaint about not getting your needs met, to the active responsibility of asking for what you need. He notes that great relationships mean more assertion up front and less resentment on the back end. And I’m going to extend this rule to relationships of every kind – your relationship with your work, with yourself, with your spouse, and with your family.
But why is asking others to meet your needs so uncomfortable for women? It’s because to ask for what you need, you have to first acknowledge that itchy truth that you actually have wants and needs in the first place; then, presenting them puts you at risk of possible disappointment or rejection; you also may have to shake up a previous dynamic that was reliant on silence around your needs.
When I was a boss, in my first meeting with every new employee or team member, I’d say something like this: “I am many things, but one thing I am not is a mind reader. If you’re struggling with something, if you’re unhappy, if there’s absolutely anything you need, I need you to tell me. Because I cannot read your mind, and I can’t help you if I have no idea what you’re really thinking, feeling, or needing.” Women are excellent at many things, and we are also excellent at believing that people should be mind-readers. We also tend to ascribe to the belief that if we have to ask for it, it doesn’t “count.” Then we spend a lot of time and energy privately, or passively, upset that it didn’t happen.
Let’s be a boss and fully realize that needs are constant and real – from the bottom of the order all the way to the top – and that the sooner we recognize our own, the sooner we’ll be able to accurately identify where they aren’t being met. Let’s also be a boss and actively remember that those around us are not mind readers. It is a losing strategy to wish that others will anticipate and then meet our needs (because this is what we do so well for others) and when they don’t, experience massive personal and emotional setbacks (which can be quite stressful). It is a winning strategy to practice mindfulness about when our expectations of others have been made clearly known, so they can have fair chance to fulfill them, or whether they’ve been kept private.
In the last and final post, I'll walk you through a reflective exercise that will help you identify and get in touch with your needs. Then we'll discuss one final tool you can use to take stock of what needs to change when the going REALLY gets tough. You can read the final series post, Part 4, here. As always, please reach out to me for your complimentary consultation if you'd like additional assistance moving through this material or wish to begin the work of overcoming barriers to living your best life!
This blog series is adapted from a talk given by Lauren Drago Therapy as part of the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Series.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, and call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.