I was always told there was a major difference between wanting and needing. They were independent of each other.
When I held up a book, toy, or piece of candy at the store, begging Mom to buy it, her reply would always be, ”Not today. We don’t need that.” When I really wanted to tell someone what was happening to me as a child, I convinced myself that no, I didn’t need to do that. I needed to pretend all was OK, and maybe it would be.
I learned that what we want is often so different from what we need.
It took me years to unlearn this and to recognize that I disagreed wholeheartedly. I spent decades desperately wanting what I needed, without knowing it was a primordial desire, a fundamental human need.
I rarely got what I wanted and needed. But what I needed and wanted was the same thing.
I craved real connection, love, and acceptance. Don’t we all? Isn’t that why children jump up and down, screaming for our attention? You can’t visit a playground or public pool in the heat of the summer without hearing a chorus of kids screaming, “Mom, look at me? Did you see that I just dived all by myself?” “mom. Mom. MOM. LOOK AT ME !!!!”
Look at me.
I wanted the right people to look and see me and to approve of what they saw. I needed external validation to believe from my core that I was OK. I didn’t need to be the best. Or perfect. I just wanted to be OK. It would have been enough to know I was enough.
Was it that I craved to see the me they saw? Perhaps I convinced myself that if I could see the reflection of me they saw, the me I was pretending to be, then maybe I could accept myself. That I could accept the truth that I was a good person. Someone who shined despite the fact I felt dull and dirty on the inside.
I appeared self-confident and shiny, yet I didn’t feel that way inside.
I spent years seeking myself by scrutinizing the reflection of what others saw in me. If the me I saw reflected back was pleasing, Ok, and acceptable, then I must be OK!
I franticly sought this validation from teachers at school by achieving excellent grades, participating, and contributing. From the audiences at musical concerts, plays, and performances. From my high school boyfriend Carl and his family because they were normal, and if I fit in and saw myself as they saw me and I fit there, I must be normal too. I became skillful at playing along as my amoeba-like self morphed into whomever the situation necessitated I become. This was the only way I knew how to have a chance at being loved, seen, and accepted.
I knew there were things about me, our life in the junkyard; I had to hide. Fear prevented me from truly being me. Shame blocked the shiny me – the me that I now know as brilliant and bright – the me that has always been worthy of love.
During my decades-long healing journey in my 40’s, “mirror” work helped me to see the real me. A therapist had me hold a mirror up to my face and really, really look at the face staring back at me. As I healed, the face I saw changed– just as I had shown others different versions of whom I thought I was for years. This time, my reflection helped me heal.
I saw the tiny, scared little girl, afraid and alone. And I comforted her. I held her. Telling her it wasn’t her fault.
I saw the pretender with a fake smile others took as real. I forgave her. I told her she was skillful in doing that all those years and didn’t need to do that anymore.
I saw the strong one whose resilience shone in her determined face. I thanked her and let her know she could relax now. She could rest.
I saw the broken woman whose wounds covered her desire and sexuality with shame. I let her feel safe. I let her explore. I gave her permission to want and need. I taught her it was safe to let go. I helped her be vulnerable.
Eventually, I recognized the woman I saw reflected in the mirror as me. A woman with scars of wounds she had worked so hard to heal. I told her that she was more than OK. That while she may feel damaged, she was whole and amazing.
My reflection taught me it’s OK to want and need and, better yet, to ask for what I want and need. And this woman gracefully asks – and lovingly receives.