You can acknowledge someone else’s needs without having to meet those needs.

The other day, in the Healthy Boundaries for Kind People group, I was teaching about effective ways of articulating ones’ boundaries in ways in which they are honored, respected, and the message is well received.  This isn’t always easy, and sometimes it feels like you have to suck up boundary violations than attempt this to be heard.  But there are ways to do this that honor you and the person you are talking to, making it far more likely your request will be honored.

One of the ways is to see beyond what folks are saying, hear what their deeper needs are, and speak to that part of them. I taught my ways of doing this, how to make this skill their own, why it works, etc. Then one of the big underlying truths came up, as if on cue.  When many folks see someone’s needs they feel their own need, almost as an involuntary reaction, to tend to and meet it.  

In “The Little Prince”, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes, “one becomes responsible for what one tames”.  It’s an interesting idea and one I often see kind folks picking up and running with, so no one’s ball gets dropped.  But seeing someone’s needs is not the same as “taming them”. I see this SO often with kind and compassionate folks, feeling the responsibility to do the emotional labor of others and knowing their needs, do what it takes to meet those needs as if recognition implies responsibility.

So, let me interject right there:  You can acknowledge someone else’s needs without having to meet those needs.

There is a wildly vast difference and emotional toll in acknowledging someone’s underlying needs than in meeting those needs.  

Speaking to and acknowledging what someone wants to be seen, recognized, or a need they have is good stuff!  The stuff of legendary boundaries, thank you very much.  This is different and much healthier, than taking on these needs as a duty. It is the difference between emotional indentured servitude and freedom.  

You can be a good, kind, compassionate person in seeing and masterfully acknowledging someone else’s needs.  In fact, it’s to their benefit to have us NOT take on their needs. It’s not our work, it’s theirs.  Leaving work not meant for you is not abandonment, it means we are not robbing them of their own experience and growth having done the work themselves. 

In your boundaries, where do you take on the needs of others, to the detriment of yourself? And folks, this usually goes deep and down to your core.


Randi Buckley