2.18.2013

The Enlightening Mat: Grieving an Unmet Need

mourning dove feather brown white stripe bird
mourning dove

Perhaps what you wanted most in life didn't turn out the way you imagined. Here are some examples of situations where personal needs may have gone unmet:

  • You wanted to be a nurturing parent or caregiver who offers unconditional love, but you're secretly aggravated because your kids are struggling in school.
  • You wanted to be an empathetic partner who builds relationship, but you broke up or chose to get a divorced.
  • You wanted to be a supportive friend who is helpful, but you're too busy working all the time.
  • You wanted to be a trusted leader who improves circumstances, but you're always choosing the solution that works best for you instead of others.
  • You wanted to be an exciting teacher who inspires growth, but you've become disillusioned.
  • You wanted to be a compassionate listener who provides comfort, but you're always exhausted by the chaos in your life.

These visions for ourselves are caught up in the idea that if we just work harder or smarter, we can perfect these roles. We can be a better caregiver then our parents. We can be a better leader and make changes other people can't. We can be the kind of friend, teacher, or listener we didn't have as a kid.

Our personal desires emerge out of disappointments and drive unrealistic expectations. Until we see that many of our desires cover a genuine loss and grief that has never been fully expressed, we will remain on a tireless treadmill of trying to do better.

In this post, I offer suggestions for grieving unmet needs that are at the core of our disappointments and frustrations. By grieving unmet needs, you can move past your pain and choose new ways of being that don't require perfecting an ideal.

One of the best settings I've found to grieve an unmet is in the quiet of the Bikram yoga room after class ends and the teacher walks out the door. Having struggled for 90 minutes in the heat and challenging postures, all my emotions and desires have bubbled up to the surface and are available to work with and release from my life.

If you don't do hot yoga, I also use the process below as a guided meditation practice. While sitting on a meditation cushion or in a chair, I close my eyes and use my imagination to remember, listen, acknowledge, and forgive.

Identify Your Unmet Needs

The first step is uncovering your needs. For instance, you have a friend, but lately you feel disappointed because the kind of close relationship you wanted with this person isn't happening. Maybe you wanted to fulfill needs for connection, companionship, and intimacy with this friend, but you don't know how to go about creating this type of relationship or you see that it's just not possible.

By uncovering, acknowledging, and connecting with what you needed, you will open a doorway to grieving your unmet needs. Click here to download a List of Needs that will help you identify which of your needs are going unfulfilled.

Take Responsibility for Your Unmet Needs

Writing in your journal or quietly reflecting on the ways you contributed to your unmet needs can move you away from a place of denial or anger and towards acceptance of reality. For instance, you might hear yourself say: "I feel sad that I'm so self-involved with work and haven't made time to truly connect with my friend" or "I feel disappointed that I'm not comfortable sharing intimate thoughts with my friend, which might create a deeper bond."

Engage in Forgiveness

When a deeply valued need has gone unmet in a relationship or circumstance, one thing holding you in a pattern of sadness, frustration, depression, or shame is that you probably haven't fully forgiven yourself or the other person for the experience of disappointment. Engaging in a process of forgiveness with yourself and the other person(s) regarding unmet needs will expose the truth behind what you really want to learn about love and relationship.

To learn how to forgive yourself and others, download my free Be Forgiveness ebook by clicking here.

Click here to view the videos that will help you understand the Be Forgiveness ebook.

Hold Everything in Your Heart

Being able to hold multiple points of view in your heart regarding your unmet needs heals and liberates you. I like to create an imaginary picture in my head of three different aspects of myself. In the case of my friend, I would imagine the innocent part of me that wants to create a genuine connection, the sad part of me that regrets not helping build a deeper relationship, and the ashamed, fragile part of me that chooses work over friendship as my own sincere desire to serve life.

I imagine these three aspects of my personality as separate beings -- like characters in a play:

  • Innocent Child
  • Wise Counsel
  • Shadow Self

I create a comfortable setting in my mind such as sitting down to dinner, around a campfire, in a meadow, or by a lake. Then I have a conversation with these three personalities; listen to their thoughts and feelings; acknowledge their desires, sadness, and regret; and just hold all of it in my heart without judgment or action.

Let Go & Create New Ways to Meet a Need

It's possible your particular needs will never be met in the way you imagined. In this example of friendship, if you and your friend are not able to grow in the way you most desire, it's important to recognize your unmet needs, accept the gifts you have been given, and let go of how you wanted this relationship to change to meet your needs. By letting go of wanting something to change, you open new pathways for meeting your needs.

How can you meet your needs for connection, companionship, bonding, and intimacy? What are new ways you can meet these needs? Can you join a book club? Can you take a new class? Can you pick up a new hobby? Can you reinvigorate familial or spiritual bonds? Can you become more intimate with your body by trying yoga, biking, or swimming?

By letting go of forcing your needs to be met by someone or something that may never be able to meet them in the way you imagined, you open up to so many other new ways to meet your needs, and you learn to respect and cherish life in the form it was given to you.

For an exercise that helps you search for new ways to meet an unmet need, click here to download Chapter 8 from my book Lemonade Mantras.


The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures

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