Fulfillment and Self Nourishment

Self-nourishment is a term that describes a person's approach to wants and needs. When the natural expression and innocent pursuit of wants and needs cause a problem with early caregivers, a person learns and develops unnatural and generally unsatisfying ways to pursue needs and wants.

It will probably be beneficial in this topic to discuss the semantic issue between 'needs' and 'wants.' If there existed in English a word that simply meant both, I would use that word. The distinction is not important for the idea presented here. Unfortunately, often there is a moral undertone to the distinction. To many 'wants', are things to be curtailed and only needs are legitimately pursued. This is a false distinction perpetuated by the predicament of many children facing caregivers who feel they don't have enough for the child, but who at the same time are uncomfortable saying no. That is, our desire presents problems when caregivers or loved ones do not feel adequate. Desire becomes associated with shame and rejection.

Clearly some things are essential to survival and could be described as needs, and some things are inessential to survival, and could be described as wants. To organize an entire way of life around that distinction, though, shows a troubled relationship to desire. All people have a right to receive sometimes and get sometimes. Receiving is taking what some one wants us specifically to have, if we want it. Getting is asking someone for something they have and we want. Some examples of needs:

When early experience teaches that wants and needs are problems, adaptation forms into two paths, 1) self-sufficiency (which is an illusion) and 2) emotional dependency (which for adults cannot work). The two paths can be present in one person together.

Self-sufficiency is the attempt to dissociate wants and needs from the co-operation of other people. Primarily, we try to supply our wants and needs ourselves. This usually involves trying to limit our wants and needs to some minimal level (self-deprivation). This of course never fully works, and when other people must be involved, we insist that other people's role in our needs is mandated by rules, 'what is right', or by the obligation of what we have done for them. With self-sufficiency, asking for or accepting help is always a problem. That is why hearing no is so upsetting to some people. More than the denial of what is asked for, the disruption of the illusion of self-sufficiency causes deep anxiety.

Emotional dependency is the attempt to dissociate wants and needs from oneself. Other people are seen as the origin of our wants and needs, and of course it becomes the duty of others to fulfill them. This is of course a stance appropriate to the very young. When taken by an adult, who also of course wants full autonomy, it tends to produce chaos in relationships.

Self-nourishment is taking ownership of wants and needs, while at the same time accepting that other people, in part, have a role in their satisfaction outside our control. It constitutes a certain faith that the world, in general, is a fulfilling place, and also a faith, that some relationships are possible that are very fulfilling if not perfectly fulfilling. In practical terms, the idea has two parts: 1) taking care of oneself, not to prove that one can, but to increase comfort, and 2) actively seeking good things from others, recognizing that "no" is possible but not inevitable.

To some extent, everyone wants their wants and needs to be fulfilled without asking. For someone to already know our needs, perhaps even before we do, has a certain feeling of 'rightness' about it. This is in fact what a responsive mother does for an infant or a very small child. It helps the infant come to know better his or her wants and needs, and if as adults we also are not sure of our wants and needs, it can seem that we deserve the same. However, it is just not possible for anyone to do it reliably for another adult. Occasionally, the needs or wants of others can be anticipated and fulfilled before and without their asking, but to organize a relationship around this rarity is very unstable and produces resentment. Adults must build relationships on self-nourishment, and then perhaps enjoy the 'mothering' of others once in a while, as it happens, by chance.

Self-nourishment is a stance that can apply to all activities in life. The following are some concrete examples, however, that may be worth suggesting: