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How to Ask for What You Need (and Actually Get It)

This month I celebrated a milestone birthday. As happens this time every year, the mind-gremlins of birthdays past have been kicking up a bit, adding weight to what would have already been a pretty loaded day: the Big Five-Oh.

If you've ever been caught in a cycle of sacrificing yourself for others' happiness, only to find yourself disappointed time and time again when those same others fail to meet even your most basic emotional needs (remembering your birthday, for example), you know exactly how I’ve been feeling.

And although my life today is immeasurably richer and my relationships immeasurably healthier than a decade ago, I still carry the grief of a younger version of myself—who poured her whole self into her marriage, her family, her work, and her friendships only to receive the bare minimum in return.

I deserved better. And so do you.

Birthdays, especially big ones, are perfect illustrations of the two most foundational truths I've learned in my personal development journey. They are:

1. The people in your life absolutely cannot know what you need unless you tell them.

2. If you consistently tell someone what you need, but they are not able to provide it, you have the right to redefine or release that relationship to protect yourself from future harm.

As a younger adult, I fancied myself an exceptional mind-reader. Like you, perhaps, I'm highly empathetic and good at anticipating the needs of others. But (frustratingly, I admit) we can't expect others to read our minds as effectively as we might read theirs. The things we want and need won't magically materialize if we dig our heels in and refuse to ask for them.

Your voice is your power. You have to use it.

If you are someone who really struggles with this, here's how you can ask for what you need without ever having to actually use the dreaded words "I want" and "I need":

First, express the need and its significance.

Expressing your need clearly provides valuable context for your ask, whatever that might be. If you've discovered, for example, that you need more alone time, simply asking for more alone time isn't likely to yield the result you want—a specific, devoted block of time (ideally one that recurs) in which to recharge. Instead, be prepared to offer a solution, framed in the context of your need and why it matters.

Here's an example of how to establish that context:

"I've realized how important my alone time is for my mental health."

Next, offer your solution.

Now that context and significance has been established, present your ask as a solution to the unmet need.

Here's how you might do that:

"I'd like to try setting aside 30 minutes between dinner and bedtime to recharge."

I was in my late 30s when I began to experiment with this, particularly in my marriage and in my relationships with family. With the help of a great therapist, I began identifying my unmet needs (notably more alone time, professional fulfillment, and deeper emotional connection, along with the consistent acknowledgement of birthdays, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day).

While I'd love to say that it worked—and will work for you—every time, the messy truth is this:

If you are someone who carries around significant unmet needs, there are likely people in your life who will not respond well to your insistence on addressing them.

They'll call you selfish, tell you you've changed, invalidate you, and insist that they've been meeting your needs all along.

As painful as that kind of gaslighting may be, it's valuable information—information you wouldn't have unless you'd mustered the courage to raise your voice and advocate for yourself.

When you can finally see with clarity that certain relationships are, on balance, more harmful than helpful, you can make intentional decisions about how you'd like to define those relationships moving forward.

That might look like establishing new boundaries around what you do and don't share with a particular person. It might look like spending less time together. And it might look like going no-contact.

As I step across the half-century mark this month, I'm so grateful to have left my chapters of self-sacrifice behind and to be building a community of amazing, like-minded humans who do understand, respect, and meet my needs.

And who celebrate me for expressing them.

Your needs matter.

With the right people in your life, it is amazing how often you actually get what you need when you express those needs clearly and kindly.

Need some support with this? A 30-minute free consultation is a great way to explore some ideas and see if I might be the right coach for you.


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.


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