by Rozella White

I am divorced. During the phase in my marriage when my husband and I were going to marital therapy, one question stopped me in my tracks. We were discussing our needs and the fact that my husband felt like his needs weren’t being met.

The therapist led us through an exercise where we were asked to write down what we needed from each other. My husband vigorously scribbled out his list and I sat there staring at the blank piece of paper in my lap. I felt worse as time passed because I couldn’t think of a single thing to write down. As a bona fide “Type A” and recovering perfectionist, I felt like a failure.

“Rozella, what is it you need?”

Until my therapist posed this question I had never considered my needs. No, I take that back. I thought of needs as those things that sustained life. Food. Water. Shelter. That was my short list. I had no concept of emotional needs or the ability to articulate what it was I needed. The truth was that I thought that only people who were needy and insecure labeled emotional wants as needs. I made a clear distinction. Affection? Not a need, that’s a want. Sex? Not a need, that’s a want. Cuddling? Not a need, that’s a want. Needless to say, you can understand why there were issues in my marriage.

Unknown needs

Taking it a step further, not only was I unable to articulate what I needed from another person, I had no clue what I needed for myself. I was at a loss when it came to conversations about self-care. I thought that doing was the most important thing in my life. In fact, my worth was so bound up in what I did that depression constantly crept in and over my life. So this conversation about needs opened a can of worms that I was not ready to confront.

The first thing I realized is that I could not communicate my needs to another person if I had not taken the time to uncover those needs within myself.

The second thing I realized is that a conversation about needs is really a conversation about self-knowledge, which took me down the rabbit hole of questions of self-worth, self-love, and self-compassion.

In order to communicate my needs, I had to know my needs.

In order to know my needs, I had to know myself.

In order to know myself, I had to take time to care for myself.

So there I was, in a marriage that wasn’t working, bombarded with feelings of inadequacy and confronting a way of thinking and being that had defined my life until that point.

Caring for self

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
–Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light: Essays

I am an avid fan of Audre Lorde, or for those of us that follow her life and her work, “Mama Audre.” As I go back and revisit her writing, I see that importance of caring for myself. As women, we are often the ones who care for everyone else. I don’t think I’m alone in struggling to discover my needs and find my voice when it came to articulating what’s important, what’s life-giving.

For so many people life is an endless cycle of stuffing our emotions deep down. Emotional stress leads to disease, despair, depression and in some cases, death. My marriage taught me a very important, albeit painful lesson: I have to care for myself first and foremost, because doing so allows me to be in healthy relationships with others.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
— Audre Lorde

Caring for myself has lead to a deeper knowledge of myself and I now have the ability to articulate whose I am, who I am, and what I need. My understanding of needs has expanded. No longer do I think about things that merely sustain physical life, I am able to ask for things that enrich my life and lead me to experience abundance and affirmation that I never thought possible.

By dealing honestly and openly with the fact that I did not know myself, I have entered into a new chapter of my life. I have more empathy and compassion for myself and for others. I am not ashamed of creating boundaries in my life that protect me, because I realize that if I don’t take care for myself, I will be unable to experience the fullness of life and love that God so desperately wants for me.

It’s hard. It feels foreign at first. We struggle with a need to explain ourselves or apologize for putting self first. But here’s the thing–as we grow in love and care of ourselves, we grow in love and knowledge of God, because God is within us. And doing so enables us to see our needs, honor our needs, meet our needs and be in deeper, life-giving relationships with others.

Discussion questions:

1. What do you need in life in order to flourish?

2. What prevents you for asking for your needs?

3. How do you care for yourself?

4. What might your life look like if you took the time to focus on yourself?

Closing prayer

Gracious God, your word tells us that your thoughts and hopes for our lives are more than we could ever imagine. Help us to trust your promise and center ourselves in your love for us. Help us grow in care, love and compassion of self and to see that we have needs, deep desires and yearnings that you have given us. Help us to not be ashamed. Help us to ask for that which we need. Amen.

Rozella White (@rozellahw) describes herself as a faith-based social entrepreneur, constantly seeking innovative ways to address human issues from a faith-based perspective that is grounded in love. She is the director for ELCA Young Adult Ministry.

This issue of Café was sponsored by the Women of Peace Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Va.

“Our main group is called WRAP (Women Renewing at Peace) which meets monthly for fellowship, learning and Bible study from Gather Magazine.” This group has a number of other active projects that involve college students, sending cards to soldiers abroad and much more. You can learn more about this bold group of women from their website .

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