We. Need. People. Brené Brown said it well: “We are hardwired to connect with others. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it, there is suffering.”
Dan Siegel, a popular neuroscientist, points to early attachment relationships as shaping the very neural structures that influence how we construct reality (2002). At Compass Rose Academy, we see how vital relationships are to every human. This is a huge part of our culture and work with students: we believe that relationships with God and others are the fuel of life and that, with strong relationships, we are never left without a way to meet life’s challenges. As we connect with others in meaningful ways, we receive nutrients that we’re then able to metabolize as energy.
In Dr. John Townsend’s most recent book, People Fuel, he shares 22 relational nutrients that every human needs at different times. He breaks the 22 into 4 quadrants: being present, conveying the good, providing reality, and calling to action. In my experience, we as humans are generally most in need of quadrant 1: “Be Present.” I think this is because it’s easier for people to give the other nutrients. Encouraging someone (Q2) is easier than attuning to their feelings (Q1). Providing feedback (Q3) is easier than creating a safe container (Q1) for someone to express their emotions. “Fixing it” is so much easier than “jumping in the well” with someone who is experiencing grief, overwhelm, or anxiety.
Our work, then, is to identify which of the nutrients we need and ask the right person specifically for that nutrient. If we share vulnerably and are in need of acceptance, for example, but don’t ask for that, we might get advice instead – which might feel more like judgement and certainly wouldn’t create the nutrient needed. Likewise, if we need attunement or empathy but ask for attunement from someone unable to access their own difficult emotions, we’re likely to walk away without the need being met.
Don’t allow yourself to be depleted of your energy, left to manage the challenges of life alone. You were never meant to have to do that! Begin to identify your feelings and needs, and ask safe people in your life to meet those needs. Then, keep doing that. You don’t fill up your gas tank once and then beat your car (or yourself) up when the fuel runs out. You fill it up again. And again. Because it needs fuel to run efficiently. In the same way, we as humans need people to function well.
By Madeline Spring, MA, LMHC
Brown, B. (2013). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. Penguin Random House. New York, NY.
Siegel, D. J. (2012). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford.
Townsend, J. (2019). People fuel. Zondervan.