How to ask for what you want without feeling guilty

feeling guilty
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Do you have trouble asking for what you want without feeling guilty? There are likely some good reasons for that which extend back to childhood.

If you grew up in a home where you learned that your needs burdened others, you would suppress them. You internalized the idea that your needs were your problem and you’d better take care of them yourself.

As a child, the prospect of caring for your own needs was scary, indeed. Enter survival brain, which “helped” you by minimizing your needs and convincing you they’re not important.

If your own parents failed to take care of your needs, how on earth can other people be expected to? Why would friends or colleagues or virtual strangers give you what your own parents refused?

It’s an intelligent question your young mind answered by assuming they wouldn’t. Or that they’d be as rejecting as your parents if you asked them for help.

Feeling guilty about asking for what you want is a remnant from childhood in which you were conditioned to feel that way. In other words, it’s not your fault.

When parents benefit from you feeling guilty

Your parents may have benefited from you feeling guilty about having needs. If they felt unequipped or feared intimacy, they would discourage you from coming to them with your problems.

Your parents may have benefited from you feeling guilty about having needs. Click To Tweet

As a child, I had nowhere to go when I needed support. Teachers and other adults may have been nice to me but they did not help me because of my inability to ask.

As a result, I shut down and spent the rest of my childhood and adolescence in a state of numbness. My world became very small as I did my best to cope on my own with every problem that arose.

In this state of survival, I took no risks, turned down challenges that would help me grow, and focused on staying alive without anyone to help me.

It wasn’t until around age 16 that I was able to put my shoulders down and find release from my constant hypervigilance. Unfortunately, that release came in the shape of a bottle of alcohol.

I spent the rest of my life battling my dependence on this “solution”, That is, until I finally stopped relying on it 12 years ago.

Asking for what I want still leaves me feeling guilty at times. It does not come naturally and as a result of my programming, I’m unsure when it’s appropriate.

Sometimes, I feel narcissistic simply for attempting to meet my needs. My parents instilled this belief in me to keep me in line and prevent their own guilt which they transferred onto me instead.

feeling guilty

The glaring lack of encouragement and praise from rejecting parents ensures a child feels unworthy of getting what they want. They become so focused on gaining approval from parents and others, that asking for anything feels impossible.

How to ask for what you want

1. Remember your needs matter at least as much as anyone else’s. In fact, they should matter more, but putting yourself on an even playing field with others is a good start.

Remember your needs matter at least as much as anyone else's. Click To Tweet

I used to twist myself into knots trying to please others. And, guess what, they were never happy anyway!

Most people aren’t asking you to please them, and healthy people don’t like it because it’s dishonest. They want to know what you want so they can understand your needs and deepen the relationship.

2. Remember no one can read your mind. Stop hinting or hoping that someone will meet your needs.

Stop resenting people for not figuring out what you want or reciprocating your good deeds toward them. Come out and say what you need and you just might get it.

3. Remember you might be disappointed. Asking for what you want is no guarantee that you’ll get it.

I used to avoid asking for what I wanted because I couldn’t handle the disappointment if someone said ‘no’. With no one to support me through disappointment or explain that it’s a part of life, I steered clear of the feeling at all cost.

I’ve finally retrained myself to ask for what I want even if it leads to disappointment. Processing feeling let down has become a celebration of the courage it took to ask.

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  1. Cynthia

    I love everything about this article! It’s spot on and I needed it this morning! The guilt for asking for things we feel we want and deserve can be crippling sometimes. That’s where self-love comes in. We ARE deserving of good things. We forget that too easily. Thank you for this lovely reminder.

  2. Dan

    Hi Laura! I had a somewhat similar background. It was refreshing to know that another kid also coped with this difficult situation and made it to adulthood able to help others. I feel admiration and gratitude for your work. Be well! Dan