Asking to Be Known

Having the sense that the people closest to you know you deeply is one of the most central human needs. It is precious and deeply nourishing to experience someone knowing you deeply, whether over time or in a peak moment of connection. You may enjoy a sense of being known for certain parts of yourself in various settings, but there is something special about being known more fully by someone close to you.

There are many ways to nourish your need to be known. Appreciation often can give you a sense of being known and seen, but not always. If someone celebrates how your behavior meets their needs, you can hopefully celebrate with them and feel happy that you contributed. When you are making a particularly meaningful effort to meet their needs, hearing their appreciation can concurrently meet your own need for being seen and known. But when you are simply doing what you do in a regular sort of way and they celebrate what you've done, their appreciation doesn’t necessarily contribute to your need to be known.

When the need to be known has been chronically unmet, your capacity to hear another’s appreciation and celebration may be low. As they tell you how grateful they are for the wonderful dinner you cooked, you might be feel lonely and think, “But I want you to see and celebrate me in a meaningful way!”

The tricky part here is the word “meaningful.” The word meaningful, in this context, really refers to the particular ways you would like to be known and what you would like to have known. Someone with strong attunement skills often will track your responses to being seen and known over time and learn what is meaningful to you. When this isn’t accessible for them, you have the option of communicating explicitly about what meets your need for being known. This is a subtle thing to communicate. You are more likely to be successful if you can give attention to at least these four aspects:

  1. Communicating how important it is to you.

  2. Self-responsibility: Expressing specific doable requests.

  3. Keep asking: Make a commitment to continue asking until a new relationship habit is formed.

  4. Requesting from the energy of the met need.

Communicating how important it is to you.

Letting someone know how important something is to you isn’t as simple as it might seem. And it’s even more difficult if, like many, you feel shy or tender about expressing what you want. Communicating significance often requires sitting down with the person and announcing that you have something important to share and that you are asking for their full attention. Fully sharing your feelings of loneliness and grief regarding not having this need met is also crucial.

In addition, it’s necessary to let the other person know whether or not the relationship is really sustainable for you if the need goes unmet long-term. In other words, does this need require tending if you are to thrive in this relationship? Or, is it a preference to have it met in this relationship and you could also engage strategies to meet it outside the relationship?

Self-responsibility: Expressing specific doable requests.

You can support connection by naming the fact that you haven’t asked directly in the past (if that’s true,) and that you are committed to communicating more clearly now. Then you can offer specific examples of when your need to be known has been met. Share several examples from any time or relationship in your life. If there is one you can remember from the person in front of you, that’s ideal.

Next, get clear in yourself about what you want known. What’s most nourishing for you may include one or all of the following aspects of being known:

  • Known for what you are passionate about or dedicated to. Here are some possible requests regarding this aspect:

    • “Would you be willing to ask me questions about what I am passionate about? I’m passionate about…”

    • “Would you be willing to ask me about special events regarding what I am dedicated to?”

    • “Would you be willing to say what you notice about how I engage in my passion?”

    • “Would you be willing to seek a subtle understanding of my experience of my passion by asking more than one question in a given conversation?”

  • Known for what’s unique about you. Here are some possible requests regarding this aspect:

    • “Would you be willing to share what you enjoy about me that’s different from what you enjoy about others?”

    • “Would you be willing to notice and name little things about me that you find endearing or quirky?”

    • “Would you be willing to remember a few of my favorite things and, when you are inspired, offer them to me?”

  • Known through your experience of life. Here are some possible requests regarding this aspect:

    • Would you be willing to ask me about my experiences of particular things?”

    • “Would you be willing to listen to the feelings and needs that come up for me when I share about something I experienced?”

    • “Would you be willing to ask if I feel heard when I am sharing about something before switching topics?”

    • “Would you be willing to seek to know my experience by asking about my thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, impulses, energy, or requests?”

These requests will feel less vulnerable and sound less awkward when they are mixed with examples of how they have already been fulfilled in particular instances.

Keep asking: Make a commitment to continue asking until a new relationship habit is formed.

The other person may have good intentions and the desire to contribute to your need to be known and still may struggle to remember how to fulfill your request.

You can help form a new relationship habit by offering exuberant and explicit celebration when it does happen. You can also offer playful reminders like, “Do you want to ask me more questions?”

Part of creating this new sense of being known may involve pushing yourself to share more. In sharing more, you also may need to let the other person know that you weren’t done sharing when they interrupt or shift topics.

Requesting from the energy of the met need.

This is perhaps the most difficult part of tending to any need that is associated with depletion, pain, or grief. However, when you engage only from the pain of the unmet need, creativity about how to meet that need can get blocked.

Often, when there has been enough empathy regarding the pain of an unmet need, your attention will naturally turn to the hope of meeting it. As this hope shows up you naturally begin making requests and negotiating from the energy of the met need. This means you remember what it feels like when the need is met, and you direct your attention to creating that again.

On the other hand, if staying in suffering has been a strategy for being known in the past, you might get stuck in the pain. You may be fearful that if you move your attention toward hope, you will lose the other person’s attention. Or perhaps you imagine that focusing on the pain and really making sure the other person knows how much it hurts will inspire them to change. While understanding someone’s pain can inspire compassion, it is not a direct route to change or to knowing how to do something new.

Lastly, consider that deeply knowing another requires a certain confidence and stillness of the knower. To know you deeply, the other person must be able to release their attention from self-interest. To do that requires a confidence that they are not abandoning themselves when they give you their full attention. Chronic forms of reactivity interfere with the ability to offer another full attention—emotionally, mentally, and physically. In this case, a person may be willing but truly not able. You making clear requests may not necessarily help in this case. Regardless of the other person’s ability, your engagement and clarity regarding what truly nourishes you will open up a world of possibilities that you hadn’t previously considered.