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This is one of a series of articles
in Lesson 2 - improve your communication effectiveness. Progress with this Lesson
depends on simultaneous progress on Lesson 1 - empower your wise
true Self to guide your personality in calm and conflictual times.
This brief YouTube video clip offers perspective on what you're about to read:
This article overviews the vital communication skill of "digging down" below surface discomforts to
underlying primary needs. The article provides...
about needs and relationship problems,
four levels of awareness
about any relationship "problem"
three examples of digging down;
tips to strengthen your dig-down effectiveness, and...
a dig-down practice exercise.
This article assumes you're familiar with...
intro to this
nonprofit We4bsite, and the premises
and taught communication skills for over 40 years. Since 1981, I've listened to
over 1,000 students and therapy clients struggle with a wide range of
personal and social problems (unmet needs). I've learned that regardless of
formal education, average adults don't know
how to solve personal and interpersonal problems (fill needs)
effectively. They're not
and unaware. So were their ancestors and most of their teachers, hero/ines, and supporters. They (you?) have never been taught effective-communication basics and skills.
See how you feel about these ideas...
1) Adults and kids are naturally
needy - i.e. they (you) constantly
try to relieve a dynamic mix of emotional, physical, and spiritual
discomforts (needs). So "being needy" is normal, not shameful.
(Agree / Disagree / no opinion)
2) Typical adults
and all kids are unaware of focusing on reducing surface
needs, which are symptoms of underlying
primary needs. The root problem is that average
people (like you) are usually unaware
what their unawareness
means - distorted perceptions and ineffective problem solving. (A
3) Trying to
fill surface needs may work short term ("I finally balanced the
checkbook"), but the unfilled primary needs(e.g. "I procrastinate recording checkbook deposits and expenses)"
recur until they are satisfied well enough. (A D
Premise 4) Once people
are aware of the above, they can learn how to (a) identify their and
other people's primary needs, and (b) seek to fill them
cooperatively. (A D ?)
5) Two common blocks to doing
this are people not knowing......
often controlled by a
false self and what that often
means (A D ?);
not knowing what they need to
about needs, problem-solving, grieving, and mutually-satisfying (high
nurturance) relationships (A D ?).
6) Any adult and some older kids
can reduce both these blocks over time, with awareness,
commitment, patience, and appropriate help. Reducing the first block
often requires hitting true personal
bottom, which may not happen until middle age - or at all. (A D ?).
Are you usually ruled by a false self or your wise, resident
Do you regularly see relationship "problems" as symptoms
of underlying primary needs? Do the important adults and
youngsters in your life help each other to do that?
The rest of this article describes the learnable skill of "digging down"
below surface needs to identify primary
needs (discomforts). Fluency in this skill is essential for consistently-effective
assertion and problem-solving. Are you modeling and teaching this skill to
What did you just learn from these premise?
Overview of "Dig Down" Skill
The first step in solving any personal problem is to define it clearly. "Digging down" is making time in important situations to
do that by asking a series of inner and verbal questions. The
examples below illustrate these questions. As
you ask and process the answers, up to three need-levels
needs):someone else is
responsible for (solving) my
problem, like a child, a relative, co-worker, or professional, "society,"
and/or "the system." Ineed
them to (want to) change. The U.S. divorce epidemic suggests a
common version of this is "My mate is responsible for solving
Level 2:other people
and I are co-causing the problem - e.g. we're each
fuzzy thinking and ineffective communication. We've not been
(a) what we each really need, (b) what our respective attitudes and mutual expectations are,
or (c) how we're
each need to want to change ourselves. And below this is...
Level 3: Iam causing my problem and I am responsible for
solving it (filling my needs)
Reaching level-3 awareness is hard because of (a) our ruling subselves' great
shame, guilts, distrusts, and
and (b) ancestral and social unawareness. Yet until we consistently want
to reach and maintain level three, our lives are full of
recurring "problems" (unmet primary needs) which we often blame other people
for and expect them to "fix."
Wounded people can only achieve level-3 awareness if they accept that they don't know what they need
to know, and they want to study
these topics with an open mind.
Minimally-wounded people may have level-3 awareness most ofr the
and reflect - do these premises and levels make sense to you? Notice what your
personality subselves are
saying and feeling
To make these abstract ideas more real, study these...
Three "Dig-down" Examples
examples illustrate the several levels of needs in typical
family-relationship situations. Page 3 of this article builds on these
illustrations to offer guidelines on how to "dig down" effectively in most
Example 1) Resolving
Can you describe a
loyalty conflict? They're common in
all social groups.
In families, they occur when an adult or child feels torn about choosing sides
between two or more other family members. Here's a stepfamily example, based on
many real-life stories I've head...
Stepfather Craig finally has had
too much. He storms
at his wife Meg "I am sosick of your daughter ignoring me! I
knock myself out month after month, driving her to school, paying her
dentist, providing the roof over her head, and being pleasant."
I say 'Hi,
Jen.' She grunts and walks by with no eye contact. 'How was your day?' More grunts. She treats
our dog better than me, and you don't seem to care. You
make excuses for her, and say sarcastically 'After all, Craig, you're
supposed to be the adult here.'"
Sound familiar? This is a divisive loyalty conflict, with biomom Meg torn between pleasing her husband, her own
integrity, and her beloved daughter
Whose needs come first?
Many typical families and groups experience conflicts like these. If
mates can't admit
and resolve them, their relationship erodes.
What would "digging down" look like here?
problems: (LEVEL 1 -
"My stepdaughter Jen is
rude, selfish, and insensitive. After all I've done for her, that hurts!
Jen's fault." And...
sides with her daughter and values Jen's needs more than
mine" - and "Meg wimpily denies this when I confront her. I
need Meg to agree that
this is her fault, and that
she usually should
support me, not Jen" (surface need).
oversensitive and childish at times, and his expectations are unrealistic. I resent his
criticizing Jen and implying that I'm a
(fuzzy thinking and no unfilled needs are identified)
confused, guilty, and torn between pleasing Craig and Jen. I love them
both. If Craig really loved me, he wouldn't
make me choose.I need him to
accept that and stop complaining
and criticizing Jen and me" (surface need).
Underneath those are LEVEL 2 needs -
blaming yourself and others:
to feel genuinely
heard, respected, and
appreciated as a person, a husband, and a
committed stepfather - by Meg first, then Jen. And I
need(b) my wife
to validate these needs as legitimate and important.
These are my
needs, and I don't see how to fill them by myself."
scared and confused: if I side with Craig, I'll betray Jen again,
(after failing at my first marriage), and I'll violate my integrity. If
I side with Jen, I'm scared Craig will start detaching from me. I need
to find a way to balance these.
This is my problem, not
Craig's - and
I need his genuine empathy, patience understanding, love, and
and underneath those are
(primary personal) needs
doubting my worth and competence as a man, mate, and a stepdad.
reassurance from Meg and Jen that I'm OK, and I feel
guilty and embarrassed
to admit that to myself or them.
Real men aren't weak and needy
(and I needto feel masculine,
strong, worthy, and safe." And...
I'm guilty and ashamed of feeling ashamed.
I need relief from
I need to do something, but I
don't know what." I need
that we can find a lasting
solution to this!
desperately need to feel competent as a woman, wife, and
mother in order to feel like a worthy person. I'm scared I'm doing
something wrong here, Jen will be hurt even more,
and I'll be abandoned to die a lonely, unloved old woman.
need to feel safe and self-confident,
and I don't. I also need to feel that Jen's safe enough now and
in the future. I'm scared, guilty, and
ashamed to admit this to anyone.
I need hope thatthis
pain and confusion will go away
soon, and I need a viable plan - but I haven't got one." I
(Six concurrent primary
and under those are three
unaware of being ruled by a false self
Shamed Boy, a
Anxious Boy, a
Guilty Boy, a
Magician, (reality distorter), an
Inner Critic, (Blamer), an
Idealist / Optimist, a
Thinker / Analyzer, and a tireless Overachiever.
Implication - Craig's deepest
(level 4) needis to learn and accept that he must want to harmonize his
personality subselves under the leadership of his
true Self. Like most
wounded people, Craig is not aware of (a) this need
and its implications, (b) his options for
reducing his wounds, and (c) Meg's
2) Meg is unaware of usually being controlled by a
well-intentioned false self:a Shamed Girl, a Catastrophizer, a Terrified Girl, a Good Mom, a
stern Inner Judge, a Numb-er, a food Addict, a Magician (reality distorter), a Good Girl, and a diligentPeople
dynamic subselves distrust
or don't know her true Self, and aren't aware of her and Craig's being wounded,
ignorant (uninformed), and unaware.
to (a) learn and accept the benefits of
empowering her resident Self (capital "S"), and then
to (b) meet and patiently harmonize her personality subselves under the guidance of her
Self and Higher Power. However, she hasn't hit
and is not aware of this or of Craig's
equivalent needs, so far. And.
Ignorance. Craig and Meg don't know about,,,
hazards and the value of working togetheronthese
self-improvement lessons to
guard themselves, their marriage, and their descendents against the [wounds
cycle and its toxic effects.
the Lesson-2 communication basics and
skills - including how to dig down to identify their mixes of
primary needs (above). This is typical of most family adults. A major
implication is that their odds for effective problem-solving (filling
their primary needs) are LOW. Another implication is that
unless these mates learn to
apply, model, and teach these skills, their vulnerable kids will
grow up unaware, wounded, and unskilled too.
This is not a complete
description because it doesn't include the daughter's
need-levels. To glimpse a typical full surface
stepfamily loyalty conflict, see
Stepdaughter Jen is probably
overwhelmed by all of this (rather than
"rude"). She has her own
complex set of surface and underlying
primary problems. Her
emerging personality is probably controlled by a false self also,
at least around her stepdad Craig. Neither Meg, Craig, nor Jen's biofather
Philip are aware of this, nor are any friends or supporters, so
For more perspective and options
on avoiding and resolving typical loyalty conflicts, see
this after finishing this
Pause, breathe, and reflect - have you ever seen
relationship problems analyzed like this? Does
this four-layer needs
scheme seem realistic to you? If not, why? What are your
inner voices saying now? Who
subselves) is "speaking"? Is it your
true Self? What
might happen if you tried identifying the need-levels in your key relationships
The next two examples illustrate digging down to ident5ify the primary needs
causing surface marital conflicts over a troublesome ex mate, and
"money." Though details in these examples may differ from your situation, look for common themes.
Note that these examples are simplified to illustrate the
process and value of
"digging down." In real life, each adult and child in your family has a
concurrent surface conflicts and underlying primary needs which shape their
kaleidoscope of perceptions, feelings, and behaviors.
Example 2) Digging Down with Typical
It's widely estimated that almost half of modern American families divorce
legally. Millions more divorce psychologically, and stop short of calling
attorneys. Among typical
divorcing families and
stepfami-lies, the variations of "awful ex-mate" conflicts are
innumerable. Here's an example of typical surface problems, and the
unfilled primary needs
Mark divorced Sherrie, and
a divorced custodial mother of pre-teen Marilee. Mark's two pre-teen sons
live with their biomom Sherrie, and sleep over at their "other home" every
other weekend. The legal phase of Mark and Sherrie's
divorce was "messy," bitter,
expensive, and "took forever."
Susan has grown resentful and
frustrated over three years of "endless" intrusions
and "problems" that Sherrie persists in causing her and Mark. Sue
is trying to learn her alien new
stepmother role (job) and is finding
that raising boys part time is "a lot different" than mothering
Marilee. Sue and Mark have never
accepted their stepfamily
identity, or read about or discussed
being a stepfamily.
For brevity, this example omits a column for Sherrie's
surface problems and underlying primary needs. Each person in
a typical multi-home divorcing family or
stepfamily has their own "column"
evolving and interacting with each
1: the ex mate is "the problem"
"Sherrie is unreliable,
rude, selfish, intrusive, vindictive, and a mediocre, in-consistent
mother. She treats her son's father (Mark) like dirt, and poisons their sons'
minds against him and me. Then she denies doing that, and blames us! She causes most of our problems. I'm getting irritated that Mark
keeps giving in and letting her dictate our lives."
reason with. She initiated our divorce, and now claims that I left her.
She's so moody, erratic, and volatile that I'm scared for (my sons') Kevin's
and Brian's mental health. But if I went for custody, she'd fight mean and
dirty, and seek endless revenge.
Sherrie is the biggest problem Sue and
underneath those are
problems: each mate
blames the other and the ex mate
getting real tired of Mark's not
with) me, ma-king excuses for
Sherrie, giving in to her, and putting off confronting her - as he's
repeatedly said he would.
I'm starting to lose patience and respect for him. I need him
to (want to) confront Sherrie.
My trust in
Mark's promises and resolve is
slipping, too. If he's not com-mitted to enforcing our home and marital
boundaries what else is he going to cave in on?
This isn't what I
signed on for! Mark and Sherrie are the problem, and I
to admit that and fix it!"
getting pretty fed up with feeling like I'm supposed to solve everything
here, and Sue thinking I'm a wimp for not being Attila the Hun with
Sherrie. I can't help it if Sherrie is a
mental case! I feel
caught between two lionesses.
"Sue just doesn't understand how
impossible it is to get through to Sherrie - and she won't talk to
Sherrie directly. I need Sue to see the good things we have, ease up,
and just accept that this is how it is for now.
It'll get better as the
boys get older. I need Sue to
be patient and adapt, and Sherrie to get
healthy and sane."
underneath those are
problems : partners start focusing on their own feelings,
doubts, and needs
guilty and ashamed that I can't be more loving and patient with
Mark, and more forgiving of Sherrie. Is
there something wrong with me? I don't like who I'm
I feel less and
less safe as this mess with Sherrie and the boys keeps
grinding on us. (Implied needs: feel less guilt,
shame, and self-doubt, and more secure).
to feel real hope and confidence, and to have some plan to
make things better for
us. I feel I'm being a bad Mom and Stepmom somehow.
I can't seem to stay clear on what I
need - my mind keeps jumping around, and
we go nowhere.
I'm scared I made a
wrong choice marrying Mark, Sherrie, and their boys! Maybe I'm the problem! (Implied
need - clear, focused
"I need to stop the
inside me and
make a clear plan. Part of me wants to get tough and enforce limits with
and another part is unwilling to..
Part of me wants to
confront Sherrie to
please Sue, and another part says "Uh uh, that's the wrong reason."
Part of me needs to run
away and part of me is afraid to.
Man, I hate
this! I never expected any of this (conflict and confusion)
when I married Sue. Why didn't I see this coming?
I feel really torn between what's
best for the boys, and what's best for Sue and me. Part of me believes
this'll all work out, and another part of me fears we'll divorce. I
need to sort all these battles out and find a
way to resolve them. I wish (need to have) someone understood how
I feel. I don't think Sue does..."
and below those are
Level 3 unfilled primary needs.
"I need daily
emotional serenity, mental clarity, focus and
direction; self respect, as a woman, a wife, and a child caregiver;
self confidence, and I need to feel truly heard, empathized with,
accep-ted, and loved by Mark and a caring Higher Power.
to express and manifest the love I feel for Marilee, Mark, and others -
and to love
"I need to feel (a) inner peace and contentment (freedom from
guilt, shame, confusion, and anxiety);
(b) like a worthy person, man, husband, and father; (c) potent and
competent; (d) clear on the purpose and direction of my life, and I need
to feel (e) confident that I'm growing wiser, stronger, and clearer.
to feel companioned by Sue as I fill these needs. I
need to fill the
emptiness I've felt my whole life."
... and below those arethree root
causes of Sue and Mark's surface
1) Susan is
unaware of being ruled by afalse self:
a Guilty Girl, a People Pleaser, an Abandoned Girl, a Scared
Girl, a Shamed Girl; a Magician, (reality
distorter), an Inner Critic, a Judge, a Bitch, a
Distracter, a Nurturer, and an (exercise) Addict.
These well-meaning subselves usually don't
trust Sue's true Self, and
aren't aware of her, Mark's, and Sherrie's
knowledge-deficits and psychological wounds; and...
is unaware of being usually controlled by a group of subselves: a Shamed Boy,
a Guilty Boy, an Orphan (lonely, sad Boy), an Analyzer /
Thinker, a Good Dad, an Inner Critic, a Worrier, a
Procrastinator, a Loner / Fugitive, a Ma-gician
(reality distorter), a Pleaser, and a Good Boy.
Mark's subselves distrust his true Self's
aren't aware of his,
Sue's, and Sherrie's being wounded, unaware, and
3) Mark and Sue are each (a) ignorant of
the [wounds + unawareness]
toxic effects, and
of Lessons 1 thru 4;
and they are (b) each unaware of
their ignorance (lack of knowledge, not
stupidity) and their personal and joint
Neither partner knows what you're reading about here. Ex-wife Sherrie is
a (wounded) childhood-trauma
She's controlled by a reactive
of personality subselves, and is unaware of (a) that, (b) Sue's and
Mark's similar conditions, and (c) these Lessons and options.
None of the friends, relatives,
and two therapists trying to support this couple and family know any of
this. Neither do the kids involved. They don't know what they
don't know, so they aren't motivated to learn anything. That limits
their tries at problem-solving to blaming, arguing, and making
Pause, breathe, and reflect. What are you aware of now? Does this seond
dig-down example remind you of anyone?