On Neediness: the undesirable trait and suggestions on how to deal with it
By Lindsay R. Repko, LMFT
Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with having needs, nor is really wanting your needs to be met. Our culture however, has turned neediness into a kind of taboo. The word itself almost instantly incites an irritating image. A demanding boss, a nagging parent or a habitually, unsatisfied lover may come to mind. No one wants to be ‘that person.’ Yet, on some level, we all are. Feeling overwhelmed by our needs at certain times in life is par for the course. No one is really immune to neediness. Afterall, we each have experiences of being full of need, as in when we were babies. We were all at the mercy of caregivers to feed us, bathe us, change us, teach us how to sleep. These early experiences of how our caregivers did or did not respond to our needs inform how we are in adult relationships. However, even as an adult, knowing what to do when we have need can be tricky business.
So here you are reading this blog perhaps thinking, “Ok. But I need help now. My partner says I’m needy and they can’t stand it. What should I do?” Rather than fill your head with ‘shoulds’ or tell you how get over it, I have some suggestions. I recommend asking yourself some questions and trying to be as honest with yourself as possible about the answers. Curiosity is good here. Repeating to yourself, “I shouldn’t be needy” or that it’s a negative, weak state of mind to be needy is not really helpful in the long run. If this is your mentality, it’s probable that you have a harder time discerning when your needs are unreasonable. And well, that’s kind of the ticket. It’s important to identify what is happening for you.
The good news is that there is a hidden opportunity here, amidst your distress. It’s possible to learn how to respond differently to your partner when you feel as though they’re not meeting your needs and/or if you’re worried that they never will.
- Recognize that you are a human being with thoughts, feelings, and needs. Naturally, you want them to be responded to. Dig deep and find some compassion for yourself for having them.
- Keep in mind that some factors that inform our behaviors/thoughts are out of our awareness. It can be helpful to get perspective from a third party. Have you thought about individual therapy or couple’s therapy?
- Ask yourself, “What are my needs?” or “What do I want in my partner or a relationship?” This is a good intro question to find out if you’re in the “right place” or out in left field. Take some time and write your answers down. This is a good way to take stock of the whole kit and caboodle.
- When you find yourself in an argument with your partner or left alone, is there anything about the scenario that reminds you of interactions with an important caregiver growing up? If so, this is an indicator that something is getting triggered for you. What you’re upset about with your partner may actually not be about your partner at all.
- Would you say that you have a good work-life balance? If the answer is “no,” it’s possible that you’re demanding either too much of yourself or your partner.
- What are your hobbies? If you have trouble answering this, it’s probably been a long time since you’ve thought about what you like to do. Abandoning ourselves in the interest of maintaining a relationship is a set-up for distress.
John Bowlby once said, “We’re only as needy as our unmet needs.” Bowlby’s research focused on attachment in the first two years of life between babies and their caregivers. We can infer that unmet need originates in the early years. How we end up responding to this throughout our lifetime, deserves consideration and attention. Doing so can improve our relationships and ourselves.