Being told that we’re “needy” can be an unnerving accusation. Viewing ourselves as needy can be a self-judgment that produces shudders of shame. Do we really deserve that shameful label or do we simply have basic human needs?
The word “neediness” may refer to what Buddhism calls clinging and craving. We perpetuate our suffering through desperately craving things outside of ourselves. Underlying this tendency is a sense of emptiness and a lack of self-nurturing resources. However, many people are so afraid of seeing themselves as needy that they jettison their unavoidable need for loving connections.
We grow up in a society that worships independence. Having needs for something outside of ourselves is often viewed as a weakness. We internalize the message that we should be “strong,” which we interpret as standing on our own two feet without needing support from anyone.
The science of attachment theory (link is external) reveals that we’re wired for connection. This doesn’t just apply to children. Adults also need strong bonds to maintain vibrant emotional and physical health. In short, we need each other to be happy and fulfilled.
Most of us would agree with the concept that we need love and connection to thrive. Yet practically speaking, we may have difficulty asking for what we want. Rather than request help or seek the affection and intimacy we long for, we rein ourselves in. We keep our sacred longings well-hidden.
Our self-talk might go something like this: “You’re too needy. You’ll be judged as weak. Don’t push people away with your neediness. You can only depend on yourself. Don’t risk reaching out for support — you’ll just embarrass yourself.”
This toxic internal dialogue keeps us shut down and disconnected.
Fearing rejection or being shamed as needy, we may rarely show our needs–or even acknowledge them to ourselves. But perhaps what we judge as “neediness” is merely a legitimate need for contact. If we can recognize the shame that prevents us from having needs (and stop confusing it with neediness), we can allow ourselves to honor our desires, wants, and preferences and courageously express them when appropriate.
As we shed the scarlet letter that brands us as “needy,” we can authentically share our humanity with each other. This can be tender, soulful and vulnerable. It requires true strength to be so vulnerable.
Rather than seek contact from a place of entitlement, manipulation, or pressure, we can extend ourselves with humility and be willing to take “no” for an answer. Reaching out with no guarantees takes tremendous courage. It becomes less scary as we learn to gently attend to the feelings of rejection and hurt that are part of being human.
Redefining what it means to be strong is a central part of a cultural transformation that is gradually taking place. The old world view of strength is an ego-centered one, leading to destructive relationships and world conflicts. As we make peace with who we really are, how we’re wired, and what brings inner peace and fulfillment, we’re doing our part to create harmonious relations and cultivate peace in our world.
Thanks for reading my article. For more about how attachment theory blends with a spiritual path, please see Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships(link is external).
John Amodeo, PhD, MFT (#MFC14453), is the author of Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships (Quest Books), which received the Spirituality and Practice Award as one of the best spiritual books of 2013. His other books include The Authentic Heart: An Eightfold Path to Midlife Love (John Wiley & Sons) andLove & Betrayal (Ballantine Books). He holds graduate degrees in both Clinical and Transpersonal Psychology and has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for over thirty years, with offices in San Francisco, San Rafael, and the Sebastopol area. A former writer and contributing editor for Yoga Journal for ten years, he has conducted workshops nationally and internationally on love, intimacy, and couples therapy, and has been featured on national television and radio programs that include CNN, CNBC, Donahue, and New Dimensions Radio. He has been interviewed or written for publications that include The Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The San Jose Mercury News, The Rocky Mountain News and The Toronto Sun. He has led workshops at centers such as Esalen Institute, The Omega Institute, and The New York Open Center, and is an adjunct faculty member of Meridian University. He has trained in Somatic Experiencing, developed by Dr. Peter Levine for dealing with trauma and is a Certified Focusing Trainer. He has had training in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples with Dr. Sue Johnson, and has co-authored a chapter with her in her edited book, The Emotionally Focused Casebook: New Directions in Treating Couples (2011). To learn more about Focusing-Oriented Therapy, please visit: www.focusingtherapy.org. To learn more about Focusing, please visit: www.focusing.org.