“I don’t want to be too needy.”
I hear this phrase all the time from my students: “I don’t want to be too needy.”
No matter what we’re talking about, from figuring out what you want, to clarifying and setting boundaries, the fear of being “too needy” quickly pops up. It hovers there, in the shadows, waiting to squash desires, question limits and undermine vitality.
Sometimes it comes up when I suggest a client ask for something mundane, like more time to finish a project, a correction on a misunderstood restaurant order, or to get a text back from a loved one.
It often comes up in dating: Letting a date know what you need to have fun, or being clear about what time you need to go home.
It’s especially common when I’m helping someone to get in touch with what they really want most in love or sex. For instance, what it really takes for you to open up sexually, what you need to have an orgasm, or the specific kinds of reassurances you want from a partner.
Before we even talk about what asking for what you want might look like, those words pop out:
“I don’t want to be too needy.”
So let’s talk about it.
To start with, I don’t think “being needy” is all that bad of a thing.
It means you have some things that need tending to, and perhaps you need some tools to do so. But having unmet needs, and feeling kinda stressed out about it, is an extremely common experience. We all experience being “needy” some of the time.
Then, when you add in worrying that you’ll be judged for those needs, that’s when the “too” creeps in. Too much. Too needy.
But too needy for whom? Too needy for what?
The fastest way to become “needy” is to try to not be needy.
What makes us needy in the first place? Not getting our needs met, and worrying that they never will be met.
How do we not get our needs met? Well, lots of ways: not knowing what they are, not feeling like we have a right to them, not communicating them, not having the right people to try to meet them with…
All of these are things that can be learned and practiced. By tending to your needs, over time, they will be taken care of. You will be taken care of. But in order to do that, we have to confront two big scary truths…
Truth #1: Your needs are not a problem.
It might seem like they are. You may have been taught that they are. There may have been people in your life (parents, classmates, partners, friends…) who were ill-equipped to help you meet your needs. They may have even blamed you for having needs to cope with their inability to meet them. If this happened to you, please know that this is not your fault.
If you have a history of not having your needs met as a child, or having them dismissed as unimportant or “too much” by the people close to you, it might feel like the best thing is to pretend not to have them. This is a logical response.
But your needs were never the problem. You were never the problem. Your needs are not too much, even if you were told they were. Even if you’re sensitive, need more time, need a lot of something. Your needs are not the problem.
Truth #2: You have lots of needs.
The truth is, you have needs. Lots of them. It’s part of being human. Every single human being has a lot of needs. All day, every day. From what you need to survive and to feel secure, to what you need to feel connected, creative and thriving, it’s a juggling act.
You can’t wish your needs away. Nor can you meet them by ignoring them.
By squashing down the reality of having needs, you set yourself up to fail. You have needs. Of course you do! Pretending otherwise doesn’t nourish or sustain you.
The people who seem like they don’t have a lot of needs often are just really good at finding ways to meet them reliably.
The only way you can get your needs met is to tend to them.
Needs shift constantly, so it’s an ongoing practice to learn to identify them and meet them. I like to think of this as tending to your needs, because it’s a continuous process, like tending to a garden or to a fire.
Needs exist in relation to some desired outcome. Even the so-called “basic needs” exist to perpetuate survival. If you don’t care about living, breathing is sort of irrelevant, eh?
Beyond survival, you need things to thrive. And what you need to thrive depends on what is nourishing and fulfilling to you.
It can be helpful to identify what the desired outcome is that is tied to the need. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is helpful here — It’s good to know what kind of need you’re trying to meet: physical, safety, love/belonging, esteem/respect, or self-actualization. This is just one model of needs, but it can be a useful starting point.
Of course you’re needy. We all are.
We’re all trying to meet a whole bunch of needs all the time. The more you practice tending to your needs, the less “needy” you become. But, to do that, you have to actually admit you have needs. There’s no shortcut around this.
Some needs are basic for survival. Some needs exist in relationship to others – what you need to feel secure, connected, intimate. Some needs are about thriving – these won’t be entirely unique to you, but perhaps not everyone shares them. They’re all important.
I should point out that “higher” in Maslow’s hierarchy isn’t necessarily better, nor is it static… every freakin’ day we have to tend to lower level needs, multiple times. (Think about that next time you’re on the john, or scarfing down a sandwich between meetings.)
Someone who isn’t getting enough sleep, or is worried about their job security, is not going to be self-actualized anytime soon. That’s not a moral failing; it’s simply a function of needs resting on top of one another. You just cannot operate on some levels when the foundation isn’t there.
There are some times in life where all you can do is tend to your foundation: When you’re moving, grieving, going through a big life upheaval. There are other times when things feel like they are flowing. These are times when your needs are met, and you can expand, be creative and feel like you really are nailing this life thing.
But no matter what is going on, you never stop needing things. You, like everyone else on the planet, will always have to tend to your needs.
And that’s doesn’t make you too needy.
Want to get good at tending to your needs? Join me for NOT NEEDY, a four-week course for humans who have needs and aren’t happy about it.