A while ago, I was presented with a very unpleasant and hard pill to swallow: the hurt and shame around neediness in me and so many people, especially in our western culture. But what do I mean by that?
First, it is important to define neediness the way I will use it in this article. It is, when we have one of our fundamental needs not met in a way, that we’re not just hungry for it, but starving. We’re so starved, that we feel we HAVE TO get it, no matter the cost. We almost feel like a robot or a zombie (like: “need. brains.”). Our vision gets so focused on that one thing that we just NEED and can’t live without. And consciously or subconsiously we create our whole life around getting that need met.
We might not even know what our need really is. Or we might think we know, but it is actually something else (need to get married vs. need for security or trust in the other person). In both cases we are tapping in the dark. Trying out different things in the hope, that our needs might be met. Clinging on to something that kind of works, but deep down we know, that that’s not really the thing we need.
But since needing someone or something is painted as something bad or vulnerable and we’re dependent on it, so we don’t have control over it, we don’t want to feel it, we don’t want to talk about it, and we definitely don’t want to admit we have it.
The two sides of neediness
When it comes to neediness, there are usually at least two people or parties involved. The needy person, and the one that might or might not fulfill those needs (for the sake of making it easier, I’ll call that person “fulfiller”).
I already mentioned, that when we’re needy, we’re actually starved in that fundamental need. With food, water and shelter, this is usually available in western cultures. But when it comes to being noticed (seen, heard, acknowledged), accepted, or loved (emotionally as well as through physical touch like being held, cuddled or kissed), there are a lot of starving people out there (myself included sometimes). And it is also something that we don’t just need once, but regularly.
But it’s harder and harder to come by. Because we need a person who feels well nourished in those respective areas so that they are actually strong and stable enough to give to us what we need.
So what do we do, when we’re really starving, but can’t find anyone that’s well fed and willing to give from their wealth? – well, it’s not easy to admit, but we steal. Or at least we run after all those people and grab at them uncontrollably. Kind of like a zombie… ;-). And we even (or especially?) do that with people we love. Because they are the closest, and we hope that they forgive us for what we’re doing. And in that state of starvation, we are so tunnel-visioned, that we don’t even see, if that person we’re stealing from is even poorer than we are. Or struggling in another area. If we get a hold of them, we just grab them and leech.
Let me paint a picture with one of my own stories (that I’m very much un-proud of):
After being in an 8 year long relationship, I had sprung forth with a lot of energy from all the things I had repressed before. So for a few years, there was a lot of drive and energy and excitement for my new path. But in all that excitement, I hadn’t noticed that my need for emotional and physical closeness had started to deplete more and more. I had friends, and I had some friends with certain benefits. But the deep love, adoration and connection – or whatever you might call it – was missing.
So when I met someone, who adored me, who was willing to give me a lot of attention and make me his priority, it was like smelling blood for a shark. I knew from the beginning, that he was nice, but it would never be more than that on an emotional level. But my starvation for any kind of touch – platonic or other – was so unbearable, that I couldn’t make a rational, conscious and “adult” decision to not go any further and give him false hope or send him the wrong signals. I could just grab on and “steal” what I needed. And let him go, the minute I was at least nourished enough so that I could come to my senses and take control of my actions again.
But I had already created the damage. I felt bad for doing it, and at the same time knew, that in that moment, I felt powerless against that need.
This brings me to the other side – the fulfiller of neediness.
Very often, if we are in this position, we are also needy, but for a different fundamental need – e.g. being seen as a good person. So we think that our need will be met, when we enter into that seemingly “mutual exchange situation”. And it can happen, that by coincidence, both needy people find someone who has enough of what they need, and the other needs something that they have enough of. But more often than not, it is only one-sided. Both think, that their needs will be met, but only one (and maybe not even one) will feel sort of fulfilled after it.
So what happens then? The fulfiller, who gave what they had to the other, but didn’t get what they needed in return, feels hurt, and subsequently gets frustrated and angry. Why didn’t they see our needs? Why would they just use us like that? They are such an awful and selfish person and we hate them (for it)!
But that is just a coping mechanism. A diversion from the sad truth, that we are still needy. And we don’t want to feel like that, and we don’t want to admit it to ourselves or others. So there must be someone else to blame. However, if we can start to see the other’s side. To recognize our own neediness, and acknowledge and accept that we were about to and would have done the exact same thing, it gets harder to be angry at the other person. That doesn’t make the thing they did okay, or acceptable. But it makes it at least understandable.
So when I was in that situation of thinking that I was the fulfiller of neediness, it was not easy. I had entered into a sort of relationship-type arrangement (at least that’s what I had hoped and wished for), but the other’s needs were just physical. And he knew that he would get what he needed by sending me mixed signals in a way that I would think that my needs would also be met, but he knew (at least on some subconsious level) that they wouldn’t be. And even I knew (on some subconscious level) that they wouldn’t be met, but I just needed to try anyway. To distract me from actually looking more closely at what I really needed and dealing with the pain of not having it.
So for weeks and weeks (or possibly longer, but I’m not that far into acceptance yet) I was feeling angry and hurt and putting all the blame I could find on that person. So starved that I couldn’t see any other solution. Possibly just jumping from getting the need to be loved met (which I didn’t get) to at least getting the need for attention met.. So with all my hurt and anger, I wanted to get his attention. But at the same time not allowing myself to sink that low to even starve for attention. Which at least allowed me to give attention to myself instead 😀
A way to get out of it…
And possibly this last desperate act of giving myself that attention, nourished me enough to find the strength to get out of my tunnel vision. So a moment later I had the epiphany of that cycle of neediness and (un)fulfillment, and seeing all the sides to it.
Acknowleging, accepting and understanding both our own situation and actions, as well as the other’s is the first step. It doesn’t nourish us yet, but it allows us to open our eyes again, look around and possibly find another source, that is more “wealthy” in that area, and that will hopefully nourish us in a way that is fulfilling us in a more lasting way.
And as you see in my example, it might be a survival reflex, or maybe my long training of self-reflection, but that last act of giving yourself attention and love (= not being hard on yourself and just being kind to you in that situation) could possibly be something that will help you in all kinds of situations where you feel hurt or taken advantage of because of someone else that was just so desperately needy that they weren’t able to take your feelings into consideration.