I think you'll agree that neediness is not very attractive. Most people, and I bet you are one, find a self-confident, secure person appealing and attractive. By the same token, a person who comes across as insecure and needy can be a real turn-off.
Let me tell you about a patient of mine I'll call Rachel. When she first walked into my office, I was immediately struck by her beauty. Tall, blonde, and stately, she had the face of a movie star – blue eyes, thick pouty lips, a radiant smile – and the body of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. I can’t imagine why she’s consulting a shrink, I thought.
Well, I soon found out. Through her rapid-fire speech, punctuated by gasping sobs, she told me the sad story of her relationship life, a lengthy series of disasters that followed a similar pattern, all ending in heartbreak and devastation.
• An initial infatuation in which the guy absolutely adored her and showered her with attention, affection, and passion.
• A growing sense of needy desperation on her part as prospects for a committed relationship developed, accompanied by increasing demands for more time, attention, and reassurance.
• Exasperation on the part of her beau as he found her insecure, clinging behavior annoying.
• Increased neediness on her part, as her hypersensitive radar picked up his frustration, which served to escalate both her anxiety and her off-putting and ultimately self-defeating behavior.
• Further frustration and annoyance from her boyfriend, leading first to partial withdrawal and eventually to ending the relationship (except in some cases, for occasional late night visits for sex).
• Finally, Rachel feeling devastated and destroyed, the wretched person who sat in front of me.
Sitting there sobbing, Rachel blurted out, more as a plea than a question: “Dr. Grieger, the last guy told me I was repulsive. What's wrong with me?”
The answer was pretty obvious, as perhaps you’ve already figured out. What was wrong with Rachel was that she had learned to base her personal worth or value on whether or not a boyfriend valued her. She believed to the bone: If he loves me, I have value as a person; if he doesn't, then I'm a worthless, valueless glob of nothing, not worth the time of day.
With this unfortunate connection between a man’s value for her and her own value lodged deep within her, she felt desperate – or needy – to get and keep her latest boyfriends’ love. Her neediness, thus, drove her to such unattractive behaviors that eventually repulsed them.
From Conditional Self-Esteem To Unconditional Self-Acceptance
Rachel’s problematic relationship behaviors were the symptoms of her problem, not the problem itself. Her problem: she held Conditional Self-Esteem (CSE). That is, Rachel based her worth on the condition of being loved or approved by another. In essence, she equated her inner value with the value a man held for her. Thus, if she succeeded in getting a man to love her, then she concluded that she was worthwhile; but, if she failed to get or keep a man’s love, then she thought of herself as worthless.
In CSE, Rachel’s worth was always conditionally based on whether or not a man loved or approved of her. With no iron-clad guarantees that she could hold onto him, there was always the possibility of not only losing her lover, but also losing her worth as well. What a devastating loss. No wonder Rachel carried around such fear and anxiety, and acted like she did.
Fortunately, Rachel has another choice. She could choose to alternatively adopt Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA).
Unconditional Self-Acceptance means that you do not judge, rate, or esteem yourself at all. As developed by the world-famous psychologist, Dr. Albert Ellis, you accept yourself fully without any condition whatsoever. It means your self or your worth is not defined or rated by anything or anyone. While you can still enjoy the attention and affection of your mate, your friends, and other people, you don’t need to be stroked, accepted, or even loved because you know that who you are is separate from anything and anyone. With your self out of the picture, you are not needy and you have no motivation to play games, keep score, or manipulate. You are free to love and give without fear, because you know you are you no matter what.
This is what Rachel is working to accomplish in her therapy right now. She works to convince herself to break the habit of equating her value as a person with the value someone else has for her – the current man in her life, in her case. To the contrary, she strives to indoctrinate herself with the belief that her value is connected to no one.
In her therapy, Rachel is still in the process of moving from CSE to USA. As she continues to make this change, she will continue to rid herself of her neediness, relax more in her relationships, and find happiness and pleasure.
So will you.
To help you adopt Unconditional Self-Acceptance and bring more enjoyment and happiness into your relationship life, practice the following, as does Rachel.
1. Make a decision right now as to which of these two paradigms about yourself you will adopt – Conditional Self-Esteem or Unconditional Self-Acceptance. Reflect on the costs and benefits to you of making each choice.
2. Be mindful of when you operate from the paradigm of Conditional Self-Esteem. Don't berate yourself for tying your worth to the love or approval of others at these times, but welcome them as opportunities to practice Unconditional Self-Acceptance.
3. Take five minutes four times a day to reflect on the following. Do this for the next 100 days.
With regard to Unconditional Self-Acceptance
• I am an extremely complex, multifaceted person. As such, my Self can be neither defined nor evaluated by any one trait or action, one success or failure, or another person’s likes or dislikes.
• I am a process. This means that every day I am always changing – adding actions, performances, and qualities, while losing or eliminating others. To stop myself in time, say today, and judge myself as all good or bad, now and forever, makes no sense because I will be different tomorrow.
• As with all humans, I will perform well sometimes and poorly at others. I have succeeded at many things, but on occasion have failed at others, like everybody else. Further, I also am a mixture of both good and bad traits. So, I am all of these positives and negatives, not just all good or all bad.
• No one has magical powers. While someone might find me valuable, his or her extrinsic value for me cannot magically insert into me intrinsic value. So, while I may benefit on a practical level from someone valuing me, his or her value for me does not determine my value.
• If I have value at all, it comes from the fact that I am alive and human. Thus, I remain a worthwhile person despite any and all conditions in my life until I no longer have life (whenever that is).
With regard to neediness:
• If defined rigorously, need means life and death. I will die without food, air, and water, but I won’t die without love or approval.
• Need also means, if I think about the word, that, without love and approval, I have nothing in life. But, that’s not true. I may lose his or her love or approval, but I still retain everything else in my life. And I can enjoy 100% of what’s left (say the 80% of my life), while I miss him or her (the other 20%).
• Need, when applied to others, means that she or he is my one and only. He or she is not replaceable. This is utter rubbish. I most likely loved or liked others before this person, and I am perfectly capable of loving or liking again after this person.
• Coming full circle, need implies that I am nothing or worthless without his or her love and approval. That is, my intrinsic value depends on his or her extrinsic value for me. This is absolute nonsense, as described earlier.
4. Picture yourself in real life situations believing the new USA paradigm. Do this on purpose before encountering the people in your life you find significant. This imagery exercise has been found to deepen your self- acceptance.
5. Apply Unconditional Self-Acceptance to others. Like or dislike what others do, accept them or reject them from your life as you wish, but never judge them as all good or all bad. Their value, in other words, does not come from whether or not you value them.
Being happy in your interpersonal life is a significant part of your overall happiness. Be sure to savor the pleasures your friends and lovers bring to you. But, also be sure to separate your self-worth from them. This will eliminate any interpersonal anxiety you may have, make you more attractive, and substantially increase the happiness you have in your life.
I am happy to have had the opportunity to share this with you and I look forward to visiting you in my next blog. In the meantime, live healthy, happy, and with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life they love to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). You may contact Dr. Grieger for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.