Are You in the Needy Trap?

How to get your needs met the healthy way.

Posted Jul 04, 2018

If you have not had your needs adequately met as a child this will show up in later life as “neediness." All humans are needy; we need love, attention, social interaction, approval and many other things besides but not to the exclusion of all else and not at the expense of anyone else. An overwhelming need to be the center of attention is absolutely normal if you are three or four but is misplaced in an adult. If we are not parented in a way that helps us self-soothe when things go wrong then we will look externally for others to meet our needs. Also if we are not taught that, although we are important and valuable, it is not at the expense of others then we will fail to understand when we are not the centre of attention.

When we have needs that we do not meet ourselves they grow until they become a disproportionate and unsatisfied requirement. It is then that our behavior will tend to alter as the need grows. We may become whiny, irritable or depressed if we have a need for company and social interaction that we leave unfulfilled.  If we go too long with such a need unmet then we may withdraw from any intimate interaction altogether. Both Maslow and Robert Weiss emphasize certain social needs and esteem needs that we as humans require to be met in order that we can function at our best.

A need for recognition and appreciation exists in all humans. If we lack good boundaries and do not see appreciation and recognition as our due for tasks and favors done, then we will continue to lack recognition and this need may leak into other interactions. We may constantly strive to be noticed at work, we may dress inappropriately to attract attention or get drunk at parties. If we have been under appreciated and under feted as children this need may become very exaggerated–think of the celebrities that are caught on camera over and over again exhibiting the same “over-the-top," inappropriate, behavior. Ponder why they want to become “celebrities” at all?

If we have not been taught through our upbringing how to meet these needs for ourselves we may encounter social difficulties as adults; although everyone will have these needs in some measure as part of being human. However, once we recognize what our needs are and how to fulfill them, then they will no longer leak inappropriately into interactions with others. When we feel sad or lonely or down we need to take time to think what it is we are lacking (if anything). All humans have periods of negative emotions and these are normal, but if they impact on your behavior causing you to feel negatively about yourself for long periods or causing you to change your behavior in self-limiting ways, for example being incredibly rude to your friends or family or indulging in drink or drugs, then you need to take action in order to fulfill your own needs so that your behavior starts to support you rather than let you down. You may need more company, a less stressful job, some therapy or a fun night out. Taking your time and working out exactly what you need takes practice and is part of becoming an autonomous adult.

It may help you to do a balance pie-chart to see where you put most of your energy. Divide it into categories such as Work, Family, Leisure, Sports and Hobbies, Play, Rest, Me Time, and Sleep. It may not seem obvious but if you are working incredibly hard and see little of your friends and family then, although you may be appreciated at work, some of your social and relaxation needs will be being neglected. You will know if your needs are unmet as you will become irritable and out of balance. You may become stressed and this may affect your eating and sleeping habits. 

Tending to your own needs is common sense. Other people can support you, but only you can decide what it is that you need. If you are lonely or stressed you will not be able to enjoy yourself and may, because of how you are feeling, reject the very thing you need. If you are feeling stressed and miserable you may not be able to accept an invitation when it comes your way. You may react in an overly paranoid manner when asked to join in some activity, wondering why you have been asked instead of expressing enthusiasm and accepting. Unmet needs distort our behavior or our responses and our expectations, so it is important to take some time for self-reflection so that we can recognize what we need and take appropriate steps to make sure that we get it. It is only then that we can concentrate on enjoying our lives and being available for friends and family. Then we can relax and enjoy how and who we are in an authentic and adult way.

References

Weiss, RS (1974) The Provisions of Social Relationships. In Rubin, Z (Ed) Doing Unto Others: Joining, Moulding, Conforming, Helping, Loving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall SPectrum Books, 17-26

Maslow, AH (1973) The Farther Reaches of Human Nature p.45, Harmondsworth: Penguin