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Having Needs Doesn't Mean We're Needy

Living Our Interdependence

flickr Image by Prarie Kitten

Being told that we’re “needy” can be an unnerving accusation. Viewing ourselves as needy can be a self-judgment that produces shudders of shameDo 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.

Sadly, this egocentric view keeps us in a prison of isolation. Gradually, our love receptors become clogged and atrophy; our lives lose vibrancy and we’re more subject to depression and despair.

The science of attachment theory 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.


© John Amodeo

Flickr image by Prarie Kitten

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.