When we use the word “needy,” we are often describing someone who is feeling al..." /> When we use the word “needy,” we are often describing someone who is feeling al..." />

Neediness Rocks, and Here’s Why

man standing by a lakeWhen we use the word “needy,” we are often describing someone who is feeling alone or vulnerable and putting their needs on the table. In our culture, “neediness” is a bad word that suggests you are childlike and incapable of self-care. However, despite our distaste for vulnerability, loneliness, and dependency, it is these very feelings that make attaching to others possible. Feeling lonely or needy motivates us to seek out, long for, cling to, and cherish others. Also, where would our partners, friends, parents, siblings, and pets be without us? Unlike an old song suggests, you are not a rock or an island!

Having been in the therapy field for over 24 years, I can honestly say I was taught that being vulnerable or “needy” was a sign of weakness. As therapists, we were encouraged to pathologize those who complained of these darker feelings. After all, psychologically healthy people were autonomous, independent, and self-reliant. NOT! We labeled those who craved others as “codependent” and “sick” instead of understanding that their dependency on their partner was something to be grateful for and envied. We told people to get a thicker skin and count on themselves. As a result, many people felt inadequate and emotionally damaged. Many had grown up with disconnected parents and siblings, and now we were telling them to go and do that again. Talk about feeling ashamed, completely alone, and hopeless.

Marriage counseling wasn’t any better. It was all about helping each partner become more self-reliant to take the pressure off of their partner. So, we had a lot of spouses extolling badges of incredible independence while feeling really lonely inside. If they were lucky, women would find other women to connect to and support them through their lonely marriages, while men busied themselves at work to compensate for what was missing in their marriage.

We are all hard-wired to attach to others, to search for caring eyes and a strong shoulder. We all want to feel close and cared about. Attachment experiments reveal that when a mother is told to gaze at her child without emotion or interest, her child either tantrums for attention or withdraws in despair.

Adults are no different than children in this way. We want someone to tune in, listen, and connect with us. When we don’t have connection, opportunities for growth are severely limited, and taking care of yourself by yourself is isolating and sad. As Bishop Tutu reminds us, “You can’t be human all by yourself.”

Feeling connected and attached is necessary for our survival. It is our birthright and should be celebrated, not shamed. Even the literature on the elderly acknowledges that one of the best predictors of longtime health is having a lot of connection to family, friends, colleagues, and pets. People need people to thrive. I have noticed in all of the groups I have led that once one person becomes vulnerable, it is an invitation for all the others to be real. One by one, people open up their regret, self-hatred, emptiness, or depression, and suddenly no one feels alone and everyone feels better. We are all desperately seeking others to see us, accept us, and know us.

Let’s revel in our loneliness, our emptiness, and our brokenness. Let’s acknowledge how deeply alone and cut off we feel. Let’s not be scared of our human need to share our stories and ourselves. Because it is our neediness that gets us out of the house, going on an awkward first date, or talking to a stranger. And that, dear friends, is why neediness rocks!

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  • Halley

    July 16th, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    Love this perspective!

    It is so often made to sound like a weakness when truthfully we are all a little needy, there are things that we should need, and to give those to ourselves, well that’s just kinda awesome

  • Sofia

    July 16th, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    big difference between annoying and clingy needy and the kind you are talking about

  • Lowell

    July 17th, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    What’s so wrong with needing others and needing things from them that has somehow come tob e seen as you being weak or incompetent? I want to feel like I am needed because goodness knows there have been times in my own life that I never would have made it through it without help from other people. I don’t look at this so much as being needy as simply being human and wanting to be with others and make them a part of my life. They ask for help, I ask for help, I like to be around others, they like to be with me- so what’s the big deal? There wouldn’t be a human race if we all thought that being with other people or needing them around was somehow wrong or a sign of weakness. Sure there are those who take it to the extreme but why not try to see the good in that too instead of only misconstruing it as something bad?

  • Asif

    April 3rd, 2019 at 1:31 PM

    One of many factors that play in is the rejection of the feeling that “you owe someone for needing them”. Sometimes it’s a game of dominance, and at other times is a feeling of not burdening someone with a mix of “I am independent”. Just like you mentioned, it is impossible to make progress if you have no need.

  • Jill

    July 17th, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    This was an important topic to address in this forum, issues that surround our ability to be healthfully vulnerable, inter-connected.

    Truly, neediness is a built-in human dynamic, and yet it has collectively shamed and embarrassed us so deeply. This is why abandoned children fail to thrive– studies have fleshed this out.

    As with everything under the sun, there are healthy ways to approach need and there are dysfunctional ways.

    Just approaching the topic– in adults, in emotional and psychological context– without judgment is a vital step in the right direction. Without awareness there can be no healing.

  • langdon

    July 17th, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    I don’t ever want to feel like I am indebted to someone so I generally try to do things on my own.

  • Asif

    April 3rd, 2019 at 1:37 PM

    I sincerely want to understand your view. What will happen to you if you become indebted to someone?

  • Rich A.

    July 18th, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    I want to find someone who is not intimidated by me wanting to be with them. I don’t want to smother them but if I am going to have a relationship then I want to be with someone who can appreciate me, who wants to be aorund me like I will want to be with them. Whta good is it to have a relationship with someone that you essentially lead a separate life from? That seems like it is defeating the entire purpose of being in a relationship to begin with. I can be alone by myself but that isn’t what I want. I want to be with someone that I share loves and interests with, that I can experience a fun life with, and if that’s being needy then I am okay with that and I know that there is someone looking for the same things that I am.

  • Anne

    September 5th, 2014 at 1:15 AM

    I know where your coming from !

  • Nicole

    July 19th, 2014 at 5:21 AM

    Attachment theory is great. That said, we are all unique, and have different intimacy and attachment needs.
    I think the real issue is pathologizing people for the way they are made, or their desire for company or solitude. (Which can change over a lifetime.)
    To me, balance is the sweet spot: liking solitude and company.

  • merri

    July 20th, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    When did it become de rigeur that we have to be willing and able to do everything on our own? What happened to good old fashioned relyiance on others and us reciprocate in turn?
    To me this is what is at the basis of building strong relationships, building something that has meaning, not turning people away because we are afraid of looking like we always need something from them.
    I think that for the most part most of us like knowing that there are those who rely on and depend on us for help and it is nice to know that they will return the favor in kind when we need them.

  • SAM

    July 21st, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    I am alright with needing someone as long as it feels like it is not one sided and that they need me too.

    I do feel a little out of sorts when that need feels like it is all coming from me- that makes me feel very vulnerable and I do not like that feeling at all.

  • Asif

    April 3rd, 2019 at 1:35 PM

    I think when it’s one-sided, then the independent party has issues with self-esteem. Either it’s the game of dominance or the feeling that they do not want to burden the partner by asking for help, i.e. being “needy”.

  • Funk.Emily

    May 2nd, 2020 at 10:11 AM

    Human potential is an incalculable rich mineral deposit, just waiting for us to dig

  • Bethany

    November 29th, 2020 at 3:58 PM

    Amen, Nicole!

  • MMA

    December 16th, 2020 at 1:11 PM

    Awesome perspective I needed to see today. Thank You

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