There’s nothing much we can do about feeling needy. But feeling needy and being needy are not the same thing.
This transition from feeling to being (or acting) is the crucial distinction that leads to a downward spiral of relationship issues if left unchecked.
No, we can’t help feeling a certain way, but if we allow our insecurity to chain our partner (so that we feel safe) we are going to drown them out.
Being Needy Versus Being Vulnerable
The difference between these two concepts lies in the extent to which we take responsibility for our feelings.
Vulnerability is a natural response to internal and external doubt. There’s absolutely nothing we can do to prevent doubt from creeping up and us now and again. If we care, we doubt. If we love, we fear. Insecurity is part and parcel of having something to lose.
Personally, I would argue that these bubbles of insecurity are useful because they get us to question aspects of our relationship that may need to evolve.
Vulnerability is a catalyst for change. But we need to take ownership of this change, or it will destroy us and the relationship.
Now, being needy takes this natural state of vulnerability and projects it outward onto our partner. Rather than take stock of these underlying feelings, the needy partner seeks what is often needless compromise with their personal insecurity.
If this compromise is seen as unfair or unwarranted, problems will occur.
But is asking our partner to deal with our insecurity actually unfair?
Emotions Aren’t Fair
My emotions are invisible, untouchable—invincible even—and their power far outweighs my own. And so it seems unfair that for all the little I can do to them, they can do so much to me.
You’d think a little irrationality is just part of being human, and it is. But the bottom-line is that emotions aren’t fair.
It may be entirely fair to ask our partner to accept our particular failings. It may strike you as fair to ask for time to work through something. It may even be totally fair of you to demand something of your partner. But fair or not, if our ex’s emotions disagree with their reason, their emotions will win out.
Alright, alright, so what does all this mean?
It means that being needy may be entirely fair given whatever context you are currently in, but it will nevertheless destroy the relationship if it is an emotional burden on our partner.
Reacting To Fear
Let’s look at a typical example of relationship insecurity. That of the fear of being cheated on.
You might feel insecure about your partner’s current friendship with an ex of theirs. And this stress is cemented by personal experience because your ex abused of your trust and cheated on you with their ex.
Is this all just a case of history repeating?
The truth is that it might be just that. And as always, the truth is usually pretty horrifying. But that isn’t our partner’s fault if they haven’t actually cheated on us.
In the face of this truth we can do several things:
- We can trust them and hope for the best.
- We can “impose” limits on their conduct.
- We can negotiate.
Using Force Will Fail
Attempting to coerce our partner into respecting our past betrayals might work in the short term. But in the long run we need to realize that they aren’t the one that cheated on us, and projecting this insecurity on them only makes us (ironically enough) the ones who are distrustful.
If our instinct is to keep our partner in chains to protect the relationship from itself, what does this tell our partner with regards to our trust in them? What does it say about the relationship itself?
Trust Can Be Built
Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.
Being vulnerable leaves us open to abuse, but it also paves the way to developing the trust that will decimate our neediness.
I have spent much of this article stressing that there is no way around the reality that we can be betrayed, though we might convince ourselves otherwise by erecting houses of cards.
I’m aware that it might make me seem like an emotional masochist, but there is a positive flip-side to the idea of being vulnerable. And that it is precisely this vulnerability that ends up coming to the rescue. Hurrah?
If we take stock of our fears by accepting there is a reality where they might feasibly occur, we are choosing to be vulnerable. This vulnerability is rooted in the truth that we cannot control the emotions of those we love. It is the acceptance of what is.
Not only is letting go relieving, but it is also the single best way to build real trust. Every second we spend in a state of vulnerability and are not betrayed cements this trust passively. Yes, it’s a little like saying that Tiger isn’t dangerous because I put my hand in its mouth and it didn’t tear it off, but there you have it. That’s reality for you.
Not only this, but it also paves the way to a freer and more fulfilling relationship. Ironically, it is often our fear’s need to imprison our partner that leads to their drive to want to break out (and sometimes they’re just rotten apples without any real sense of empathy or decency, it bears mentioning). And our fear, if we allow it to, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
Open Yes Gullible No
Stopping being needy therefore involves accepting reality for what it is and not what we’d ideally like it to be. Understanding that no amount of manipulation or control is going appeal to our partner’s emotions (though it may appeal to their reason). If anything, the reverse is likely to occur.
But living openly should not be without boundaries. It does not mean being a doormat for other people to trample. Our vulnerability should remain conditional.
The difference between insecurity and protective boundaries is around whom they are centered. Projecting neediness means that we lay our fear on our partner, but boundaries are something we set around ourselves. It is not an attempt to control.
Boundaries mean setting a lowest common denominator with which you are willing to work. Erecting boundaries means understanding what we need to function in a relationship.
Another way of dealing with neediness is understanding the difference between our needs and our fears, and exactly what can realistically be negotiated. Setting strong boundaries may seem like an attempt to stave off insecurity to the outside world, but if they are the basic preconditions for your fulfillment, then they need to be set regardless of how they are interpreted. For without them, the relationship will fail.
Dealing With Neediness
Don’t ever feel bad for making a decision about your own life that upsets other people. You are not responsible for their happiness. You’re responsible for your own happiness. Anyone who wants you to live in misery for their happiness should not be in your life anyway
Managing insecurity means deciding what our core needs are and enforcing them. By ourselves, for ourselves. Without looking to someone else to save us.
“They” might betray our trust. It is an inescapable reality. But we have the power to dictate how we are treated. And I personally find it relieving that no matter what happens, the foundations of my own fulfillment cannot be taken from me without my consent. Things might not pan out the way I hoped, but I cannot be forced to choke on my good intentions. If I am treated in a way that is unacceptable, I have the power to step away from it all at any time I choose.
Dealing with neediness means relocating control of our lives back from our partner to ourselves where it belongs.