Everyone has needs. But there’s a difference between having needs that require fulfillment and being “needy”. The former is a basic part of human existence that we will all encounter at multiple points in our lives. The latter, however, often refers to a set of behaviors in which we seem as though we overly depend on others for happiness, satisfaction, and overall wellbeing. Perceived neediness can seem unhealthy, as it involves putting our responsibility for ourselves onto others. But what leads a person to being needy? And what exactly does ‘being needy’ mean?
What Does it Mean to be “Needy”?
Marcia Reynolds is the President of Covisioning, LLC, an organization which specializes in training coaches to work with clients internationally who seek to develop effective leaders. Reynolds often works individually and with executive teams to help aspiring leaders to excel beyond technical efficiency by enabling them to become effective at developing their interpersonal abilities as well. Being experienced with the ways in which individuals influence and relate with one another, Reynolds explains that “As a social animal, you have needs.” Because of this, she states that “The reason you are needy is because social needs fuel your drive to connect with others and succeed.” As a result, she believes that those who demonstrate feelings of annoyance towards those whom they deem “needy” are really responding to the fact that they may not be yearning for the same need to be met themselves. In other words, if our needs aren’t compatible we likely may misunderstand the needs of others. This, in turn, may lead us to perceive the needs of others as either unnecessary or excessive, since we are examining them as extraneous to our own needs.
Pros and Cons of Being Needy
To understand the logic of needs and how we perceive them, however, it helps if we first look at them in context, acknowledging both the positive and the negative. According to Reynolds: “On the positive side, your needs are the drivers of your success.” In essence, needs motivate us. Our need for fulfillment motivates us to pursue our goals, our need for success motivates us to perform well, our need for rewards or acknowledgment for our achievements motivate us to put forth the extra effort to stand out from our peers, and so on. Our needs emerge from our ego identity, which is formed based on what we’ve discovered will allow us to survive and thrive. As Reynolds explains: “You found what might help you be seen and recognized, or what would keep you from standing out if that felt unsafe. You learned what you could be good at that made you feel worthwhile. You identified what limits you could push, what brought you joy, and what lines you would or would not cross.”
Our Needs are Connected to Our Emotions
Our identities are shaped based on who we think we are at the present moment, and what we think we need from others. This can include respect, recognition, control, stability, predictability, a sense of value, independence, or being liked. But there is a negative side to all of this. After all, dependence can lead to consequences particularly if those we depend on aren’t exactly dependable. Rejection or violation of our needs may trigger certain negative emotions like frustration, anger, or hostility. Because our needs are linked to our emotional selves, we tend to become sensitive when we feel as though our needs aren’t being met. This usually happens when what we want from a person or group is different from what we believe we got, or if we begin to realize or fear that what we want won’t actually materialize. For example, consider how you might feel if you are expecting, or want, a certain reaction from someone in response to something you showed them, but received another. Or consider how a child might feel if they show their parent a piece of artwork expecting/wanting praise but instead receiving indifference. In such situations we typically either respond by identifying that the outcome isn’t what we wanted and therefore it upsets us, or deciding that we will find a way to get what we wanted, which we didn’t get initially.
That being said, because we are constantly planning how to get our needs met or how to protect ourselves from those we believe are trying to take what we want away, it can be argued that we are all, to varying extents, needy. Reynolds says: “you are needy. I am needy. Everyone you know is needy. We all want to be seen, understood, feel cared for, and feel valued for what we offer.” But, she suggests: “this reality doesn’t have to control your feelings, thoughts and behavior. You can become the master of your needs instead of letting them control you.”
The Difference Between Having Needs and Being Needy
We all have needs, but there is a difference between having them and letting them control our lives. Once our needs begin to consume us we become overly dependent on others, which can be problematic in a number of ways. Luckily, however, there are ways that we can begin to recognize not only our needs but how we respond to them. Once we begin to acknowledge our responses to unmet needs we can begin to better control these responses so we can actually learn from our situation. Rather than falling into immediate and unmediated emotional response, Reynolds advises that “Your comparative judgment blocks you from seeing what you can learn from a situation. It keeps you from having conversations that could improve your life. Reactions to unmet needs stop you from feeling content.As if you were watching a movie, notice your reactions with curiosity, respect, and compassion. Hear the noise in your head. The noise is your teacher to help you grow.”
Understanding Reactions Means Understanding Needs
When we notice our reactions, we are better able to realize what we actually didn’t get from the situation, and can address our need directly rather than being diverted by emotion. Once we acknowledge what it is we actually need, we can either: 1) ask for it directly, 2) get the need met elsewhere, or 3) learn from the experience and grow.
Needs and our reactions to them are simply a part of our humanity. But when we learn from our needs and learn how to address them we can better understand how to fulfill ourselves rather than relying on others to do so and being hurt when we don’t get those needs immediately met.
Our best option, as Reynolds puts it, is to remember that: “Your needs fill your life with good things. Because of them, you feel joy and passion. Honor both your needs and your reactions when they are threatened as a part of being human. In time, you will come to accept, amuse and appreciate yourself better.”