Neediness and clinginess are among the most unattractive traits a person can have. We have an almost instinctive repulsion to needy behavior. Consider the “ha-ha-but-no-seriously” humor of the “overly attached girlfriend” meme.
For all the unpleasant wink-wink-nudge-nudge “women are so crazy” implications of the meme, the fear of getting caught up with a needy partner is universal. The jokes may be over the top, but they represent just how unpleasant neediness and clingy behavior can be. And believe me: men are especially vulnerable to needy behavior.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying desiring a relationship with someone is bad in and of itself. We’re social creatures. That need for connections with others is built into our very nature. However, there’s wanting to connect with someone and there’s becoming dependent on them. When that hunger for connection goes from desire to neediness, we end up repelling the very people we want to connect with.
The problem is that often we look to address the symptoms of neediness in order to mask its existence rather than addressing its source. The key to eliminating neediness isn’t to have a strict rule of “you can only text so many times per day”, it’s to get to the core of what causes neediness in the first place.
Neediness Is Built On Fear
The first step to eliminating neediness in your relationships is to understand what triggers needy, clingy behavior in the first place. At its core, the cause of neediness is, simply, fear. The fear of abandonment. The fear of uncertainty. The fear of loss or rejection. The fear of being alone. We want that connection so badly that the idea of missing out on it – or losing it – makes us anxious. The simple state of being alone becomes the worst thing imaginable.
The more we let ourselves stew in that anxiety, the worse it becomes until it blossoms into a full-blown panic. At that point our neediness goes from simple apprehension into a nigh-obsession. Once neediness takes over, clingy behavior becomes the norm because much of that fear revolves around the fear of being powerless. We feel the loss of control so keenly that we do whatever it takes to try to resolve those fears. And so needy, clingy behavior becomes the norm; it’s a way of retaking the power we don’t have.
Once you understand that connection, needy behavior makes much more sense. We fear a loss of control and so we try to control our partners. We fear that our partners are disatisfied, so we demand reassurance from them. We fear our partner might meet someone better than us so we police their interactions with others. We worry that if we’re not there, they might forget us, so we try to occupy all their time. We try to keep in constant contact in order to remind them we exist. Of course, the perverseness of this is that the tighter we cling to others, the more we end up pushing them away from us.
So how do we fix this?
Find Your Internal Validation
The first step in eliminating neediness is to change where you get your value. People who have issues with neediness rarely have a strong sense of self; all of their value and validation is external. They desperately seek relationships as a way of showing that they have value. Someone else finds them desirable, therefore they clearly have worth. They cling so tightly to their partners (or people they want to date) because they need the value that person gives them. Just as the moon reflects the sun’s glory, the value of having a partner reflects on them.
Other times, they rely too much on the validation of others. Nice Guys are a prime example of people lacking internal validation. They don’t believe that they are worthy of love in and of themselves, so they try to buy the approval of others.
They don’t feel that they have any worth in and of themselves and so they over-value the opinions of others. Much of needy behavior stems from the belief that someone couldn’t possibly like them, so they need constant reassurance that it’s not some elaborate prank.
The thing is, external validation isn’t necessarily bad. We should care about how others feel about us; it’s part of how we foster cooperation as a society. Someone who doesn’t care about others’ feelings at all is functionally a sociopath. However, without internal validation, all external validation is ultimately meaningless. You’re trying to fill a bottomless hole in your life. At best you can numb the void temporarily, but the emptiness will always come back. Instead, you need to start finding the things within yourself that make you proud and bring you satisfaction. Celebrating your accomplishments, even if they’re small, practicing gratitude for what you have and being your own biggest fan are key to finding internal validation.
You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be the best or brightest. You simply need to be working towards being your best self. You’re learning to have more faith in yourself, in your own worth and your own judgements.
The more you trust and value yourself, the less you’ll need others’ constant approval.
Gain Control By Controlling Your Fears
The next step in eliminating neediness is to quit giving your fears so much power over you. Neediness is born out of fear, and we hate being afraid. As a result, we try to control our partners so that we can stop being afraid. However, in trying to control others, we actually give away our power. We have given up what’s known as our locus of control – we have ceded our ability to influence our own life to the actions of others. In trying to insulate ourselves from loss, we give others the power to destroy us; our relationships go from mutual love and respect to a state of constant vigilance against loss.
However, if we focus on controlling the source of our discomfort – our fears – instead of the target, we can take that control back. Our fears revolve around imagined nightmare scenarios – that we’ve done something wrong, that our lovers don’t really want us and so forth. By taking conscious control of those images, we’re able to rob them of the power to affect us.
This is going to sound a bit woo-woo but stick with me. This works, I promise.
When you find yourself playing out the worst-case scenario, start to change how you picture it. When you see yourself being dumped, then imagine your partner in clown makeup. Or change the octave of their voice, as though they’ve been sucking down helium balloons. Imagine her head continually shrinking. Change the entire scene so that it’s being scored to “When The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down”. When your jerk-brain floods you with all the ways you’ve fucked up or signs that your relationship is in danger, picture them as wildstyle graffiti on a wall, layering upon itself until it becomes nothing but incomprehensible visual noise. The more absurd you make it, the less power it has to hurt you.
As you start to de-fang your fears, start imagining things going well instead. See your partner enjoying themselves with you, or taking time out of their busy schedule to return your text. Let the new scenarios overtake the ones your fear conjured up. Taking control of your fears and neutering them brings your power back inside, instead of leaving you at the mercy of others.
Stop Letting Your Relationships Define You
One of the commonalities of needy people is that they have no strong sense of self. Much as with where we get our validation, if we have no core, no identity of our own, we tend to define ourselves by our relationships to other people. People who “don’t know how to be single” or who’ve let being undesirable become part of who they are are especially prone to needy, clingy behavior. When you apply that label to yourself – the One Who’s Not Good With Girls, for example – it becomes central to your being. However, defining yourself by external factors means that your identity is incredibly fragile. Anything that threatens to affect that sense of self becomes inordinately terrifying. After all… if you’re not in a relationship with wozername, who are you?
Ask For What You Need
One of the core problems with neediness isn’t having needs in the first place, it’s how you go about trying to fulfil them. One mistake people make when trying to eliminate neediness from their lives is that they try to pretend that their needs don’t exist in the first place. In order to avoid appearing to be needy, they try to hide or repress how they feel. This, of course, works about as well as you might expect. As any Victorian can tell you, trying to shove your feelings deep down only causes them to bulge out in other, even more inconvenient ways.
Part of what makes us so unhappy – and what leads to needy behavior – is working under the assumption that asking for what we want is somehow bad. You can see this happen all the time in relationships: the assumption that our friends, family and lovers should just know what we need. Other times we may feel that simply saying the words is an inconvenience or a sign of immaturity. But unless your partner’s actually a mutant, then you can’t expect them just to read your mind to know what you want.
After all, obscuring your insecurity or desire for a stronger connection means that your partner won’t understand what it is you’re asking for. Pestering your partner with “Are you ok? Are you sure you’re ok? Is something wrong?” is annoying. It feels as though you’re saying you can’t trust them to be honest about their emotions. Telling them “Hey, sometimes I get a little anxious and need some reassurance,” on the other hand, lets them know what you really want.
At the same time, obscuring your needs with clingy behavior makes it even harder to address why you have them and where they’re coming from. You can’t resolve the underlying causes if you won’t face the symptoms dead-on. Taking ownership of your needs and expressing them openly and honestly changes your relationship with them. Asking for what you need from your partner, instead of trying to force it on them, lets the two of you come together to resolve things.
This article originally appeared on Dr. Nerd Love
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