Doctor NerdLove explains the problem with excessive neediness—and what you can do to combat it.
There’s a recurring thread I’ve seen lately online, whether it’s in the comments at Doctor NerdLove or in a few of the other forae where I lurk: an increasing sense of desperation for a relationship.
As we’re running headlong into the holiday season, it’s only natural for the singletons amongst us to look around at all of the happy couples with a certain level of bitterness and envy. When you’re single and alone in a season that celebrates relationships and togetherness1 it’s hard not to feel an empty hole in your life that can only be filled with the sort of love that’s only found in coffee commercials.
But because the strongest force in the universe is irony rather than gravity, it can seem that the harder you strive for finding that special someone, the more it slips away from you. This in turn makes you even more determined to find it… and so the cycle perpetuates itself. As this goes on, you become increasingly bitter and upset, complaining about the “impossible standards” of others while simultaneously trying to meet or exceed those standards because you know that your life will be incomplete until you find that special someone.
The problem is that you’ve fallen into a classic trap: you’ve started becoming desperate and needy.
And neediness is the antithesis of attraction. It is the magic formula to make relationships disappear and drive off potential life-partners. It is the magical formula to make sex disappear.
Where Does Needy Behavior Come From?
Neediness is the state of excessive desire for affirmation, affection or reassurance from others. It’s melange of issues, involving an external locus of control mixed with low self-esteem and self-limiting beliefs that come together as a constant need for approval from others. They have put their self-worth in the hands of others, defining themselves by their relationship to other people.
Needy people often will say that they’re looking for a relationship in order to “complete” them or to find someone who brings “fulfilment” into their lives… essentially looking for someone to magically bring meaning into their lives and make them whole. They seek validation from others – in this case, a potential romantic partner – as a way of filling the void within them.
Generally, needy behavior in relationships is an issue of perceived worth and the need for external validation. There are usually two ways that guys start becoming overly needy. The first is that they suffer from low self-esteem and have externalized their locus of control. They’re so consumed with the idea that they are worth so little that they need constant affirmation and praise from others around them. They are focused on their own perceived inadequacies like a laser and can never believe that they have any good points. They are forever looking to others for approval, asking over and over again for someone to convince them that they aren’t totally worthless.
The other way is by putting too much value others, whether it’s a romantic partner or the concept of a relationship in general. It can seem counterintuitive: how can you value someone too much? After all, wouldn’t that just mean that they matter more to you than they do to anyone else? And yet the need to worship one’s partner – to put them on a pedestal, to elevate them to “goddess” status – is another way of objectifying someone and remove their humanity. By projecting so much value into one’s partner, they have put themselves into a position where they feel as though they need to placate her or kiss up to her in hopes of earning her approval.
Regardless of how it came about, neediness is one of the most unattractive qualities a person can display. Not only does it display low emotional intelligence – after all, you’re showing that you are incapable of balancing your emotional needs—but needy behavior is toxic to relationships. Needy people are forever either supplicating to their partners or else becoming so dependent on others that the relationship becomes smothering.
Needy behavior manifests in a number of ways; some are more overt, while others are surprisingly subtle and are often overlooked.
The most immediate and obvious manifestation of needy behavior is acting “clingy”; the overly-needy party doesn’t want to spend a minute apart longer than is absolutely necessary. They’ll strive to spend every waking moment with their partner if at all possible. If they can’t, they may try to remain in constant contact – calling and texting repeatedly, sending email after email and freaking the fuck out if the object of their obsession takes a microsecond longer to respond than normal.
There’s a fine line between “chatting” and “waiting with sandwiches by the computer, obsessively hitting ‘check mail’ over and over again”
Perpetuators of this sort of behavior often don’t recognize that they’re being needy. More often than not, they feel that they’re showing how “passionate” or “devoted” they are, not realizing that they’re really being dependent and possessive.
Similarly, needy people may push for a relationship, getting too serious too quickly; they may want to be exclusive immediately, before they’ve even made it through the second date. They tend to be so wrapped up in the idea that their date may find someone better that they try to lock him or her down as quickly as possible.
The other most common example of needy behavior is constantly requiring reassurance and validation. When needy people get involved in a romantic relationship, they often have a perpetual feeling as though things are on the cusp of falling apart. They are always on the look out for the signs that things are going wrong and that the relationship is about to come crashing down all around them; they can’t conceive that their partner values them or their relationship and need resassurance over and over again that yes, everything’s fine, we’re good, nobody’s mad at anyone else. The constant need to take the relationship’s temperature, the mini-accusations that something’s actually wrong all take their toll and quickly turn from annoyance to active resentment.
Clinginess and supplication isn’t the only way that neediness expresses itself, however. Because a part of needy people crave the approval of others for their own self-worth, they will often go out of their way to try to showboat and impress others into liking them. Needy people will often play status games, in the hopes of persuading others that yes, Corporal Clingy is actually cool and totally not posing at all. They try to fill the emptiness they feel inside with the esteem of others… and yet it will never be enough. They will forever feel insecure because they have externalized their locus of control; they have put their self-worth in the hands of others and thus now need to forever be concerned with how others see them.
Want Vs. Need
Recognizing needy behavior in yourself can be difficult; it takes self-awareness and a willingness to be brutally honest with yourself and to try to look at your behavior as a disinterested third party. Part of the problem is that it’s easy to confuse (or rationalize) being needy for simple desire. When you’re in the throes of feeling desperate for a relationship with someone, anyone, you may feel down to the depths of your sooooooul that you need someone, that you don’t want to live on this world alone anymore…
Except that’s not really need. That’s a want.
Cold hard truth time: a relationship isn’t something you need. Not to say that they aren’t important… but you will survive without one. You may be lonely. You may crave affection, love, sex, even just simple companionship. But you won’t die of it. The word “need” implies that you are somehow incomplete, less than others because you are single and that you’re trying to find someone to fit into that gap, and improve your life for you.
Not only is this an abdication of responsibility on your part, but you’re asking somebody else to shoulder the burden of maintaining your self-esteem as well as their own. It’s childish behavior and one that causes people to instinctively veer away.
Yes, your life may well be better with a relationship. By that same token, I’m pretty sure my life would be greatly improved by a tricked out Audi R8 and winning the Powerball. You don’t need that relationship, you’re just letting your desire overpower everything else – including your rational sense of proportion – and it’s throwing you off balance.
Finding The Balance
If you want to eliminate neediness from your life, you need to find your equilibrium again. Balance is one of the most important aspects in life; the person who is so needy that he craves constant validation from other people is bad, but the other extreme – becoming so self-absorbed that you become a virtual sociopath -is equally as unattractive. It’s one thing to want approval from the important people in your life – family, close friends, romantic partners. It’s another entirely when you’re craving it from people you barely know or who ultimately have minimal contact in your life.
Correcting self-esteem issues can be difficult and it can take time. Much of it requires a great deal of conscious effort; many self-esteem problems spring from negative thought patterns based off of mistaken beliefs and misinformation that we never stop to examine critically. We tend to assume our feelings are facts – “I feel bad, therefore I must be a loser” or work from mistaken attribution – “She likes him because he’s rich/tall/alpha; she doesn’t like me because I’m not rich/tall/alpha”.
We become addicted to external validation and the feedback that it gives us: pretty girl tells us we’re a cool guy, we feel better, we want more approval from pretty girl, etc. We get stuck in these constant loops of seeking feedback while reinforcing these negative feedback loops that torpedo our self esteem and self-worth and leave us unable to gauge our own value accurately.
Learning to break the feedback loops means learning to cultivate greater self-awareness and perspective, a willingness to examine ourselves, our motivations and our thought-processes critically and dispassionately. It means being able to examine those negative thought processes – the ones that say “if I don’t do X I’m a loser” or “I have to have Y to get women to like me”, the tendency to let confirmation bias highlight all the negatives in our lives and ignore the positives.
Becoming more aware of these thoughts is the first step; the next is to reframe them and adjust them. It’s difficult at first; it can feel awkward and cheesy to stop and actually focus on positive aspects of yourself or to give yourself permission to try something and fuck up. We all like to joke about the woo-woo newage therapy of repeating affirmations… they work. Just as the negative thought patterns and feedback loops are a habit, so too is positivity. Much of raising your self-esteem is carving new grooves in your brain, allowing yourself to think and believe better of yourself.
The more you can break your need for external validation and learn to validate yourself, the less needy behavior you will exhibit… and the better your results will be.
- and is immediately followed up by the Lover’s Day of Holy Obligation – an equally shitty time to be single [↩]
Photo courtesy of Flickr/icanteachyouhowtodoit