Addressing Yourself First: How To Not Be Needy
By Marie Miguel
Updated February 14, 2020
Reviewer Aaron Dutil
Finding Your Best You
When you are having a day or moment where you are irritable or easily annoyed, it can sometimes be hard to recognize what is causing it. It can feel like you're upset at your boss, a family member, or your significant other, when there are actually deeper issues at the root. Perhaps one of those people has gently told you that you're being "too needy" when you ask for affirmation, time, or help. This can be extremely difficult to hear, but when it's true, addressing your own needs can have an amazingly positive effect on your life.
Where does neediness come from?
"Neediness", which we usually think of as excessive clinginess in a relationship, is often driven by anxiety. Even when neediness doesn't manifest itself as the fear that our partner will leave us, it is generally fuelled by the fear of other unmet needs. Addressing our own neediness requires coming to terms with this anxiety.
Fear of losing our relationships
Sometimes the most loving relationships are not immune to the clinginess borne from a fear of losing that person. We may even know that our anxiety is not rational - and that clinginess can play a part in driving our partner away - but not be able to stop the behavior.
In these situations, it can help to ask yourself why you're worried about losing this person or relationship. You can dig down a little deeper and ask yourself what it would say about you if you lost this thing. Would it confirm a sense of your own unworthiness? Are you fighting off the feeling that you will never be loved like other people? If these kinds of anxieties are at the root of your needy actions, it can be helpful to talk to a therapist to help you unwind these anxieties.
Oversensitivity to change
Anxiety disorders are fairly common, and can dramatically impact the way that our brain processes signals of change, or potential danger. In a relationship, this can mean that normal shifts in behavior can trigger outsized anxiety.
Most longer-term relationships need to go through an adjustment period where a certain "honeymoon" intensity is replaced by a deeper, stronger bond that can sustain the relationship through time. If there is an anxiety disorder present, we can interpret any changes at this time as distance or drift in our relationship. Other normal features of a relationship, like our significant other spending time with other friends, being involved with other activities, or occasionally not being able to respond to contact immediately, can also trigger an anxiety response that leaves us desperate for reassurance.
Relationships that really matter to us can bring old hurts and unmet needs to the surface. We wouldn't expect anyone in a casual relationship to affirm our talents in a way that our parents never did, but that need might surprise us as a relationship grows closer. If we look back through our lives and find a pattern of never quite measuring up, it can cause a lot of anxiety about being the person that our significant other wants us to be. Our attachment to our parents predicts a lot about our romantic and significant relationships as adults.
Is there any hope?
Regardless of the cause of the anxiety, it's important to remind yourself that your thoughts can be impacted erratically by anxiety while acknowledging that this is natural and not invalid because of the source. Having an anxiety disorder, or struggling with pain from your past, is not a moral flaw.
Being "needy" is not a hopeless cause. As with most other effects of anxiety, you can address your neediness by calming the anxiety at the root of it. Fortunately, there are some common sense things that you can do to help ease your anxiety. Many people also benefit from professional help to find the roots of their anxiety and learn to cope with it. While you may feel as if you need to learn how to not be needy, in actuality, you need to show yourself the care and love that you deserve.
How to address neediness
You can address neediness in a relationship in two different ways. First, there are things that you can do to cope with your anxiety and work on filling needs that aren't appropriate for your relationship. Second, there are practical steps that you can take to remove the pressure of your anxiety from your significant other while you're working on yourself.
Be good to your body
One of the best things that you can do to reduce symptoms of anxiety is taken care of your body. Make sure that you're eating in a way that helps you feel good physically. For some people, eating a solid breakfast with protein helps to soothe anxiety. Other people prefer to nibble in the morning and eat closer to lunch. Pay attention to how food makes your body feel, and eat the things that help keep your energy up and your blood sugar stable.
Exercise is also helpful for keeping your brain on an even keel. Choose whatever physical activity appeals to you, or is easy to incorporate into your life. Taking a walk, lifting some weights, or swimming laps can help you to connect with your body, elevate your mood, and decrease your anxiety.
Anxiety is closely associated with stress. If there are situations in your life driving your stress level to intolerable heights, do what you can to remove them. This can be as simple as blocking off a few minutes every day to unwind, or as big as looking for a new job. While not every difficult relationship is toxic, if a relationship with a friend or family member is causing a lot of stress, it may be time to rethink how much time and energy you're investing in it. Cutting toxic people out of your life is important but can be difficult, often being a step that many people can't follow through with. Sometimes those closest to us or those we have deep emotional ties with can be those that can hurt us the deepest.
Other causes of stress can be voluntary work obligations, social obligations, and pressure to "keep up" with other people. You don't need - or want - to remove all sources of stress, but reducing your stress load to a manageable level can help alleviate a lot of anxiety.
Being angry at someone in your life, even someone that you love can often be a result of the various circumstances in your life. Whether it be a busy week and you're feeling emotionally drained, or work has piled up and you haven't slept great in a while, it's important to take a step back and realize that you aren't truly angry at them, but at the stress that they are bringing, directly or indirectly, into your life.
Recognize Your Cues
Anxiety, essentially, is a response to a shift in the brain. You are feeling threatened. Its processes lead you to absorb and translate sensory cues as threats from your environment rather than you might when feeling safe, leading you to misinterpret cues or experience over the top emotional reactions.
Anxiety tends to be genetic and can run in families. Talking with your parents or other family members about their experiences can be a good way to understand your own struggles with it.
Consider getting help
It's healthy to recognize when a mental health issue is beyond your own self-care. Therapists like those at BetterHelp can help you recognize, process, and cope with your anxiety. Your therapist, doctor or a psychotherapist can also help you decide whether medication might be helpful in managing an anxiety disorder.
We all have things in our lives in which we could improve or alter our approach to life. By getting yourself upset as you think about your problems or negative stressors, your anxiety may increase as your attention shifts more and more to the negative things in your life.
BetterHelp was created with the goal of providing access to mental health care to more people conveniently and affordable. Sometimes getting a new lease on life can require a lot of difficult introspection, but you can get a jump start when you talk with someone that can point you in the direction of where to begin. We all need to find ways to reduce stress, maintain a healthy work/life balance while cultivating our mental and physical well-being, along with nurturing important relationships in our lives.
Practical steps for your relationship
While you're working on your anxiety, there are some concrete steps that you can take to take the pressure of your anxiety off of your significant other.
- Spend some time with other people. Your partner isn't your only relationship! Spend some quality time with friends, family, or even social acquaintances. This will help reassure your partner that they aren't solely responsible for your needs. It will also remind you that your partner isn't the only person who cares about you.
- Pick up a hobby (or revive an old one). Making things, doing community theatre, joining a book group or a club - these things can help fill your time, and also meet needs for significance and affirmation. Creating useful or beautiful things can be intrinsically satisfying while working together with a group of people to do something can give us a sense of competence and usefulness. And when it comes down to it, having fun is good for our moods!
- Set communication limits. If you find yourself constantly texting your spouse or partner, limit yourself to reaching out every few hours. Take ownership of your own anxieties, and remind yourself that it doesn't make them any safer when you insist that they check in every few minutes - and it might make them much more annoyed. If you know that there are some phrases or questions that your partner dislikes, try to catch yourself before you say them.
What if it's not you?
Many of us do find ourselves feeling needy at some points in our life. While it's always great to begin by taking responsibility for our feelings, and working on coping mechanisms for our anxiety, the fact remains that sometimes it's not us. We all have legitimate needs, and it's not "needy" to ask for those to be met. Neediness can be the result of being in a truly dissatisfying relationship, or even an abusive one. Accusations of neediness can be a way for a significant other to keep us at a distance for reasons of their own.
If you don't recognize yourself in these descriptions of anxiety and neediness, or if you've made a good faith effort to follow some of the steps described and things aren't getting better, it's time to get an outside perspective. Talk to a trusted friend, or group of friends, about accusations regarding your behavior.
You can also talk to a therapist like those at BetterHelp to get a neutral perspective. Whether you are truly being "needy", or need help deciding if your relationship is healthy, a confidential conversation with a licensed therapist can help you move forward in a stronger direction.