Having needs doesn't make you needy

The Difference between Having Needs and Being Needy

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Everyone has needs — for love, attention, affirmation, touch, and so forth. And some of our needs are met in relationships with others. There’s a big difference between having needs and being needy. Read more to understand the difference between having needs and being needy.

Overcoming codependency and poor boundaries requires us to notice and value our personal needs, but many of us, understandably, deny our needs out of fear of being too needy.

Codependency, people-pleasing, and boundary issues are rooted in our tendency to avoid our needs and feelings. Instead, we focus on taking care of other people’s needs, trying to make them happy, or trying to solve their problems. And if you’ve been told (in words or actions) that your needs don’t matter, that you shouldn’t have any needs, or that other people’s needs always matter more than yours, it can feel “needy” to acknowledge and communicate your needs. But, usually, this isn’t the case!

Accepting and communicating your needs may feel needy for two reasons:

  1. You’re not used to having needs.
  2. Other people think you’re too needy.

So, let’s take a look at both of these issues and find out how to move beyond them so you can think about yourself and your needs in a healthier way.

Needs feel needy when you’ve suppressed them for years

Everyone has needs.

These are some of our common needs:

  • Sleep and rest, food, water, shelter, clothing, physical safety, sex, healthcare.
  • Physical and emotional safety, financial security.
  • Connection, respect, trust, acceptance, love, friendship, quality time with others.
  • Self-esteem, autonomy, creativity, fun, challenges, new experiences, personal growth.

You may also have other needs and that’s okay. Needs can’t be wrong because they’re what you require to be healthy, safe, fulfilled, and happy. And we all deserve to be healthy, safe, fulfilled, and happy.

People who learned as children that their needs are normal and acceptable, don’t generally have trouble practicing self-care (meeting their own needs) and asking for what they need from others. But if your needs were ignored during childhood, you were shamed for asking for your emotional or physical needs to be met (for example, you were told you were selfish), or learned that other people’s needs always matter more than yours, it will feel uncomfortable to acknowledge your needs.

You may even continue a self-defeating pattern of shaming yourself for needing something or avoiding your needs through avoidance or numbing (alcohol, drugs, food, electronics are common ways we do this).

Action step: At least twice per day, ask yourself, “What do I need?” Notice your emotions and how your body feels as both will give you valuable information about what you need. Try not to judge your needs as good or bad or needy or invalid, etc. Your goal is to accept your needs and figure out how to meet them. Can you meet them yourself? Who is the best person to help you meet these needs?

Needs feel needy when other people tell you that you’re too needy

You may also think you’re needy because that’s what people have been telling you. This usually starts in childhood with caregivers who were unable or unwilling to meet your needs. But, in adulthood, codependent people also tend to have relationships with people who are unable or unwilling to meet their needs.

When you people-please, cater to, appease, or enable others, they benefit when you deny or minimize your needs, so they have a vested interest in having you ignore your needs. For example, if your partner wants to be left alone to play video games or wants you to stop complaining about his spending, he or she probably knows that saying, “you’re so needy”, will shut you up – and shut down your needs.

When someone says, “you’re too needy”, they are manipulating you to ignore your own needs and meet their needs.

Out of fear of being labeled “too needy” or “too emotional,” we become insecure about having any needs. So, we suppress our needs to avoid these labels at all costs. And we subconsciously overcompensate by denying most of our needs, in an attempt to project an easy-going, low-maintenance personality.

Action step: Notice who is telling you that you’re too needy. Is there someone in your life currently who is giving you this message? Or is it a belief you internalized from childhood and now tell yourself. Remember that just because someone else perceives you as needy, that doesn’t make it a fact!

Can someone be too needy?

The question of whether your needs are excessive or unreasonable can be a tricky one. To some degree, the answer is subjective. It’s possible that some people may find your needs are more than they can meet – so, they experience you as too needy. But others may be able to meet your needs and thus not experience you as needy. Sometimes, when there is a mismatch of needs in a relationship, we can work through them with compromise and communication; other times, the mismatch is too great.

On the other hand, some people have an unhealthy level of dependency. They need others to constantly provide validation, esteem, attention, and reassurance, to the extent that they don’t feel good about themselves or they doubt their worth unless someone tells/shows them they are worthy, loved, or acceptable.

Certainly, everyone needs some validation and reassurance from their friends and family, but it’s problematic to depend on others to meet all of these emotional needs, especially if you feel depressed or become frantic, anxious, and obsessive (like texting your partner a dozen times in an hour because s/he doesn’t answer) if you can’t get validation or reassurance.

If this sounds like your experience, a therapist can help you develop a more secure attachment style, build self-esteem, and learn distress tolerance skills so you can meet more of your own emotional needs.

Action step: Are you able to validate your feelings? Are you able to calm yourself when you feel anxious or distressed? Are you able to enjoy time alone? If not, consider learning and practicing these skills. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy may be helpful. And for learning more about attachment styles and building a more secure one, I like the book Attached by Levine and Heller.

Meeting our needs

So, to summarize, it’s perfectly normal to have needs. They don’t make you “needy” or weak or broken. Some needs we can meet ourselves. And some needs are relational by nature and we will need to ask someone else to help us meet them.

To create a healthy inter-dependence with others, you may want to focus on these three aspects of meeting your needs:

  • Building relationships with others who accept your needs and are willing to help you meet them, not people who want you to meet their needs but not give in return.
  • Communicating your needs assertively and respectfully; this takes practice, especially when you’ve spent most of your life ignoring your needs, not communicating them, or being shamed when you did.
  • Taking responsibility for meeting some of your emotional needs yourself, not depending on or expecting someone else to do all of it for you.

Learn more

©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Canva.com

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Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

2 thoughts on “The Difference between Having Needs and Being Needy”

  1. So how do we get relational needs met when circumstances seem to prevent that happening? I’m 42, single, and in the middle of a doctoral program that I had to move from out of state to attend. It’s exceedingly hard to meet new people who have time for quality time, and I’m literally bone-deep aching for connection. I can meet a good deal of my emotional needs myself, I love everyone in my cohort, and we do some fun things as a group, but one big need for me is one-on-one time, and I’m just not getting it and don’t know where to find it. Everyone’s either too busy for quality time because they have spouses & kids, or they’re a lot younger than me and naturally hang out with those in their age group. I’ve been trying online dating, which has been pretty fruitless. I’ve tried meetups and church groups but haven’t met people interested in doing anything outside the meetup. To say it’s agonizing would not be much of an overstatement. I haven’t had a hug in months (and it’s unsatisfying to always have to ask for a hug, rather than receive one from someone who just wants to hug you), I need quality time and connection, I need someone to go do fun things with and have deep conversations with, I need someone with whom I can, so to speak, let my hair down, and I need some support, just as I would do for others. Someone who prioritizes time with me, like calling me up and saying, “Hey, Louise! Let’s go do brunch!” so I’m not the only one suggesting things. But it seems impossible to get my needs met with the situation as it is, and I’ve got three years to go. I definitely don’t want to quit the program, and really, things were like this even before I started. After about 35-37, the friendship well just dried up super fast. DANG, my relational emotional needs are going unmet in a bad way. What to do?

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