I’ve started taking part in a self-care september challenge on instagram at the moment. The challenge, initiated by instagram user @bodylove4all sets out to promote self-love and self-acceptance, and of course self-care. Obviously, as a psychologist these are concepts that I often talk to clients about, almost everyday. But the challenge has certainly made me more acutely aware of how many people struggle every day to be kind to themselves, to accept themselves for who they are with all of their flaws (and strengths of course), to let themselves be vulnerable, and to forgive themselves for past mistakes. One thing in particular that I seem to hear all too often amongst people in their late teens and early twenties (and sometimes even those who are older) is… “So I’ve started dating this guy……he seems like he could be interested but he’s really hot and cold. I want to ask him what’s going on but I’m trying to play it cool and not appear needy, you know, otherwise I might scare him off.”
It’s true that dating and relationships can be confusing, and it can feel like a big game of cat and mouse in the beginning, and you want to play it right so you can catch that mouse (if you like the other person, that is). But where did this whole “I can’t be needy thing” begin? I’ve certainly been guilty of it in the past, in my previous dating life too. If anyone ever labelled me as needy (gasp!) it would sting quite a bit. I didn’t want to be THAT girl, you know, the one with “needs”. I know I’m not the only one who has thought or felt this way before because I hear it, what seems, from every second client, and also amongst my own social circle.
One day, when I was discussing a relationship breakup I had experienced, another psychologist called me on it. He labelled me as needy…..”how dare he!”, I thought, as I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair. He then questioned why I was all of a sudden appearing uncomfortable (damn psychologists and their tendency to comment on body language!). “What’s so bad about being needy?” he asked. I thought to myself….”is this not obvious? Don’t we all try to avoid appearing needy?” I think I responded something to the effect of “well it doesn’t seem right expecting someone else to meet your needs. It seems selfish, or insecure, perhaps?”. And there it was, the stigma that is so often attached to expressing your needs in a relationship. I had succumbed to it, and I didn’t even think to question it, until he did.
He then went on to ask me a few questions:
- Are you human? (I answered yes)
- Do humans have physical needs which we seek to meet like the need for food, safety, sex, and sleep etc. (I answered yes)
- In addition to this, do you believe that we all have a range of emotional needs which we also seek to have met? (I answered yes)
- Do healthy intimate relationships require a reciprocal respect for the other person’s needs, even if they can’t always be met? (I answered yes)
- Do healthy intimate relationships usually require a clear communication of needs to the other person? (I answered yes).
- Is relationship satisfaction and mental health better when emotional needs are respected, heard, understood and for the most part, met? (Yes, of course)
- Does this not then, make us all “needy?” (well…I guess….yes).
He looked at me blankly, and I then understood the point. None of this was new information to me, and I think most people would agree with my responses to all of the questions. So why is it, then, that we expect ourselves to either “not have needs”, or to conceal our needs in our relationships with other people out of fear of being too needy, when in fact we can acknowledge that this defies the very basis of healthy relationships, and compromises our own happiness? Perhaps if I showed myself the kindness to accept that I had needs, stopped struggling against this fact, and had the courage to more clearly communicate them to others, then firstly, I might be surprised that others are willing to meet them at times, and also I might be able to foster more healthy and authentic relationships with other people.
I’m not talking about calling someone 11 times within the hour after your first date. Sure….probably not great, and some anxiety regulation strategies could come in handy there. But to be clear and upfront about your needs to another person….does this not just make sense and make things a whole lot easier from the beginning? I’m no dating pro or relationship expert, and I don’t claim to be. But I do see in my work every day the importance and power of accepting yourself for who you are, and having the courage to communicate your needs to others.
To come back to my conversation with the psychologist who labelled me needy. He then continued on to tell me the story of St Francis and the wolf. He explained that sometimes, if we just choose to purposely feed the wolf regularly, that the wolf will stop hunting the livestock when we don’t want it to. In other words, he explained, if we work to accept ourselves for who we are, instead of trying to conceal our perceived flaws- i.e., “I’m needy”, those perceived flaws no longer hold us back or have a negative impact on us, and in fact, can be a source of strength.
So, in the spirit of the self-care september challenge, with today’s theme being “courage”….. I dare you to have the courage to be up front about your needs to others, in spite of any fears of them not being heard, or any fear of rejection. I dare you to have the courage to accept yourself for who you are, including your needs, and to know that they are worth communicating to others. If you have the courage to respect your needs, then you will attract other people who respect your needs too.