The other day I had a session where I was talking to a client about wants and needs. She said that she knows that she needs to allow herself to be taken care of, but she doesn’t want to do it. I thought that was interesting. How can you not want what you need? But then after I thought about it some more, I realized that there are all kinds of things that people don’t want to need. They are usually the things that bring people to therapy.
Most people don’t want to need other people. That would make them dependent, and dependency is bad. It’s a sign of weakness. There is even a diagnosis called dependent personality disorder. Excessive independence, however, is not considered a problem. In our culture, you can never be too self-reliant.
While I have certainly seen clients who depend too much on others, more frequently I see people who are afraid to rely on anyone, like this client. Which is strange, because in the animal kingdom, humans have the longest period of dependence on their parents. And even as independent adults, we still need other people to have babies, to have jobs, and to survive. Even hunters and gatherers relied on one another. I don’t think anyone would consider them weak.
Despite this knowledge, I have to admit, I don’t like to rely on other people, either. I don’t ask for help unless absolutely necessary. And the flaw that I am most of ashamed of is my need to be in a relationship. That’s why I’m so proud of myself right now for being alone. But the truth is, while I’m not in a romantic relationship, I’m not really alone.
The other thing that people don’t want is to feel. Usually they come to therapy with the hope that I can help them stop feeling. This includes the feelings that accompany disorders like anxiety and depression, as well as normal feelings like sadness after a breakup or loneliness–because that makes you weak.
Like dependency, feelings are also necessary for survival. Without feelings, we would have no signal to figure out what is causing us pain. Without feelings, we aren’t able to empathize with other people. Without feelings, we would be classified as reptiles in the animal kingdom.
I don’t want to be a reptile, but I do get frustrated with the intensity of my feelings. Sometimes they reach the level of depression and anxiety. And then I feel other people’s feelings, too. That’s a lot of feeling for one person to tolerate. And some people do find my feelings overwhelming. I’m too needy. Too sensitive. Too much.
Or maybe they were too reptilian to be able to empathize with me.
I often have to tell clients up front that if what they want is to stop needing and feeling, I can’t help them. Sometimes they transfer to other therapists, which I understand. Who wants to be told that they have to accept being human? But most people stay. When I point out that only robots have the luxury of not needing or feeling, they acknowledge that they don’t want to be a robot.
But it’s surprisingly hard work, this being human stuff. It requires a lot of self-compassion, self-acceptance.
Which is why I started this blog.
I see satisfaction (upon maturity) as a byproduct of the balance between contributing a valuable nourishing need in the context of the community, and being open to receive nourishing value from that community. Although our biology is built on this principle, not all of us are cultivated in a social atmosphere that appropriately mimics that necessary relationship dynamic for us to realize our potential. Even though that community principle is clearly communicated through our organ structures, we can miss the point.
As a result of a wounding or malnourishing dynamic in our developmental environment we can develop pathologies such as an addition to believing everyone other person's needs and desires are our personal responsibility and that we are not supposed to have needs of our own because that is “selfish”. As a consequence we are attracted to relationships which consume us in the fires of the needs of others which also involves cycles of relational collapse. The inverse of this is the overindulged or predator who continually raises the bar on expectations to the point they exceed the carrying capacity of physical or social realities. This causes relational collapse as well.
Narcissistic addict types produce enablers and enablers produce addicts. One is “tick” and one is “tock” but both come from the same clock. It is the wave pattern of a toxic social cord struck in the human psyche that can echo many generations or perpetually unless the tender hand of a healer steps in to quiet the noise. That is why I appreciate what you do.
I agree. It's possible to have a healthy interdependence, but it requires two people who understand their wants and needs and what their capable of giving and receiving.