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.