RSS Feed

Tag Archives: needy

Indispensable

Indispensable

My therapist once told me that I try to be everything to my partner–even things that he didn’t know he needs. This was not a conscious strategy. Why in the world would I want to do something so unrealistic?

After I thought about it, I realized that I want to be indispensable so that if the person needs something, I can say, don’t go anywhere! I can fix that! That way he can’t leave me.

This is a pretty common strategy for helpers–professionals and nonprofessionals. Everyone comes to us when they have a problem. We are such good listeners. We give fantastic advice. What would they do without us?

Although being indispensable gives the illusion of safety, in reality, it has not actually prevented people from leaving me. And it has not protected me from heartbreak.

Plus there are other drawbacks. It is impossible to be all things to all people, so I can never succeed. Which increases the likelihood that I will feel like a failure.

And even when someone thinks I am everything he needs, it becomes a burden because then I have to try to convince myself that I love him.

But then when I can’t convince myself, I still can’t leave him, since I tried to be indispensable so he wouldn’t leave me. That would be unfair.

So then I just start another relationship and let the new person’s needs pull me away from my existing relationship. Which is way worse than just breaking up with the person to begin with.

Or if he breaks up with me, I’m all devastated at first, but then I realize I actually didn’t like him all that much. Which makes me feel crazy for having invested so much energy into the relationship.

The biggest problem with trying to be indispensable is that, until recently, I never asked myself what I need in a relationship. This is proving to be a difficult question to answer because, as I indicated in a previous post, I don’t know how to distinguish my wants from my needs.

Usually the guy, my family, and my friends would tell me that I’m being unreasonable. So then I would try to convince myself I don’t really need what I think I need. But that doesn’t seem fair to me.

This is exactly why I am not looking for someone to date. Too many decisions that don’t make any sense.

However, I now realize that I can choose to give myself what I need. I can even choose to give myself what I want.

So now I don’t have to worry about someone else telling me I’m unreasonable. I don’t have to be afraid of being alone. Or force myself to try to love someone. Or try be indispensable so that I won’t be abandoned. In theory, at least.

So for now, that’s what I’m working on. Reminding myself that I am indispensable–to me.

Positively Selfish

One of the hazards of working in the helping professions is burnout. People who are drawn to helping others run the risk of giving too much of themselves. In my case, however, I run the risk of burnout in my personal relationships more so than I do at work.

There are a lot of advantages to working in a counseling center. Even though you don’t make as much money, you have access to a lot of resources that you don’t have in private practice. I have colleagues, the student health center, deans, RA’s, and peer counselors who share the load. The most stressful periods of my job are predictable and time-limited: they occur around the middle of the semester and end around finals week. There are boundaries that are built into our schedule, as well. Appointments are 50 minutes long at the most. We don’t schedule clients past 5 pm or on the weekends. Students go home for breaks. We don’t see students after they graduate.

My personal life is a different story. Many of the people I love have emotional needs that they expect me to fulfill. Appointments are not time-limited. I am on call 24-7. I usually cannot terminate these relationships, nor do I want to. I have a hard time saying no to whatever they ask of me. And in many cases, I do not feel I am getting back as much as I am putting into the relationship because their emotional resources are more limited than my own. Which is not their fault. It’s just unfortunate for me.

That is part of the reason why I want a hiatus from loving and caring for anyone or anything new. No dating. No pets. Just me and my plants. I’m burned out; I want a more solitary job in my personal life.

I was telling my therapist the other day how this makes me feel selfish. She told me that I’m being honest with myself–more authentic. That we need another word that conveys positive selfishness. Which is kind of sad, really. What does it say about our culture that there would be no word for a healthy focus on oneself?

She nominated the word selful. Full of oneself, but in a good way. More like being whole. But it doesn’t roll off the tongue the way selfish and selfless do. Plus it looks weird. So I am open to suggestions.

Losing Control

I am seeing a couple of clients whose lives revolve around not losing control of their emotions. They both have a parent who is very out of control–addictions, emotional outbursts, marginally functional–the kind of people who seem beyond hope. “Black hole people,” as my client calls them. These clients fear that if they let their emotions out, they will get lost in them like their parents.

This is a common fear. Most people think that having feelings makes you needy. Weak. Crazy. It’s better to do whatever you can to avoid feelings altogether. Ironically, it is the things that people do to control their feelings that brings them to therapy.

Eating disorders are a good example of this. Every client says that their eating disorder began as a way to have control. They can’t control any other aspect of their lives, but they can control what goes into and comes out of their bodies. Stuff down their feelings with food. Numb themselves by restricting and exercising. Get rid of feelings by purging.

At some point they lose control over this strategy. They think about food, exercise, bodies, and weight all day long, every day. They eat in isolation. They lose friends because they are constantly lying and hiding. When it gets really bad, a dean forces them to come to the counseling center. But no one can help them until they are willing to let go. Until they are willing to feel, to be vulnerable.

We all have ways that we try to control our emotions. Mine is to help other people. I don’t have problems. I don’t need anyone. I’ve got all the answers; I don’t need help.

A client recently asked if I had any flaws. I told her that I have all kinds of flaws. She seemed relieved. I almost told her about my blog–but I’m not ready to go that far.

So what do we do with all of these feelings if we don’t suppress them, deny them, or push them away? How do we keep from falling into the black hole?

One of my favorite movies is “The Matrix.” By the end of the movie, Neo realizes that all of his fears are an illusion. He has to die first to realize this, but once he is outside of the matrix, his fears no longer control him. Feelings are the same way. Your feelings are a part of you, and you are larger than any of your parts.

Sometimes you have to let go before you can discover that you have control.

Anger

Have I mentioned that I have problems letting things go?

That’s why I obsess so much. And why I stick with knitting projects that make my life miserable. And why I try to make relationships work at all costs. And why I have a hard time forgiving myself.

It’s also why I can hold on to anger for so long. I know some people like anger because it’s more empowering than feeling hurt, but I hate it. It’s downright painful. If I could will myself to let go of anger–or any emotion, for that matter–I would. And even though I know better, I still get mad at myself for not being able to stop being angry.

Recently I had a friend tell me that when you get older you become more forgiving of yourself. That might be true for normal people, but I’m no so sure it’s true for me. Because I’ve heard women say the same thing about being in their 40’s, and I’m pretty sure I’m just as self-critical and guilt-ridden as I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

I am having a hard time letting go of my anger about my last relationship, even though I’m glad that it’s over. I have made a concerted effort to turn to my friends and share how I feel, but in all honesty, sometimes it just makes me angry at them.

Most people aren’t very good at saying helpful things. Which is why I wrote the post on good intentions. I’m trying not to take it personally. Not everyone can be a good listener. I would be out of a job if everyone were. But it’s still frustrating to try to talk to someone about how angry I am, only to feel worse afterwards.

I’ve tried other things, too. I’ve prayed. I’ve meditated. I even apologized for being angry. Which doesn’t make any sense, really, but I was desperate for some shift in the intensity of my anger.

Today I tried 3 new things. First, I gave myself permission to be angry for a day.  Which had the unintended effect of making my anger seem forced and difficult to sustain. Sort of like the whole reverse psychology thing–although psychologists don’t actually call it that.

I also looked at a journal entry from right before the breakup. It reminded me that there were a lot of things that I tried to be OK with because I thought my anger and sadness and anxiety were a product of my neediness. Or a result of being too demanding. Or were figments of my imagination.

Now I realize that I felt those things for a reason.  I’m mad at him for letting me believe that my feelings were my fault. And I’m mad at myself for not trusting my feelings.  But reading that journal entry reminded me that my feelings are always legitimate–even if they don’t make sense at the time. So I have renewed my commitment to honoring my feelings.

The last thing I did was to give myself permission to blog about my anger. I have thought about doing it for some time now but decided against it until today because I thought it would be too negative. Even though I write a lot about negative things, I try to end on a positive note. I didn’t think there could be a positive note to end on in a post about unrelenting anger.

But then I remembered that the point of my blog isn’t to be positive. The point of my blog is to be honest. And my anger is just as much a part of me as anything else.

And you know what? I actually do feel better…for the moment. So blogging about it helped after all.

I don’t really have any art work that reflects anger so I thought I would feature some self-promotional art work instead.

Wants and Needs

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.

In Need

I don’t like the word needy. I much prefer the word crazy to needy.  Crazy can have many meanings, and not all of them are negative.  Sometimes crazy can be a compliment.  At least that’s how I interpret it when I’m feeling good about myself.  Neediness, on the other hand, is never a compliment.

I admit I am sensitive to the word because I have been accused of being too needy, too demanding.  I have tried to correct for this, but I don’t know how to distinguish my unreasonable demands from my needs.

I’ve tried to deal with it by giving my partner the benefit of the doubt.  If he couldn’t give me what I needed, then perhaps it was a demand that I mistook for a need.  How important is meaningful conversation anyway, really?  How much contact is actually necessary for the survival of the relationship?

This approach hasn’t gotten me very far.  I seem to have overshot my mark.  My therapist tells me that I cannot disavow my needs in order to make my relationships work.  Sounds good to me.  But how do you separate the needs that are necessary for survival from the ones that make people accuse you of being needy?

Let’s say that you came across a boy who you met in the woods while hiking one day, like the wild boy of Aveyron.  You feel bad for him so you invite him over for dinner.  But he’s really hungry, so he eats all the food in your house and still wants more.  Obviously, you wouldn’t blame the kid for this.  You wouldn’t accuse him of being too hungry, because it’s not his fault he was abandoned in the woods to fend for himself.

Psychological needs are no different.  Neediness is the product of prolonged emotional starvation.  You may not be able to give the person what they need to feel satisfied, but that’s not their fault.  It’s not yours, either.

But it feels like it should be someone’s fault, doesn’t it?  Someone should take the blame!

I prefer to reframe a needy person as someone who is in need.  Perhaps their needs are so great that I can’t help them.  That’s OK; I don’t have to be able to help everyone–although I do still try.

I am trying to think of myself as someone in need, too.  I am just learning what these needs are, because I’ve spent my life focusing on other people.  There are a lot of them, and they have gone unfulfilled for a long time.  I’m not blaming anyone for this, but I’m trying not to blame myself, either.

I’m just trying to make my way out of the woods.