Many people get a message in their childhood that they should not be demanding. Parenting can be exhausting and even the best of parents sometimes struggle. The less thoughtful, faced with a child who needs something, might say “XXXX!! You’re a nuisance.” Children tend to blame themselves anyway and they often conclude: “The ways in which I need connection and attention are bad.”
This self-criticism is well supported by a powerful cultural message that “needing others is weak and being stand-alone is strong.“ You often hear the judgement “S/he is SO needy!” Hence many people resort to complete denial about needing anything at all and over-focus on their strength in standing alone – not good for relationships!
In fact, the ways in which we need things from others are important. They are neither bad and weak nor good and strong; they are a unique part of our individuality and simply part of who we are. They inform how we have to live in the world and relate to others. If a large portion of our needs are not met satisfactorily, we get unhappy. When we are unhappy our needs spiral, leading to even more shame about having them. (Including our sexual needs and preferences.)
In relationships, when we feel bad about needing things from our partners we might say something like: “You never touch me unless you want sex” instead of “I like it when you kiss me hello and goodbye.” Or “You clean the f—ing house” instead of “I am really exhausted and would appreciate some help today.” Along with being in total denial that we need stuff, comes the belief that our partner is totally to blame.
In relationships, success in getting our needs met depends a lot on how we express them. A need, cleanly and honestly expressed, gives our partners a chance to respond with honesty; either to attend to our needs, or to say openly why that’s difficult right now – an opportunity for an open dialogue about how we arrange things together so that the relationship meets enough of both of our needs.
With thanks to Staying together by S Quilliam,
Women Who Love Too Much by R Norwood,
Scripts People Live by C Steiner.
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