Just the sound of it conjures up images in our minds.
Stay away from me.
We often don’t get to choose to be needy in the first place, but we do get to choose whether to stay that way or not.
Neediness is a “pleasure related vice”. It’s where you try to get something that you don’t really… well, need.
It’s usually expressed as consistent social overreaching because we don’t know better.
It’s also expressed as a requirement for constant reassurance and emotional support.
Sometimes this is because people don’t know how to read other people. Sometimes they do, but they are so desperate for that something that they overreach anyway.
Neediness is an intersubjective concept.
This means that it only exists because humans collectively believe that it exists.
The line between neediness and normal behaviour rests in what others believe is appropriate social behaviour – or not.
Examples of Neediness
Some modern examples of neediness include:
- That one person in the office who always needs help or reassurance.
- Sending someone with twenty messages in a row.
- People trying to exercise power or control that they do not have. This comes from an incorrect expectation that others should follow your way of thinking, or an incorrect assessment of the balance of power in a given relationship.1i.e., you actually need them more than they need you.
- Breaking the hierarchy of communication by messaging things that should be said in person.
Consequences of Neediness
While we may sympathise with those who are needy, there are real-world consequences.
Needy people tend to be social shunned. They end up enmeshed in a host of dependency issues.
And other people have limits. Most people are good, wholesome people. But nobody likes excessive amounts of desperation.
Why Don’t We Like Neediness?
Humans don’t like neediness.
Part of it is simple supply-demand economics – no one wants to buy what they are selling.
But there are also social reasons.
As humans, we tend to believe in and follow charismatic leaders.2This is a fancy way of saying “popularity matters with humans”.
Because of this, we don’t want to associate with people who lack options, because it feels like they don’t contribute anything.
It’s also frustrating that needy people usually want something but they don’t actually know what they want, and end up asking for everything.
Neediness also says certain things about the person who is needy.
It demonstrates a lack of self-sufficiency and self-control. It is usually wrapped in negativity and bad self-image.
Growth-oriented people find it draining because of the scarcity mentality often associated with neediness.
There are also the common associations of:
- Low social value.
- Needy people basing their value on someone else’s opinion of them, rather than their own.
If we were to look at it philosophically, being needy is living without purpose, without preferences and without values. It is the opposite of living with virtue, which is why neediness is a vice.
Why People Are Needy
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or therapist. This is just my best guess.
Neediness comes from an insecurity in one’s self, identity and actions. And this comes from a range of things, including childhood, social upbringing and culture.
The issues and trauma created in childhood manifest as a symptom where the needy person feels like they lack something, be it love, attention, acceptance or otherwise.
The effect is the same: a defining of the self through the validation of others rather than oneself.
If Neediness Is a Vice, How Do I Know If I’ve Been Needy?
Neediness is a pleasure-related vice and it is also a social vice.
If you’ve been needy, others will tell you through their words or actions.
If you are surrounded mostly by other needy people (or no people at all), you it is likely you have demonstrated neediness.
If you can’t generally get along with other people, it is likely you demonstrate neediness. Most well-adjusted human beings can get along with almost everyone else, at least on a neutral basis.3You will not be best buddies, but you can at least be polite and social.
How to Systematically Stop Being Needy
The good news is that like any other vice, neediness can be put in check and stopped.
Yes, it may not be fair that your parents or society messed you up in childhood and that others don’t have to deal with this. But with work and effort, you can overcome neediness.
The mindset side is about instilling yourself with a growth mindset, addressing any issues you have and playing a chicken-egg game with abundance.
A growth mindset basically says that you can actively work on the things in your life and improve them. “Self help” and “self development” have their share of critics, but this is where they are helpful.
If you have a friend or friends who can help pull you out of neediness that is best, but if not, then you are going to have to help yourself.
Abundance is the idea that you have more than you need and in many ways is the opposite of neediness. When you have abundance, you stop being needy.
But it is a chicken-egg proposition.
It’s hard to feel abundance until you have abundance.
The best thing you can do is to “fake it until you make it” and put in place some rules for emulating abundance until you actually have it.
The practical side of handling neediness are exactly those rules – the things you should and shouldn’t do. These will come from learning good social skills and calibration.
What To Do Next
Learn the social skills.
Do the inner game and mindset work.
You may not have chosen neediness, but remaining needy is a choice.
- i.e., you actually need them more than they need you.
- This is a fancy way of saying “popularity matters with humans”.
- You will not be best buddies, but you can at least be polite and social.
- Or, see a professional for help.
Photo by Bharathi Kannan.