Here is July’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
Several of my friends and my partner recently described me as “needy.” I thought being in relationships meant leaning on other people, being vulnerable with them? How can I be less needy but still stay connected? Their feedback makes me want to pull away and never ask for help again.
I know feedback like that can hurt, but I’m glad they were honest with you, and I’m glad you’re brave enough to ask how to make some changes. One of the best ways to overcome neediness is learning to be self-aware and capable of soothing your own discomfort. Most people text someone repeatedly (or call someone repeatedly, or follow them around the house pushing for attention) because they are feeling reactive or anxious, and are looking for the other person to soothe those uncomfortable feelings.
If you can learn to identify your feelings and soothe them, you won’t feel as “needy” for someone else to do it for you. Practice pausing and asking yourself, “Where does this discomfort come from? What am I feeling right now?” Be silent, and let the answer rise up. Maybe you’re worried your partner may cheat on you, even though there isn’t much evidence to support that fear. You could then identify: “I am feeling afraid and vulnerable.” Next, ask, “How can I soothe this feeling?” The most obvious answer is: Call/text/confront said partner and ask/demand/cajole reassurance out of him/her. A better answer is “I will take a slow walk and notice the changing leaves on the trees. I will remind myself of all of the ways this person is safe and accountable and I will calm my own nerves and resist the urge to reach out until it’s appropriate.”
Soothing your own feelings and building the ability to voice your needs in a healthy, appropriate manner will allow you to feel, and appear, less needy. But even the best self-soothing doesn’t work 100% of the time. Learning to tolerate discomfort, being patient with the discomfort until the feeling passes, is another important part of the process. Being human means feeling a wide range of feelings, some blissful, some boring, some unbearable. It’s okay to reach out to others to share these feelings, to seek a partner in celebration, and a comforter for pain. But if you find others describe you as needy, your challenge is to become more of your own partner, and tolerating discomfort is key. This will allow you to filter, and make choices about how and when you reach out to others, so you don’t overwhelm or exhaust them with your need for comfort or attention.
If you find you’re having a hard time with this process, a therapist can be an invaluable resource to help you learn how to lean on yourself more.
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC, a group family therapy practice in Chester Springs. She is the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families. And check out her books on Amazon.