In my practice, many client’s have asked about how to deal with their feelings of neediness for themselves or with other needy people. The following is adapted from an article by Lauren Zander.
It comes in a variety of guises—old friends, new friends, family and colleagues—with needs that span a wide variety. Dealing with neediness gets complicated since you know that they might have thin skin, letting down these extra-sensitive people can make you feel guilty no matter how smothering their behaviour is. Fortunately, there are ways to put the brakes on neediness without hurting feelings.
What You Get From Neediness
First, take a look at yourself—because it’s possible that you don’t mind your friend’s neediness nearly as much as you tell yourself you do. That’s right—you are getting something positive from someone else’s neediness. After all, having someone constantly ask for your time, and attention is flattering, isn’t it?
1.To get things straight in your own mind, start asking yourself what subtle rewards you may be getting from your relationships with needy people. Do their perceived weaknesses make you feel strong…attractive…wise…dependable…just all-around special? Is there a unique reward that you get from specific relationships?
2.When your needy friend asks you for a lot of advice, and you’re constantly helping him or her solve his or her problems, it’s an effective way to avoid dealing with your own. Whether you realize it or not, hanging out with a needy person actually may be a procrastination technique—a way to hide from your own personal anxieties, fears or concerns.
The Usual Tactic (That Backfires)
Once you have realized how dealing with this needy friend affects you, turn your attention toward your friend—and how you can more clearly communicate with him or her. Instead of confronting the needy person head on and being honest, most of us take the easier way out and simply ignore needy people or brush them off with a lie. You might respond to one of their phone calls by saying, “Oh, did you call? I didn’t get a message…” or “I am so busy with this work project that dinner plans are going to be out of the question for the next few weeks.” However, that method will not make your friend’s needy behaviour disappear—if anything, it will make it worse. Needy people are so wrapped up in their own worlds that they might not get the hint and instead feel even more isolated and work extra hard at getting your attention. You might put them off temporarily, but that doesn’t solve the problem in the long term.
A Smarter Strategy That works
To deal with a needy friend effectively you can have a conversation that follows these four simple steps:
1. Start the conversation by expressing warm feelings of affection. You might say, “You know that I enjoy being your friend, and that I want our relationship to be strong” or “I’m so flattered by all of your calls/e-mails/Facebook posts/invitations—it’s very sweet of you.” Whatever words you choose, the point, here is to assure the other person that you care and are aware of his or her feelings.
2. Then explain clearly what is not working for you by saying something like, “It is hard for me to say this. I know that you want me to spend a lot of time with you, but I’m afraid that I’m not able to devote that amount of time to our relationship.” Then end this part of the conversation by saying, “I’m hoping that we can talk about this and come up with a compromise that works for both of us.”
3. Finally, offer ideas about what you are willing to do, and then listen to what the needy person is willing to do—in this way, you can find some middle ground. For example, in the case of constant dinner requests, spell out what specific frequency you want by saying, “It works much better in my life to have dinner once a month, rather than once a week. We can work out a schedule in advance to be sure that our plans are in place.”
4. Keep up the negotiation until you reach an agreement that you can both live with comfortably. These are not easy conversations, but they are important and fruitful because you will be getting what you want instead of tolerating what you don’t want.