At the heart of attachment theory is the assumption that we all — all of us — have a basic, primal drive to connect. It’s wired into us, after millions of years of evolution, because on our own, we humans are weak, relatively defenseless creatures. That’s why emotional isolation registers in one of the most primitive areas of our brain — the amygdala — as a life-and-death situation (scientists call this the “primal panic”). The anxiously attached lack any faith that emotional closeness will endure because they were often abandoned or neglected as children, and now, as adults, they frantically attempt to silence the “primal panic” in their brain by doing anything it takes to keep connection. In short, they become needy. (The avoidantly attached shut their dependency needs and feelings off altogether to escape the pain of having their longings ignored or rejected.)
It’s not need, then, that engenders neediness. It’s fear– fear of our own needs for connection and the possibility that they won’t ever be met. That’s what hurtles us into the abject despair of neediness. The only way to get rid of a need is to satisfy it, and the more anxious we are about having it, the more quickly we want it met. Overcoming neediness therefore demands that we disentangle the need from the fear, and there a number of ways to do this:
Breathe. If you recognize that fear is the problem, not loneliness or a desire for contact, you can escape the suffocating grasp of the neediness by using stress management skills. Go for a run, meditate, do diaphragmatic breathing — all of these will reduce your anxiety, along with your impulse to act out of neediness.
Get connected. The researchers discovered a healthy version of dependency, one that involves a valuing of relationships. It’s not just more active, it’s more direct. Make clear requests. Neediness is all about blindly reaching when you don’t even know what you’re reaching for. Connectedness is about effectively depending on others.
Practice emotional mindfulness. Rather than acting on what you think you need, sit down and write about the feelings you’re having. Are you afraid of being alone? What’s it like to simply focus on that without trying to flee it by seeking contact? Instead of trying to get rid of the feeling, try to understand it. Not only does that make it easier for you to recognize and express your needs more clearly, it teaches you how to tolerate them.
Take stock of your relationships. Needy people often attract dates or friends who reinforce their neediness — people who crave connection, just like everybody else, but seem loathe to express the desire (they’re often avoidant). If your fear is that the phone will stop ringing if you don’t call, ask yourself, am I the one who always seeks contact or reassurance? Am I OK with that?
Make room for your needs. When we hate or fear our needs, it only makes them more intense because we’re tempted to hide or disguise them. That not only makes them confusing for others, but harder to satisfy. How you express your needs — whether for closeness, reassurance, contact, or love — will change dramatically once you start taking them seriously because you’ll have a far better understanding of what they are and where they come from.
When all is said and done, the key to overcoming neediness is to respect your needs for connection instead of fearing them. When you do, the chaos of neediness gives way to the clarity of intimacy. And everyone’s happier for it.