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ome people have greater attachment needs than others. There’s often one child in the family, for example, who seems to have a bottomless pit inside her heart — no amount of parental love and attention fills her up.

“This one wishes she was an only child. Whenever anyone tries to talk to me, they are, in her mind, intruding on “her turn.” If I’m listening to her while I’m washing the dishes, she can’t tolerate the fact that I’m not looking at her — she needs me to stop what I’m doing, sit down, and face her! And once she starts talking, she doesn’t stop.

If I managed to give her ten minutes of undivided attention, she wants 20. She complains that I always ignore her. If she were my first child I might feel like some sort of mothering failure, but fortunately I have other children who don’t feel at all deprived of my attention.”

Some needy children want more time, but there are also those who want more things.

“Yossi wants me to prove my love to him by giving him everything he wants. If I don’t buy him a treat in the store, it’s ‘You never get me anything.’ If I don’t give him two pieces of dessert, it’s ‘You always give everyone else two pieces.’ It’s as if he feels constantly ripped off; he’s never secure in my love.”

Parenting an endlessly needy child is a drain on your emotional and physical resources. Even when a parent gets it “right,” she knows she’s just a few minutes away from her next failure.

 

Smother Mothers

When needy kids grow up they can become needy adults. Smother-mothers, for example, need their children to meet their own attachment needs.

“Everything’s always been about making Mommy happy; it’s never been about my needs. Mommy wants us to call several times a day or she dissolves into a pool of ‘No one loves me!’ When I was little, Mommy would cry if I didn’t want to kiss her goodnight. When I was a teenager, she’d sulk if I spent too much time with my friends. Mommy clearly always needed us kids far more than we needed — or wanted — her.”

There are various reasons for a mother being more needy than her kids, ranging from personality factors to mental health issues. Whatever the cause, smother-mothering is unhealthy. Kids need their space. Interdependency (healthy relationships with healthy boundaries) is the goal of loving family relationships — not dependency (the inability to cope or function well in the absence of a specified other).

 

Needy Spouses

Spouses can also become dependent on one another to the point that one partner feels suffocated.

“My wife needs me to give her tons of attention. She expects me to call her every hour or two when I’m at work and gets upset if I don’t. At first it was flattering, but after a few years of this it feels more like I’m her slave.

 She needs to know where I am every minute and when I’m coming home — which better be very soon, or else! If I make a detour on the way home to do an errand, she’ll practically be in tears when I arrive. And business trips? Forget it! My partner does all of them. Somehow his wife doesn’t need him to be home all the time.”

Needy people hurt the ones they need. They don’t intend to do so, but it’s the natural result of someone feeling trapped, controlled, disrespected, and put upon. The irony is that the needier a person is, the more she ends up pushing people away.

 

Needer and Needed

Needy people need to give space to the significant people in their lives. To help them step back, they should learn to “diversify.” It’s important for people to have a variety of people and activities that nurture them and it’s crucial that no one comes to depend on just one person for all affection, support, attention, and stimulation.

People who find themselves to be excessively “needed,” can take steps back as well. Setting healthy boundaries is every individual’s responsibility. Refusing to call every hour, constantly report one’s whereabouts, or severely limit one’s activities in order to be constantly available and connected to just one person is necessary in order to be a healthy individual in a healthy relationship. When this is hard to establish, seek professional guidance.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 593)