Is it OK to be Needy?


“ I don’t want to be that needy person”, my friend said to me when I offered her some help on a big project she’s undertaken. I instantly agreed with her – oh yeah, I get it, I feel the same way, etc. Then as I drove off, I started thinking about it.

I started recalling other ‘don’t be needy’ incidents. Like when I was describing someone as really outgoing, and someone else said (disparagingly) “…or needy.” Or the entrepreneurial women’s group member who wanted to pretend she didn’t know others in her group if she should meet them at a separate event, just in case people got the idea that she couldn’t be successful all by herself. Or the many incidences of my own stubborn independence in the face of obvious need.

Why do we isolate ourselves like that?

We’re collective, tribal creatures, yet we’ve cultivated this ideal of self-sufficiency that leaves us emotionally stranded. I got on that bus way early and it’s only hitting me in the face now, decades later, that maybe I should question where it’s been taking me.

I’ve always taken great pride in my own self-sufficiency. It’s been incredibly useful to me countless times.

It’s also been incredibly limiting.

I’m only starting to realize that now as I spend more time with women. All the people who have helped me with the gumption project, with my personal transition from married to single, with my move from Toronto to Nova Scotia – well, clearly, I couldn’t have done any of it without them. Confessing my need to them resulted in support that didn’t just get me through, it made great stuff happen.

And yet, here I was the other day confirming my old knee-jerk reaction: it’s not good to be needy.

If you look up ‘needy’ online, the search results give you pages of articles on how to avoid being that, or avoid people who are that. And yes, there are versions of needy that are exhausting and destructive. But in our desire to avoid those extremes, we run the risk of killing something that actually builds connection and community among us.

I don’t want to be that needy person. Agreed. But a different kind of needy person might be OK.

Vulnerability has a lot to do with it. If I expose my need to someone, they now know something about a physical or (scarier) emotional weakness I have. It takes trust to confess need. Paradoxically, trust builds connection. And people feel good when they help others to make positive things happen. See where this is going?

As with many things, I’m now trying to work towards a balance that’s good for me and good for the people around me. Here’s my action plan:
• Express gratitude for those who help me – to them and to myself
• Be part of groups who help one another, so I get lots of practice
• Tune my ears to what people aren’t telling me; hearing through the silence when they actually want help
• Offering it, regardless, while accepting that no is as good an answer as yes
• Checking myself the next time I say no, I can do it myself, thanks, to see if that’s really the best answer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about neediness, so please shoot me some comments.

Dare I say I need them?

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6 thoughts on “Is it OK to be Needy?

  1. Winnifred Rosser

    Shelagh your current articles are really hitting home!! I learnt the hard way about not being needy. I had just had surgery for early stage breast cancer and only a few days out of hospital, I managed to reduce my youngest daughter to tears when she said, “why wont you just for once let someone do something for you, and be gracious.” I felt so terrible that I had reduced her to this because I was so intent on not being needy and allowing someone to do something for me because they cared about me. I have since learnt to take a breath sometimes and accept someone doing something for me. What I had refused to recognise was that when people care about you they wish to give to you not only for you and because they care, but also because it makes them feel needed and good about themselves. We all need someone sometimes and we must allow them in and not see it as being needy.

    1. Shelagh Post author

      Oh Winnifred, thank you for this! You’re absolutely right, needing is a two-way street and to never allow someone to help us cheats them out of something they long to do.

  2. Kate Bridger

    That’s a really good one, Shelagh … especially for those of us who take such pride in our independence and self-sufficiency. But, the recent changes in my state of health are forcing me to re-think some of my practices and my negative reactions to the word ‘needy’. After all, we’d have no human connections whatsoever if we all eschewed the ‘need’ for social encounters, shared experiences, love … and, more basically, the need for help with shovelling snow or flipping a mattress. As I remind my aging mother that she ‘needs’ help with with things in her life, I also have to turn the lecture back on myself! The lesson is not so much about giving in or capitulating, but about grace and acceptance.
    Lesson 1: be gracious; learn to receive without being resentful towards those who happen to notice the flaw in my stiff upper lip (a genetic affliction!) and have to step in to assist.
    Lesson 2: don’t contaminate a simple ‘need’ for help with guilt, shame and that awful ‘oh god now I owe them’ feeling!
    I have one friend in particular who is always helping others and giving of herself and she, quite rightly, points out that her ‘need’ is to be ‘needed’ and she doesn’t sit back on her laurels waiting to ‘cash in’ on her karmic debts … I doubt she has the time for such indulgences. “You may never pay me back,” she says, “but I know you’ve helped others in the past and will go on to help many more in the future.”
    I reckon that’s the lubricant of a well-oiled world.

    1. Shelagh Post author

      Well put, Kate. That’s the second time the word ‘gracious’ has come into the comments section on this post. There is a grace to accepting help – something often very hard won for strong women.


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