How to Express Needs without Being “Needy.”

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“You’re so needy.”

Every time I heard those dreaded words, I felt more and more confused, disconnected from both friends and partners, and ultimately, unworthy. When I tried to express what I needed, I didn’t feel heard or respected.

I found myself asking, Why aren’t my needs acceptable, but other people’s seem to be? 

I would see my friends telling their partners clearly what they needed and easily having those needs met. Why weren’t they being called “needy?” I couldn’t understand why it was so easy for them, and what was different about me. The repeated pain and confusion of this experience led me to shut down the reality of my needs. I started to doubt that any needs I had were important, and believe that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.

I was just “too needy”: my needs were unreasonable, and that would never change.

Thankfully, over time, I came to realize I was struggling not because there was anything wrong with me (and I’m confident that’s the case for us all), but because I was not understanding or expressing my needs in a way that could be heard and accepted by others. Having needs was not the issue at all! The issue was around understanding what my real needs were, and how to ask for support for them in a way that could be received by others.

Five Simple Steps to Effectively Express our Needs:

When I began using these steps, I soon found that I was no longer being called “needy.” In turn, I regained my confidence and experience of self-worth. We all have needs that need to be met, and using these steps can help us get there.

Step One: Become aware of your true needs.

Sorting out what we want versus what we truly need is an important first step. Sure we all might want our partners to text us all day while they are at work, but is that an actual need? Probably not. Maybe the need is that our partner checks in with us at some point during the day. But what if it makes us super anxious to only hear from our partner once a day?! Well, it’s okay to feel anxious. That might mean that we have some work to do around our own ability to self-soothe, rather than our partner needing to do it (more of that in Step Two).

Being aware of our true needs is only possible when we are in a calm and stable state. If we are feeling triggered in an angry or sad state because of a conflict that just occurred or because we are realizing a need isn’t being met, it’s always a good idea to wait until we feel calm again to sort out what our actual need. It is often not possible to know our true needs when we are feeling triggered.

Step Two: Tend to your own wants.

Once we’ve sorted out what our actual needs are versus what our wants are, we can now to tend to our own wants without expecting others to do it for us. For example, I need my best friend to be there as a source of support for me during a tough time in my life. What I want is for her to ask me a million times how I’m feeling and to remind me every five minutes that everything will be okay.

It’s important for me to realize the difference, because I can’t expect her to meet that want. What I can do is remind her that I need her support, and I can reach out to her to express how I’m feeling, while reminding myself that things will be okay. Asking a friend to meet all of my wants is a direct road to “neediness”—and just plain unrealistic.

Step Three: Explain the needs by using “I feel” statements.

It is always a good idea to express our needs by starting with how we feel. Using an “I feel” statement to begin allows us to take responsibility for our needs and helps prevent the receiver from feeling attacked and becoming defensive. For example, if I need my coworker to stop talking to me in the office about how much she hates our office and our colleagues, it’s best to start that conversation out by telling her why. It makes me feel anxious and unfocused when I hear negative comments about the office, and I need her to save it for happy hour. This allows for her to understand where I’m coming from, and why this need is important to me.

Step Four: Be clear and precise when expressing your needs, and make sure that they are realistic.

When we are expressing our needs, it is important to know what exactly we are asking for, and to ask clearly for that exact behavior. The more clear and precise we can be, the better chance our loved ones have of being able to step up and meet that need for us. Similarly, the more realistic our requests are, the more likely they are to be met. Setting our partners or friends up for failure never works in our favor.

Step Five: Don’t take it back!

Hopefully by this point, we are feeling confident about the need and request we just expressed because we’ve taken the time to go through the first four steps. However, sometimes we express needs and our receiver doesn’t take hearing them so well. In this case, we might then start to second-guess our request and feel tempted to take it back. Taking back a request to have a need met actually makes us seems more needy, because it validates the other person’s mistaken belief that we were just being silly, and it never really mattered in the first place. It is important to maintain our strength and conviction about our needs, no matter how uncomfortable we feel advocating for ourselves.

Understanding our needs and being able to express them to our loved ones is a way to advocate for ourselves and to engage in self-care. Additionally, knowing that we are capable of and responsible for meeting our own wants is vital for our personal growth and evolution.

Always remember that we are worthy of having our needs met, and it is a lot easier for others to believe it if we believe it, too.

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Relephant:

The Key Difference Between Having Needs & Being Needy.

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Author: Monica Nastasi
Image: Ozzy Delaney/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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Monica Nastasi

Monica Nastasi, LCSW is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Brooklyn, New York. She integrates traditional Western therapy modalities, such as CBT and Insight Oriented Therapy, with Eastern approaches, such as Buddhist philosophy, meditation, mindfulness, and reiki. She is begging her landlord to let her get a puppy but he hasn’t budged yet. Learn more at her website.

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