To starve means to be at risk of death.
It has been a year since my first article was published on Elephant Journal, “The 10 Nonnegotiable Needs that must be Met to take us from Emotionally Starved to Satisfied.” It was written for International Women’s Day. The article has been read 100.6k times and shared 10.5K times. I was already a year into the thick of my inner workings and the response was powerful in and of itself.
Like me, there were thousands of women from all walks of life, emotionally starving.
That might sound dramatic, but the situation was dire. To be starved emotionally implies that we were deprived of having our emotional needs met. Those emotional needs tie closely to our dependency needs.
Dependency needs are: “Any personal need that must be satisfied by others including the need for affection, love, physical care, warmth, protection, and security,” defined by the American Psychological Association. We are all born with needs that can only be met by others. We start fueling our emotional tank from the womb to the grave. Others are placed in immediate roles around us to meet those needs, or not.
Dependency is such a dirty word. This is especially so if as a child you didn’t receive affection and emotional care from those significant relationships in your life. We are constantly shamed into believing that we have no need for others. Western cultures push independence from early life; self-soothing is the goal instead.
The push for the status of “independent woman” is highly favored. We can cook and clean, raise children single-handedly, work, earn money, pay bills, and adult our days without needing a lot from anybody. Starved and exhausted are the only things we seem to be experiencing amidst all this independent living.
With everything we do, whether in work, marriage, partnerships, parenting, family, friendships, or other connections, we seem to be doing it all unplugged. But we need to be connected to others to meet our dependency needs to be nourished from the inside out. To draw sustenance so we can sit securely in our authentic power.
We fill that unmet need with addiction, emotional eating, new and exciting (fast and intensely passionate) relationships, holidays, work, overcommitting ourselves, and constantly planning so we never have to feel. We overextend ourselves, and then we scream that the world does not give us what we want—connection and community.
I often felt ashamed of my dependency needs. I wore my independence like protective armor and in all modern accounts, I was self-sufficient. I learned to take care of myself and also give to others in the hopes that I would somehow get my own emotional needs met.
To be honest, I wasn’t convinced I even had any.
When I wrote the “10 Nonnegotiable Needs” article, I was well on my way to realizing that all my efforts and hard work still meant that I was tired, emotionally exhausted, and really more alone than ever before. That moment of realization changed my journey going forward in such a profound way. When I accepted that it is normal and necessary to depend on others, I was forced to look at the relationships I was currently in.
Were my relationships meeting my needs for affection, belonging, closeness, protection, and security? Could I depend on anybody if my wheels fell off one day? Most of all, were these relationships nourishing me? Sadly, they were not! Partly because I was living a life pretending that all was simply wonderful.
I’m not saying our independence is an unnecessary or futile practice. I have a strong need for autonomy and control of my own life; I love that my mind is a beautiful and wondrous place (at least to me); I have freedom of choice; I can dream and do more of what I love; I can also make decisions that nourish me; I can practice daily self-care without resentment, which is important so we don’t abandon ourselves.
The difference in what I have learned by accepting and validating my dependency needs is that we can do all this, and more interdependently and cooperatively than we could ever do by ourselves.
When we try to do everything by ourselves, we become martyrs. We show the world how hard our lives are, and then we are angry when the world doesn’t reach back out and love us for all the hard work we do.
Self-love is part of the picture, but no amount of loving ourselves is ever going to truly enliven and “spark joy” in our lives. Too many only focus on romantic relationships for their sustenance. It isn’t something to feel ashamed of—wanting that intimate relationship—but we can have a variety of nourishing relationships so that we don’t have to go through life alone.
Interdependency in healthy connections creates safe living spaces for us to navigate life with greater support. Dr. Sue Johnson has written that “Emotional connection is a sign of mental health. It is emotional isolation that is the killer. The surest way to destroy people is to deny them loving human contact.”
Unhealthy or codependent relationships are when people are overly dependent on each other. A lot of our current relationships are codependent and are essentially refueling our emotional tanks with the lowest quality of emotional nourishment.
That is why we are starved.
Traits of codependent relationships include:
>> Poor/or no boundaries
>> People pleasing
>> Unhealthy and ineffective communication
>> Envy and competition
>> Lack of emotional closeness and intimacy
>> Neediness and constant focus on self
>> Controlling behaviours
>> Blaming others
>> Low self-esteem
>> No meaningful goals
In healthy or interdependent relationships, there is a recognition of the importance of the emotional bond that is shared while still maintaining a solid sense of self within the relationship. This includes all our significant relationships, and it is especially important in our romantic ones.
A healthy, interdependent relationship can be recognized by some of the following:
>> Healthy boundaries
>> Active listening
>> Time for personal interests
>> Clear and effective communication and managing conflict
>> Taking personal responsibility for behaviors (my definite favorite)
>> Creating safety for both people to be vulnerable
>> Engaging and responding to each other
>> Healthy self-esteem
>> Being available and emotionally present
>> Being open and approachable
>> Genuine reciprocity
If our friendships, work relationships, family relationships, partnerships, marriages, or any other relationships that matter to us don’t share these characteristics to some degree, then it’s time for a good revaluation.
My authentic power is switched on for the first time in a long time. I have a clear sense of who I am, what I stand for, what I value, and I have my own self-respect. My growth is my responsibility. I am not resentful of the work that needs to be done. The recognition of my dependency needs has helped me say goodbye to relationships that no longer nourished me.
When we make space in our lives for more of what we deserve, and when we know what that looks like, the universe brings nourishing connections our way. I don’t know how—but it works.
When we don’t give ourselves time for self-awareness and for our individual healing journey, when we rush too quickly to avoid feeling alone, we are always at risk for old patterns of codependency. Those old patterns are powerful and are always present.
We cannot create the connections or the communities we crave without doing the inner work. There are no quick fixes. The inner work allows us to be emotionally available to our connections. If our connections do their own inner work, then they can be emotionally available to us. That is how nourishing connections work.
How can you maintain a sense of self in your relationships?
>> Know what you like and what matters to you
>> Learn to skillfully ask for what you want—people aren’t mind readers!
>> Spend and make time for your nourishing connections
>> Meet new people and gently explore people of different backgrounds from yourself
>> Pursue your own personal goals regardless of who comes into your life or leaves
>> Be mindful of your values
>> Make time for hobbies and interests
>> Don’t be afraid to say “No” or “Yes,” just be clear about it
>> Don’t keep yourself small or hidden in order to please others (my other favorite)
What has changed is my outlook on relationships and knowing what healthy connections look like. A romantic relationship, whilst important, is not the only form of getting dependency needs met in a healthy way. If there is an absence of a romantic relationship, there is still space for us to tell our own stories. Iyanla Vanzant refers to this as the “meantime.”
I feel like my connections have helped me step into my authentic power—they spark joy in my life like I never knew they could.
When we are nourished inside and out, we can only be the best versions of ourselves, allowing us to show up for ourselves and others.