Do you know someone who struggles with emotional attachment? Someone who struggles with becoming emotionally attached too soon or too fast? What about someone who struggles with putting up appropriate boundaries for fear of losing a person, angering a person, or expressing their own needs? Emotional abuse and bondage may be more prevalent than we all think. You can Google the term “relationships” and find multiple topics on co-dependency, emotional attachment, emotional and psychological abuse, and narcissism. It is a topic that many of us feel drawn to because human beings must have relationships. We’re constantly challenged to figure out how to keep them healthy, respectful, or at least somewhat “normal.” This article will discuss 5 thoughts the emotionally needy person may have and ways to correct defeatist or narrow views.For most people it can be challenging to determine if a relationship that you are in is a healthy one. Whether that relationship is platonic, romantic, occupational, or family oriented it can be difficult to determine what your needs are and if they are being fully met. It isn’t until a person within the relationship begins to feel unequal, hidden, emotionally abused, or harmed in some way that they begin to question the foundation of the relationship. This is typically what happens, for example, when a woman determines that her controlling paramour or boyfriend is not “in-love” and territorial but is rather expressing what appears to be erotomatic delusions. Even more, it is often after marriage, after accepting that job position, after living with someone for 20+ years, or after spending a long period of time with someone that a person begins to question the stability or health of the relationship. This is a healthy process and should be done, preferably at the beginning of a relationship or during the time in which questions begin to arise in the relationship. But for many this process is either overlooked/ignored or minimized. Why? Because someone in the relationship is either feeling so emotionally needy that they would prefer to minimize the issue than face it, or the individual simply doesn’t recognize what might be so clear to others.
In most cases, because of a history of loss, abuse, neglect, or even trauma the emotionally needy person may struggle with maintaining a healthy relationship. It is amazing how our early attachments with a parent, extended family, teacher, etc., can cause us to conceptualize other relationships and connections to others in ways that may not be so healthy. These are called cognitive distortions or thinking errors . Thinking errors seem to be one of the most difficult things to change in therapy with individuals who are emotionally needy. One client reported to me that she is so comfortable with her thinking patterns or errors that she would rather not challenge them because then she would feel unlike herself. In a way her thinking errors were who she was. Even though her relationship with her mother and husband were suffering, she could not erase her thoughts which in turn led her to become emotionally controlled by her husband and overwhelmed by her mother.
You can challenge thinking errors by teaching yourself to consider other possible reasons for the things that may happen in your life. For example, someone calling you vulnerable does not always have to signify a negative meaning. Being regarded as vulnerable can also be a compliment as many people lack the ability to be emotionally vulnerable and thus come across as “plastered” or “fake.” In regards to the emotionally needy person, believing that they MUST have a romantic relationship in order to be “normal” is a thinking error that is motivated by an emotional void.
In my practice with clients over the years, both youths and young adults, I have noticed 5 emotional challenges/thinking errors that negatively impacted the functionality of my client in some fashion. These clients maintained that:
- I want to be loved or liked by everyone or at least someone: It is very normal for humans to have a need to be loved, liked, or included by others. It is a natural human need. But to feel the desperate need to be loved by anyone (no matter how that person may treat you), liked by all people (thinking that if you are not liked something must be wrong with you), or included at all times (feeling like you are likable by everyone and should be liked at all times) is unhealthy. Having these desperate feelings can lead to depression, anxiety, or a poor self-image. None of us are likable to everyone we encounter and sometimes we will experience people who do not like us.
- Correction: It is important to remind yourself that not everyone is going to like you and that is okay. You were not created to be liked. You want to correct this distortion or error by reminding yourself of the truth: “It is okay that everyone does not like me. I know the qualities I have and the qualities I have makes me lovable. I offer something to the world, even if others do not see that.”
- I want to be approved of in some way: This is almost similar to the first emotional need but the difference here is that the individual will strive, at the cost of their own self-worth, to be accepted by others in some way. Striving for acceptance can include the individual acting or speaking in ways that they typically would not, dressing in a manner that draws attention, and/or acting out for attention to meet the expectations of others (i.e., dressing provocatively, being flirtatious, being rude to fit in, bullying, etc).
- correction: It is impossible to be accepted by everyone. I will find a few people, even one person, who respects me and appreciates who I am. Those who cannot are not worth my time.
- I don’t respect myself enough to make you stop: Emotional neediness can lead to a person getting involved in a host of abusive and traumatizing relationships. It can also lead to a person being abused by a family member. For example, one of my previous clients struggled with finding her own identity and voice because of living with an irate and emotionally unavailable mother who seemed to find pleasure in keeping her daughter bound by lies, guilt, and fear.
- Correction: I am worth more than how this person is treating me. If I feel belittled, emotionally abused, and trapped, I am in an unhealthy relationship that will not ultimately benefit me. The chances of me becoming psychologically and emotionally unstable is high with a person in my life who doesn’t contribute to my life but detracts from it. Even though I may be in bondage or see no way out of this situation, I have to get myself help or find a way to free myself.
- I fear losing you ALL the time: It is natural, to a certain extent, to fear losing those we love. But when the feeling of loss impacts daily life and creates increased levels of anxiety or even depression, the relationship is heading towards an unhealthy place. The fear of losing a loved one to a natural disaster, tragedy, or natural death is natural as many of us experience some kind of worry or anxiety in regards to loved ones. But experiencing an ever-present anxiety, depression, or worry that the individual you love will leave you, abandon you, or isn’t showing you “enough attention” is a problem. There is often a deeper emotional problem at the core of people who fear loss and abandonment so much that they actually push the other person away.
- Correction: If you are in a relationship in which you constantly feel threatened or like the other person will leave or harm you in some way, you are in an emotionally abusive or unstable relationship. Instead of always feeling threatened or like the person will leave or harm you, you must learn to decipher between a real feeling of “impending doom” and an irrational fear. You want to challenge your fear and consider if it is in fact true.
- I can’t handle that I am so needy: Emotionally needy people who have experienced a traumatic history are sometimes very aware of their vulnerabilities (as we all have them) but struggle with how to cope appropriately. As a result, the individual will likely turn to drugs or alcohol, risky relationships that add an element of excitement to their life, overeating, over-working, etc. Anything the individual does can be, in some fashion, a way to “self-sooth” or “self-medicate.”
- Correction: The reality is that although you may be struggling to control an emotional void, you can ultimately learn to cope. Therapy, pastoral support, family support, counseling, etc. can be helpful in shaping your self-perception and emotional needs. Building awareness through faith and maybe even therapy can be very useful.
Trying to fill an emotional void is like trying to feed an addiction. You will likely search high and low for things to fill that void but ultimately come to realize that nothing truly soothes it.
Do you know someone who may fit the above descriptions? As always, feel free to post a comment or share an experience below. I continue to enjoy connecting with readers.
I wish you well
Eve Foundation. (2016). Domestic Violence Statistics. Retrieved online 4/2/2016 from, http://www.evefoundation.org/domestic-violence-statistics/.
Safe Voices. (2016). Abuse statistics. Retrived online 4/1/2016 from, http://www.safevoices.org/statistics.php.