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Grass is Greener Syndrome: Starvation of Needs

‘Grass is Greener’ Syndrome is no joke.

People often regard this issue with a quick wave of the hand — “Oh, you always think the grass is greener on the other side.” However, for people who struggle with this issue, it is incredibly stressful and taxing, mentally and emotionally. It tends to wreak havoc in various areas of people’s lives, especially in relationships, career, the choice of where to live, and other areas as well.

One of my main specialties is working with people all over the world on this particular issue. Part of what makes the ‘grass is greener’ struggle so difficult is that it’s actually a collection of underlying psychological and emotional processes that all come together to create the larger struggle, which is experienced as ‘Grass is Greener’ Syndrome.

While there are many components that blend together to create the foundation of ‘Grass is Greener’ syndrome, and they are all worthy of their own discussion (which will get their own posts over time), for now, let’s focus on the role of your needs, and the starvation of needs.

How Does a Need Become Starved?

Everyone has needs. Some needs are more important than others. Some are deal-breakers in various ways — like wanting to get married, or having children, or living in an area that has certain amenities, or working in a job that treats you a certain way or that you find fulfilling, etc. The list of possible needs can go on and on.

However, what happens when you’re in a situation where only some of your most important needs can be met while others aren’t?

Let’s use relationships as the example here. You’re in a relationship with someone who satisfies several things that are important to you, however at the same time, you have other needs that are essentially left unmet. For example: you have a partner who is steady and secure, which perhaps is important to you, but lacks passion, which you also want in a partner.

For the grass is greener thinker, this is an incredibly tough dilemma. The more a need goes unfulfilled, the more starved this piece of you begins to feel, and the more it begins to overshadow those needs that are actually being met. Eventually, the needs that aren’t being met become so starved, that you feel truly compelled to replace what you currently have with what you’re not getting.

In the example above, the starvation of passion begins to completely overshadow the steady and secure qualities that are also important to you (it may resemble a feeling of deadness in the relationship). It begins to feel like you’re losing an important piece of yourself, and you feel that you won’t be okay without it.

Now, this wouldn’t be such a huge problem if you went to a new relationship and satisfied those needs that have been starved, and are now happy overall. This is the hope, of course. But for the person stuck in the grass is greener process, what tends to happen next is those needs are satisfied and fulfilled for a brief time. And then, the needs that are not being fulfilled in the next situation (even if they were in the previous situation) begin to get starved out. In this example, you feed the hunger for passion, but end up losing the stability and security as part of the tradeoff.

The ‘All-or-Nothing’ Problem

Grass is greener syndrome tends to be a very black-and-white process. Some needs are fully being met, and others are totally neglected. There’s very little room or tolerance in grass is greener process for middle ground and compromise, differentiation between needs and desires, or accepting varying degrees of satisfaction for the purpose of achieving greater balance.

This black-and-white process continuously feeds the grass is greener issue. The dynamic of starvation-fulfillment-restarvation-refulfillment continues to cycle until the process itself, as a whole, can be shifted. What makes things even more difficult is how much more is going on in ‘Grass is Greener’ syndrome than just this starvation mechanism. Consider this component to be one layer of the foundation of the ‘grass is greener’ issue.

Generally, by the time people start to experience the symptoms of ‘Grass is Greener’ syndrome, the underlying mechanism has been well established. When people come to me, they are often stressed, anxious, and burned out by the toll this issue has taken on them.

If there’s any one piece of advice I can give someone who’s struggling with ‘grass is greener’ patterns, it’s to not be afraid to seek outside help. Because of the deep multilayered complexity of this issue, and because of the intensity of the internal tug of war, it’s very hard to be able to pull oneself out of it without it repeating the pattern again. It’s hard to have a clear and sound thought process about what is actually in your best interest when so emotionally entrenched in the depth of the issue.

This all being said, as complex as it may be, it is very possible to overcome ‘Grass is Greener’ syndrome. I’ve seen many people come through the other end of this struggle. It may be hard to see from where you are now, but I assure you it isn’t hopeless.

Grass is Greener Syndrome: Starvation of Needs

Nathan Feiles, MSW, LCSW-R

Nathan Feiles is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He also provides online teletherapy to people who live in California and Massachusetts, as well as providing online coaching nationally and internationally. In his practice, Nathan specializes in anxiety issues, depression, relationships, commitment issues and 'grass is greener' syndrome, fear of flying (specialized method), creative blocks, and migraines. For more information about Nathan Feiles’s work, including a complete list of services, please visit his website at

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APA Reference
Feiles, N. (2018). Grass is Greener Syndrome: Starvation of Needs. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Jul 2018
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.