Few things wound, offend and confuse us, like being called “needy”, particularly when we typically avoid expressing our needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions as a rule. It’s like, So let me get this right. I avoid saying no and pulling you up on things when I really should to meet your needs and wants. The one time I express a need, I’m needy?

This doesn’t make sense to us, with it often triggering resentment, shame and anger. So what’s going on here? Why are they calling us “needy”, and are they right?

People pleasers suppress their authentic selves, including what they need, while tiptoeing around other people’s feelings and avoiding healthy boundaries. We think this is a good thing. Or, we believe it’s how to ensure the meeting of our future needs.

Think of it like using not having healthy boundaries and sidelining ourselves to earn the credits to voice a need in future.

Hey, you. You know how I’ve been The Perfect Partner TM and just letting you do whatever the frick you want while acting like I have no needs or that I’m not as bothered as I should be by your shady behaviour? Well, I’m a human being. It’s time for you to commit/stop mistreating me, and I don’t see why you can’t because I’ve earned it.

The idea is that because we haven’t called the person out, said no when we needed, wanted to or should have, or we’ve let this person take liberties, they shouldn’t take issue with or criticise us when we do finally speak up.

But another significant factor is using suffering to call attention to a need or legitimise it.

So we keep tolerating the unacceptable and suppressing and repressing ourselves so that we feel entitled to voice a need in the first place. It’s like, I know I could have expressed who I am and what I need early on in the proceedings. I held off, though. I let you bust my boundaries so that when I did speak up, you’d feel bad and want to make it right. You’d see how much I was willing to be and do for you and pick me.

Of course, if we always have to do the equivalent of putting ourselves in acute, urgent need before we’ll voice our needs and reveal even a little of ourselves, this affects how we express it.

Sure, we might ask sweetly, nicely, calmly, or whatever we tell ourselves, but there’s a lot of pain behind this.

We also don’t expect to get a no.

Or we feel resentful, hurt and frustrated enough that we don’t think we should get one. We think we’ve done all of the right things to prove that we are not needy.

And to us, it feels like we’re about to go into cardiac arrest, but they don’t see that. Or they don’t want to. It’s possible that they feel blindsided, manipulated or pressured.

It’s easier to call us “needy” than to acknowledge that they’ve benefitted from us not owning our boundaries and their exploiting this. To bring us into that space where they treated us as an equal and they queried certain things or even took responsibility for where they were overstepping means acknowledging that regardless of our boundary issues—and we do have them—they relied on us being in the role of giver while they got to take.

Don’t use not having boundaries as a currency to meet your needs and wants.

Regardless of our ‘good intentions’, if we avoided boundaries and voicing our needs so that we could, in effect, generate the owe and use the credits at a later date, that’s a problem.

We’re not needy for having needs. But neglecting ourselves guarantees that when we do voice a need, it’s not gonna be pretty. And when we suppress and repress ourselves to be over-responsible to others, we’re ultimately expecting others to do for us what we don’t do for ourselves.

So that’s why we get called “needy” even though we might rarely express our needs. Having needs isn’t “needy”, but the delivery and approach might be. We held back instead of being upfront; we kept score to earn the credits to later speak up without conflict. Now we’re in an uncomfortable space of urgent need and feel entitled and owed.

Ironically, hiding or playing down our needs is more likely to result in being called “needy” than consistently expressing our needs through authentically being ourselves.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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