Until a decade ago, relationships for me meant walking on eggshells. I was called ‘needy’ way too many times by men who were mostly emotionally unavailable, which in turn, pushed me to up my guard. I tried to act more ‘chill’, as they say in today’s parlance. This meant spending my days trying to find answers in clickbaity articles and videos that promised success in dating. I was convinced that my over-enthusiasm to text first or initiate plans was the sole cause of my unhappiness – so I tried being aloof, but, of course, I failed miserably.
I am an inherently expressive person, so the burden of suppressing feelings was getting too much to handle. My attempts to keep my partners (or even friends) invested kept backfiring. This eventually led me to therapy; and it is there that I learned all about differing emotional needs and how understanding them can foster stronger connections.
What are emotional needs?
“Just like how we have physical needs, like food and shelter, that must be met, there are also certain emotional needs like acceptance, affection, and security that help enhance the quality of life,” explains Shevantika Nanda, a Gurgaon-based practising psychologist. “In relationships, if these needs are unmet for individuals, they can lead to conflicts and cause them to feel unloved or unseen.”
These emotional needs may not look the same for every person, and could change from time to time. For Alina Ahmed (35), a Mumbai-based event manager, texting Salman (her partner) every few hours was a necessity. In the initial phase of their dating life, a lack of response from him would trigger anxiety and cause Ahmed to feel unseen. Frustrated, she communicated her needs to him. He’d then made a conscious effort to be more available on text. This had made all the difference in their dynamic.
However, for most individuals, expressing their emotional needs is challenging. In a world that glorifies independence and self-love, they fear being judged for asking what they need – is this a cause for concern?
Independence versus interdependence
In a patriarchal construct, neediness is viewed as a feminine characteristic, while independence is considered a masculine trait, says Nanda. Additionally, the importance accorded to equality sometimes leads individuals to alienate from feminine traits in a relationship, which are often associated with emotional needs. Often, this leads to internalising feelings of shame or guilt, preventing people from being vocal about their need for care and affection.
“It's never one thing over the other,” says Pallavi Singh, a Delhi-based trauma and grief-informed therapist at I Am Wellbeing. “There are some days when you need to show up for yourself, while on others, you may want your partner or others to support you. It’s not independence that we are looking at; rather, it’s interdependence that we need to discuss. Interdependence is based on individuals acknowledging and valuing the emotional bond they share with others, while continuing to maintain their sense of self.
This is where striking a balance is of utmost importance. It is critical not to solely rely on external sources to fulfil our emotional needs, as they may be detrimental to our relationships, advises Ruchi Ruuh, a Delhi-based relationship counsellor.
Can you be too needy?
“Being too needy would perhaps refer to a person who may avoid conflict at all costs, (and who) exhibit(s) a lack of respect for their partner's space and boundaries,” explains Nanda. “They also struggle to find fulfilment by themselves and have a hard time with emotional regulation.”
For Singh, neediness is a direct consequence of an unmet need for affection and acceptance, and can be present in an individual for multiple reasons, including childhood neglect, abandonment, and trauma, among other things.
While wanting our loved ones to display affection and show support is normal – increasing these demands every now and then, thereby pushing their boundaries beyond their comfort can raise challenges in a relationship. The good news is that these issues can be tackled with a little support.
“Communicate your needs to the important people in your life politely and give them the space to make an effort. If you still feel your needs are unmet, you may want to look inward to understand where this is coming from,” shares Ruuh.
Fulfilling your relationship needs
The best way to ensure your relationship needs are met is to openly speak about your expectations early on. It’s quite common for partners to be more dependent on each other in the beginning of their relationship, shares Nanda. However, with time, they start to focus on themselves.
Ruuh also has some other tips for those who want to deepen their relationship with their loved ones.
1. Do not depend on childlike reactions or throw tantrums, while expressing your emotional needs.
2. Learn to work on your own defences, and stay away from black-white thinking. “People are not there to hurt you, but are also struggling with their own issues,” she adds.
3. If you feel insecure in your relationships, try creating rituals and routines together to strengthen your bond.
4. Stop lying and hiding – this doesn't just apply to your whereabouts, but also emotions.
It is important to stop belittling people for having emotional needs – as humans, we are wired for companionship and there’s nothing wrong about it. As American actor Richard Gere rightly says, “Bravery is about the willingness to show emotional needs.” But it is as important to do so in a way that is not counterproductive to yourself, or to the people you are in any relationships with.
Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist.
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