“My biggest fear is that people will think I’m needy,” she tells me.
“Why?” I ask.
“My mother’s needy,” she says. “And her neediness drives people away.”
“Including me,” she says grimly. “And I feel guilty about it.”
“How are you defining needy?” I ask. “As different from just having needs?”
“I think so. It’s like needing too much. The needs are too big.”
“Excessive? Inappropriate? Annoying?”
“Something like that.”
“Okay,” I say. “I think I know what you mean. But I define needy differently.”
“To me the difference between having needs and being needy is that a needy person imposes them on others.”
“Yes. Needs are normal and inevitable. We all have needs, often unmet needs, and we each have to figure out how to get them met. But a needy person is one who tries to get others to meet their needs, and they do it in a manipulative way.”
She sniffs angrily. “Sounds familiar.”
“Mom uses guilt. She’ll sigh, or look sad, or make a comment about lonely she is since Dad died, or how her life didn’t turn out the way she expected. And I’ll feel bad, and start trying to cheer her up or offer to take her shopping or cook her dinner.”
“And end up hating her.”
“Well, it’s not her needs that make you hate her,” I say. “It’s the manipulation.”
“The problem with needy people is that they never learned how to get their needs met like grownups. That’s why they impose them on others. They’re like kids looking for parenting. Behind the manipulation is a kid’s demand: Take care of me.“
“That’s how it feels, like a demand.”
“Right. And that’s why you’re angry. She’s not saying, I’m lonely, could you keep me company? or I’m sad, can I tell you about it? and giving you a choice. She’s controlling you into giving her company or attention or sympathy. And nobody likes to be controlled.”
“That’s right,” she says grimly.
“So if you don’t want people to see you as needy, practice handling needs like a grownup. Practice asking directly for what you need. How often do you do that?”
“Never. I’m scared people will say No.”
“Sure. But then you have to decide which scares you more, to hear No or be thought needy.”
She is quiet for a long moment.
“What are you thinking about?” I ask finally.
“Two things,” she says. “One, I really don’t want to be like my mother.
“And two, I need to pee. Mind if I go to the bathroom?”