Category Archives: family

What About Bob? (Neediness)

One of the sadder situations we run into in our counseling practice is when we have a very emotionally needy person. In relationships, this can be one of the greatest liabilities because it often achieves just the opposite of what the person desires. The more the needy person pursues, the farther the pursued person distances from them.

Why is this?

I would define it as a control struggle. The pursued person often doesn’t feel loved, but rather they feel controlled or used. They become the object of stability for the other person, but that requires that they surrender their independence to a greater extent than they would like. They will likely become resentful and lose respect for the pursuer.

Where it gets really ugly is when the person being chased turns on the needy person and expresses hostility and disgust. This rejection fuels further control efforts, and the needy person can become even more self-defeating with intensified behaviors. Check out a perfect example:

Yes, it’s a comedy and extreme, but you can probably feel the tension in the exchange.

The reasons for this neediness probably stem from family of origin or early childhood attachment issues. These early unmet needs are never satisfied easily, and a part of the person remains emotionally immature. The internal craving for love and attention is similar to what an addict feels for his/her drug of choice.

What is the solution here?

The most helpful action is joining a codependency support group like the CODA class at our church or an Al-Anon group. Exploring the causes and grieving the associated losses will do much to bring comfort and understanding. Also, taking your dependency to God instead of your partner, as hard as that may feel at the time, will help you to not push them away and sabotage the relationship.

What if you are the one being pursued? It is not good to give in to the intense demands of the pursuer, but you can remain kind and offer reassurance. Instead of running away from them you can remain calm and set and keep reasonable boundaries. You also might ask yourself why you attract needy people. It is possible that you also have family of origin issues that could benefit by joining a codependency group.

Personal or couples counseling is also very helpful to deal with this relationship dynamic. The counselor can assist with the setting and keeping of boundaries as well as regulating the emotional exchanges.

Do you see yourself in either of these roles at times? It is always better to deal with it sooner than later. It will prevent you from experiencing unnecessary pain.


Visiting Home

Jessica had a rocky childhood (not her real name). It was plagued by a lot of emotional turmoil and conflict as a result of feeling unwanted. Her parents were emotionally disconnected and her older brother became her mother’s confidant. Her mother had expectations of her, to do chores and not get in trouble, but there was little warmth between them. Her father checked out of the family emotionally and spent as much time at his job as possible. So Jessica grew up feeling that she was not lovable and worthy of attention.
Eventually Jessica moved out, got married and started a family of her own. Unlike her father, her husband was warm and supportive. They moved several hundred miles away from her parent’s home. Things were certainly better, but she still felt somewhat insecure and anxious, especially when it came time to make the annual trip to see her parents and siblings for Christmas.
What was driving this anxiety about visiting home? 
Jessica still held expectations that things within her family of origin would change. Each year she visited, she hoped that she would finally feel special and loved. But her Mom, an active narcissist, still primarily pursued and got attention from her brother and his family. Her Dad was better these days and connected with her family, but not intimately with her. Each year she let her unmet childhood needs rule her thinking and her emotions.
So what should Jessica expect when she visits home each year?
Nothing. Tough as it sounds, grieving the loss of the way it should have been growing up and holding no expectations of change in the future is the only healthy choice. She can actively choose to go through a process of forgiving her parents for the hurts they caused when she was growing up. And she can lovingly detach when she visits, keeping the interactions light and polite.
It probably sounds unfair that Jessica needs to do the work of healing. After all, it’s her parents who missed the mark. And it isn’t fair – but it’s necessary. Otherwise, Jessica will be re-wounded every time she visits and she will become more and more bitter and resentful, and it will leak into her relationships with her husband and children.
Christ did not ask us to walk the easy path. He asked us to walk the path of freedom. Often that path is uphill and twisty, and hard to see ahead. And we have to trust that the path leads us to where we want to go. Trust is the belief in an unseen outcome, because of the assurance of the source of our information. Hopefully you place your trust in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)