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.