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Dear Dr. Debra,
Two years ago, my beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer. The good news is that she was one of the survivors.
On Sunday, I was in a plant store looking at plants. I was making small talk with a woman about different types of flowers. I mentioned in passing that my mother’s journey through cancer had turned me into a Catholic.
To my great surprise, this woman’s face turned red. She looked at me angrily and she said, “Do you realize how inappropriate what you just said to me was?”
I found great solace in a Catholic spirituality, so I was quite taken aback. She went on to shout, “Look at you! You are bubbling over with neediness!” She ended by shouting, “I know about these things! I have a Ph.D. in psychology! I work in the field of mental health! GET HELP!
I told her quietly, “I’m sorry if I offended you. Please forgive me.” I stepped away to allow her to regroup.
I want to be non-defensive, and I want to learn more about how I can not trigger this sort of thing again. Are there things that make a person appear to be “needy?” “Needy” is not something that I ever want to be.
Ms. Needy
Dear Ms. Needy,
I’m so sorry about your run-in with the crazy Ph.D. It’s mental-health workers like her that give the profession a bad name. Unfortunately, many people are drawn to the helping professions because they, themselves, are wounded and dysfunctional. While there’s nothing wrong with a competent counselor who has worked hard to overcome his or her issues, all too many don’t seek healing for themselves. They might even be toxic (like this woman) and certainly shouldn’t be counseling others.
I see nothing pathological or needy about your comment regarding how your mother’s situation influenced your spirituality. In times of trouble, people may use their faith for comfort and strength. And during life’s darkest moments, many people develop a deeper faith in God. This is a normal human reaction. (The opposite is also true. Times of crisis can cause people to lose their faith.)
Licensed therapists are not supposed to overtly judge people based on their religious beliefs or lack of them. Some counselors feel comfortable helping their clients explore personal spiritual beliefs; others do not. However, this was a social situation, not a professional one, and the woman should have kept her judgmental opinions to herself.
If I had been in the same situation with you, I probably would have joined in what to me is an interesting topic. I might or might not have mentioned being a therapist. If I had, it would have been in the context of what I do as a crisis/grief counselor. Meaning I would have shared about myself, not judged you. The rare times I make suggestions to strangers about counseling, I do so with delicacy and loving concern.
You don’t appear (in this situation) to be needy. Friendly, yes. Needy, no. Your apology to the women was gracious (perhaps overly so) and certainly not defensive. You were unexpectedly attacked (a shameful situation), and defensiveness is a normal response. I am concerned that you would think you need to be more non-defensive when you already were acting that way. If this is a common reaction for you, I suggest you explore how hard you are on yourself.
Illness, dying, death, and spirituality are often uncomfortable topics. Some people avoid discussing them — perhaps they don’t even want to think of them. In the future, you might want to build a bit more rapport with someone before you bring up these topics.
As for neediness: Needy people tend to burn people out. They have an inner emptiness that they try to fill through the love and/or attention of others. They might have abandonment issues because they’ve been left many times. This often makes them more clingy and draining with friends or partners. They often don’t have any idea that they are the ones driving people away.
I suggest you look at the pattern of your relationships. Do family, friends or boyfriends accuse you of being needy? Do friends or boyfriends tend to leave?
Then, ask your friends and family for an honest evaluation of any neediness on your part. This might be neediness they feel from you and/or behaviors they’ve observed between you and others.
If your research leads to a, “Yes, I’m needy,” answer, then I suggest you seek therapy with a competent therapist. There are two ways you’ll initially know you’ve found a good therapist: you leave the beginning session feeling understood, and you feel you’ve received good feedback.
Another antidote to neediness is to become involved in your church and other community activities. Being busy and productive through doing things you enjoy, especially if they benefit others, will raise your self-esteem. You’ll also make a lot of new friends who will keep you from relying too much on a small circle of friends and family, and thus you’ll avoid burning them out.
Take care,
Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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