I need to be needy

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am very heavily emotionally invested in maintaining my self-image as a needy, immature, unworthy child instead of a confident, mature, attractive adult woman. The very idea that I am actually an middle-aged adult woman has been upsetting, as I’ve never thought of myself as a responsible adult ever. It shows in my life. No relationship, no children, no decent job, nothing to show for my life. The only thing I see that I’m getting out of these thoughts and feelings are the sticky comfort of old habits. I refuse to take risks, even though logically, I know I’ve “failed” before and survived. It’s as if I can’t bear making any more mistakes or lose another relationship or put myself out there again for anything.

Recently, when I realized that I’ve put myself down for no reason at all for 35+ years, I actually cried, not from relief, but from the knowledge that I have to do some difficult work to break these thought patterns. It feels like it would be so much easier to just let the habitual thoughts hold sway. I’m used to being poor, working crap jobs and not being in a relationship.

I’ve had some pretty convoluted thoughts that I’ve used to keep me safe in my comfort zone of doing the bare minimum to get by in life, such as convincing myself that I’ll only attract losers forever, or that I’m not as talented as I think I am in the field of endeavor I wish to pursue; both of which have been proven wrong in reality repeatedly. But when the opportunities come, I run the other way, convinced that I can’t handle them and that it’s wrong for me to take advantage of them. I also feel “better” believing that no one likes me and that I don’t fit in, and that my desires and ideas are “above my station,” thus unattainable and that I’m unworthy of working towards what I want.

I am mired in what is almost these fake self-doubts. It’s as if I believe that if I have some self-confidence, I’ll become a person who’s too big for their britches or that by succeeding, I’m hurting other people.

How can I stop feeling angry about knowing that these self-defeating thoughts must change? My life is slipping away.

A: What an insightful letter! You’ve done half the work already. You’ve clearly outlined the problem and you seem ready to consider some changes. Without talking with you further, I can’t venture why you’ve backed away from life so utterly. I am sure that there is a good, but not very useful, reason. It’s important to get to some new understanding so that you can stop scolding yourself and instead have compassion for the younger you who came up with the best solution she could at the time. Once you know what the problem is (or was), you can turn your adult mind to finding a better way to address the problem than staying stuck in a kind of perpetual adolescence. I hope you’ll make some calls to find a therapist who can help you make sense of yourself and move forward. You are fortunate to live in a city where there are probably thousands of qualified therapists. Ask your doctor or people you trust for a referral.

The anger you are feeling is energy. You can use it either to dig your hole deeper or to jumpstart yourself into some action. I really, really hope you’ll do the latter. Get the support and help you need so that the second half of your life isn’t a repeat of the first. You deserve so much more.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Mar 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). I need to be needy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/03/23/i-need-to-be-needy/