In my years of practice; more often than not, a client comes in whose presenting issue is debilitating anxiety accompanied by the narrative; ‘I get too attached to others and I am too needy.’ There is shame around the overwhelming need to connect to the ‘other’ and the helplessness of being unable to hold the impulse to connect once more to the ‘object of affection’ or withdraw from the need to reach out. There is an impulsive and blinding need to walk towards the other again and again, along with a deep-rooted fear of rejection and an irrational belief that waiting for the other will be futile and he or she will never walk towards you.

People believe that it’s an adult’s need to attach and see it as a problem caused by them; an ineffective dependence where the vulnerability to the other makes one feel powerless and a victim of their own need to get attached. ‘I am too needy’ is a self-defining statement immersed in multi-layers of shame.

Well, it is an adult need to connect but it is also the primary need that the infant has when it is born; a need to feel attached to its mother and reach out (with arms stretched out) for love and care and to feel safe.

One of the most significant theories in psychoanalytic psychology; the object relations theory states that an infant’s need for attachment towards primarily the mother and other caregivers like the father who are referred to as an ‘object’ (other persons); how that need gets met and the relationship that forms between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’; most importantly the mother, is the root of the development of the psyche and a healthy sense of self. The infant internalises those relationships in the psyche as a psychological and emotional impression and it becomes a blueprint for the way she will unconsciously relate to others in her adult life.

So, the ‘needy’ adult will be someone whose need for love and attachment was most likely not met by her primary caregivers and throughout her life, she looks towards her significant relationships for attention and care.

Imagine a toddler waiting in her crib crying out for her mother to be picked up and held. If the day in and out, she has to keep waiting for her needs to be fulfilled, hungry and frustrated for love, as an adult two things are likely to happen. She will either be an adult who keeps reaching out to others; to be picked up in a way and cared for or will completely shut down her needs rooted in the mistrust that she is unloved and unwanted.

There is more self-criticism for the former position and the shame around being too needy and too much for others. The hunger for love seems to be a monster for such an individual that seems to always get unsatiated and she would judge herself; anger turned inwards for feeling hungry for love.

An infant needs ‘object constancy’ which simply means that if the primary caregivers are consistently loving and even if they are temporarily unavailable, the infant feels safe and loved. She can internalise the image of a mother in her psyche and knows that she is cared for and will be attended to. Object constancy can only be achieved when the mother and other caregivers provide safe and secure relationships. If that doesn’t happen, that infant will turn into an adult who will be ‘too needy’; experience overwhelming anxiety in all relationships, not just romantic ones, and a chronic fear of abandonment. That adult will be that infant who knew that there is no constant ‘object’ in her life. These adults do not experience object constancy which is a belief that relationships can be stable even if there is a conflict.

A belief around, ‘am I too needy’, stems from all these processes. If a child grows up feeling unloved; as an adult she will suffer from low self-esteem and will question her need and believe that she is not worthy of being loved. She will go out of her way to choose others over herself or fear conflict in the relationship; imagining termination of the relationship and abandonment. She might try to control the relationships; striving for an ideal outcome that can make her feel loved.

A ‘needy’ adult needs a safe and loving relationship to change her self-concept. She needs to have at least one relationship where she is not shamed for her needs and experiences the ‘other’ going out of the way for her and walking towards her. That’s when she can learn to accept that she is not too needy but deserves to be loved and needed.