The Needy One

 

A couple of hours before my therapy session with E on Wednesday, I email her copies of my posts from earlier in the week, the one about trying to accept feeling depressed and the one about cancelling my Monday appointment with her.  I think, well, if she has time to read them beforehand, I won’t have to tell her these things and we can just jump in.

And sure enough, when I get there, she has read them already. She asks me almost immediately how it was, to not have therapy on Monday.

“Oh, I regretted it of course,” I tell her. “Even before Monday, I wanted to change my mind. But I wouldn’t let myself. I wouldn’t  allow myself text you about that or anything else.”

“Not even a text? Why not?” She seems surprised. We have, after all, texted back and forth probably hundreds of times over the past two years.

“Hm, I guess I felt, well that’s what I get for being such a mess,” I say. “One way or another, it’s all connected to punishing myself.”

“Right, I noticed that’s what you wrote in your post,” she says.

In my head, I think, I would have changed my mind if you had asked me. I wanted you to say, don’t cancel; I think you should come in. But that is too embarrassing to say aloud. I feel squirmy just thinking about it.

And yet. I have learned, especially over the past year, that it’s often very valuable to go to those squirmy places. So I take a breath and say, “So it’s all very childish, what’s going on with me about this. It’s my very young self, my three-year-old, who just wants the ever-loving mother to come and take care of her. She doesn’t want to ask for help. She wants the mom to love her so much that she will come and check on her, play with her, hold her. She doesn’t need to ask for help because the mom spontaneously sees what is needed and wants to give it.”

E watches me as I say this, nodding. My heart is fluttering, but I keep going. “It’s the same part I think, no, I know it’s the same part that longs for comforting touch. She wants a mother who is crazy about her. I want that.”

“Of course you do,” E says, quietly. “I wish you had that. I’m so sorry you didn’t.”

She goes on to tell me that it’s okay to have the longing to be loved and comforted, to be sought after instead of having to seek that love. “You can validate that plea from your three-year-old self,” she tells me. “You can tell her that it’s fine to long for those things. And you can tell her that because you are an adult, you are not three, there is no one in charge of taking care of you, and you aren’t likely to be sought after in that way. So you, as the internal mom, will need to reach out on her behalf and get her what she needs.”

My head reacts: Right, of course, makes perfect sense.

My heart reacts: No, no, I don’t want to do this for myself! I don’t want to, and I  can’t, and I don’t even want to need this and why, why, why…

The heart is so confused, irrational, and tender! I used to hate that irrationality but I am learning to respect it. So when E continues talking in the same vein, and it’s too much for me, too fast for the confused heart to take in, I interrupt “Wait, wait, can we slow down and take that apart?”

“Of course.”

“The first thing you said was that I can validate the girl’s need for connection, her desire to be sought after. But already there, I struggle. I have a lot of judgment about that, about how needy that girl is.”

“Okay,” E says. “What kind of judgment? Are you thinking it’s pathetic? It’s too demanding?”

“Yes,” I say. “And I feel like she shouldn’t get that unless she deserves it. I have to earn the care and attention. And pathetic, yes. That neediness isn’t attractive, isn’t lovable. In fact, the very fact that I am needy is proof that I am unlovable. Because if I were lovable, someone would want to take care of me, someone would already be doing it. If no one is doing it, it must be because I’m not worth it. So I look at that neediness with great disdain.”

(As I type that paragraph, I have to pause and read it again, and then again. It feels like a crucial insight to me: I see my own neediness as evidence that I’m not worth loving.)

We talk about that neediness a little. What do I even do with it? As she always does, E reminds me to start with empathy. I can tell myself something like this, she says: Oh, you are needy, and you don’t like that; you don’t approve of it. You wish you weren’t. You think if you ignore that neediness or if you bury it, it will go away. But that hasn’t worked very well, has it? 

She suggests thinking about what I could say directly to the needy three-year-old: Of course you are needy; that’s so normal. I want to meet you in your neediness, to stay with it without suggesting that it has to change.

My head reacts: This sounds so woo-woo.

My heart reacts: Okay, this feels more soothing, maybe this is right…

E reminds me of my emotional house, a metaphor I used to play with a lot but haven’t used much recently. “You could make a room for the little girl,” she suggests. “It could have call buttons all over it so she could push them to get attention. It can have lists of needs on the wall so she can tell you what she needs.”

That doesn’t sound right to me. I think for a minute, then tell her, “No, I think she doesn’t want her own room. She already feels too alone.”

E nods, “Okay, I see. So what does she want instead?”

“I think she needs to be in the big, open living room. We can just make it bigger,” I think about how easy remodeling is when you are dealing with metaphors. “We can make a section for her.”

“What does it look like?” E asks.

“I guess kind of like a good preschool. It has a play space with the little wooden kitchen, and some blocks…”

“…and some blocks,” E says, at the same moment.

“Exactly. Everything is low so she can see what the other inhabitant of the house are doing in the living room. And there are some bit pillows where she can curl up in and sleep. Oh, oh, and she needs a dog, a big dog that is absolutely devoted to her.”

bernese-mountain-dog-1205918_960_720

We also decide that Judgment gets a space in the house, too. But unlike the needy girl, Judgment gets her own room, off at the end of a long hallway. I decide to give her a computer and ask her to make a spreadsheet of all the things she has judgments about and to code them into categories. That will keep her occupied for a long, long time, and maybe she won’t have as much time to stand around and disapprove of the needy little girl.

Again, I am astonished at how sweet and comforting it can feel to create an entirely imaginary space for these different parts of myself. As we talk about the spaces for my parts, I can feel myself settling down. My breathing is slower, and my heartbeat is steady again.

Near the end of the session, E tells that she will be gone over the weekend, at a retreat in the woods where she won’t have cell coverage. The rational part of me nods, okay, that should be fine, right? I don’t text her every day anymore anyway. But immediately, the needy little one is on alert again: E is leaving! She’s abandoning us!

So right away I have a chance to practice soothing the frightened little girl who fears she is unlovable. That’s my emotional homework for this weekend. It’s a challenge, for sure. And yet I’m carrying with me something warm and rich from this session that I think will serve me well.

 

 

12 comments

  1. You articulate yourself so well, especially in your saying how your neediness is evidence of you not being lovable. I’ve never been able to put that thought into words, but I think that’s an accurate way to describe it for me too, so thank you for indirectly providing me some insight too. I also really identified with what you said about cancelling and hoping that she will encourage you to come, that you’d do it for her. I always have to remind myself that I’m not doing therapy for anybody else but myself, but it doesn’t eliminate this need I have for her to “fight for me” in a way. Definitely the little girl speaking. But I don’t verbalize that thought with my therapist either. Like you said, too squirmy!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Definitely, so squirmy! And you will notice that even when I tried to take a risk, I talked about the little girl and her wish for a mother. I didn’t straight out say, “E, I wish you had called or texted me asking me not to cancel therapy. I wish you would seek me out to show me your care for me.” I couldn’t put it quite so directly. Still, she knew what I meant, and I’m grateful that she can stay calm with it and not roll her eyes or back away from me. She normalizes it, and that allows me to stop looking at it with quite so much disdain and maybe consider that it’s okay if part of me is emotionally needy.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. i loved reading this, thanks for sharing. one trick i learned from therapy too was to take your younger self, imagine her, and give her a big warm hug.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, for a long time E has been telling me to be kind to my various younger selves. It was ages though before I could even really acknowledge that they existed, and then when I did that, I had to work through a lot of negative feelings about them before I could think about giving hugs. It’s been hard, but over time, immensely helpful.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is amazing work. Well done for taking a deep breath and telling E how it is for you. I really relate to what you’re saying. I have enormous trouble with this kind of conversation because when we start talking about me holding the little one that little girl starts screaming ‘noooooooo’. For her this conversation alone feels abandoning. She doesn’t want me. She wants my therapist. Ugh. I know I’ll reach acceptance eventually but sometimes it’s just excruciatingly painful. You give me hope 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not easy at all, is it? And even though I know the goal in therapy is for me to develop my own internal mothering skills and the willingness to apply them to the wounded parts of myself, I still experience a lot of resistance to this. It’s not fair that I have to do it myself! I want my real mom to do it, or my therapist, or a magical fairy, whatever, but just not me! And yet, I see that she’s right: I’m a grown-up, and there isn’t anyone in the world who is going to give to a grown-up what parents (ideally should) give to their kids.

      It helps that E will acknowledge that it’s sad and unfair and difficult.

      I’m touched and happy if sharing my experience gives you hope. I think we all need to give each other hope, because this work is hard and a lot of the time we can feel alone in a very dark space as we slowly crawl towards that distant light.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I totally agree. This work is so challenging and utterly heart breaking at times. My adult completely understands the rationale behind not being able to be held and having to integrate and accept the hurting child parts. The child parts have other ideas though! haha.

        I do take great comfort from this little blogging community and am so pleased that, in the main, people are here to cheerlead each other on and lend a supportive ear/eye!

        Take care x

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t how this lands for you, or if it feels invalidating. Little children ask for help naturally…not in adult sentences, but by crying or making distressed faces or raising their arms (up). This got trained out of you by a parent who responded negatively to requests for help. Having needs hits at the core element of the abuse you suffered…the views you have (neediness is unattractive) is how your mother may have punished you into ceasing to express your needs. What is playing out in your head (if I am needy I will be unloveable) is likely what happened. It is an event, or a series of events, not permanent reality, and it is also how one person saw you, but different people have different views. Your therapist does not find the need for support upsetting or something she needs to extinguish. She won’t attack your basic human dignity for it.

    Liked by 1 person

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