Why It’s OK to be Needy
It’s human, not a flaw, to need others. Turn this taboo into a strength
It seems an obvious statement. We have needs. Of course, we have needs! But think about it — how well-versed are you with your own needs? How often do you tune inward to identify where you can rebalance or adjust? Do you live with an underlying belief that self-care comes second or last — or never? Consider for a moment how many times your body has told you that you need to use the restroom and you decided to wait. Or how many times you have felt thirsty and postponed the drink of water for hours. What about when a person is talking too loud or too fast and your body tightens? There are dozens of times per day when we ignore the signals of the body, and our physical, emotional, and social needs are left in a lurch.
In the modern world, we’ve suppressed the natural signals of our mammal bodies. Yes, we are human animals, but we’ve cut ourselves off from a whole system of signals and sensations about our well-being and needs. We walk through our contemporary lives, lost in thought, language and story, flooded by an over-stimulated environment while our animal bodies and instincts are left ignored, unattended to, and often suffering in profound ways. We’re either too numb or too busy to notice the messages from our human animal, or our thinking brain second-guesses, delays, and overrides these important signs about our needs.
But when we wake up this vibrant part of our humanity — what we call our Natural Leadership — we have a wise and primitive power we can harness and use to take better care of ourselves, to respond to pressures within and around us, and to build more authentic relationships. So much of the work of Natural Leadership is about sensing the mammal within and listening and attending to what is being communicated.
We don’t usually become acquainted with our needs until we feel pressure in its extremes. We hit a point of exhaustion or overwhelm, like an internal rock bottom. Other times, we come into intense conflict in relationships because we have been overextending with others or not asking for help. Worse yet, our bodies will show symptoms of stress or our mental health will deteriorate, and that’s when we wake up and pay attention to ourselves.
Our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors give us clues and signs about what is off-kilter or out of balance. Yet we ignore those subtle cues, telling ourselves that attending to our needs is optional and can wait. Many of us live on autopilot because we have been socialized, or over-socialized, to muscle forward, carry on, and persevere as if those qualities are badges of honor. The culture of our families and workplaces overvalue self-sufficiency. We critique neediness and view it as a weakness. We have all kinds of conscious and unconscious beliefs about our needs that affect how we lead ourselves and ultimately how we lead or relate with others.
But here’s the truth about needs: We have hundreds of needs all day, every day. It’s just a fact of life. The good news is that our instincts to survive are alive and well, and we do end up taking care of some of our needs without even realizing it. When we become more aware and intentional about our needs, we can improve how we function, minimize our stressors, conserve energy, get more support from others, and feel more at ease and fulfilled. We can reclaim our power.
The more that we learn the signals of the mammalian brain and how it feels in our bodies when our survival system mobilizes, the more efficient we can become at making slight adjustments and meeting our own needs. You’ll find that as you tune in to your mammalian signals, it’s shockingly simple to reconnect. That’s the beauty of Natural Leadership. We already possess it. Our hardwiring to survive and thrive is fully intact, and with awareness and practice, we are able to gain quite a bit of usable access.
Basically, you mobilize your emotional, relational, intellectual, and mammal intelligence, and in so doing, you and those around you will notice a big shift. This wordless language sends signals to others that you are stable. Because you are! There is a sequence to this. Your attention to needs allows you to care for yourself. Your self-care creates internal stability in your whole being. When you are grounded and stable, those around you can feel it and are drawn to it. The rule of thumb is that mammal nervous systems will always sync up with the most stable nervous system in proximity.
Imagine, for a moment, the implications here. Our self-care is at the root of our leadership and partnership with others. Regardless of our relational role, hierarchy, or setting, our self-leadership and the care for our mammalian self is everything. In fact, one of the most selfless things we can do is to take better care of ourselves because our self-care and our internal stability radiates and touches all who we love and lead.
If you are taking care of your own needs, listening to your own needs, leading yourself through your day and through your life with some stability, you are then able to actually lead others. Whether that’s on a small scale with a couple of people or an entire organization, or whether that’s at home leading our families or in our communities leading a group of friends. Leadership first and foremost starts with how I am taking care of my own needs. How am I leading myself?
Consider what life might be like if you could hear the honest whispers of your needs and you could answer them. Consider that you know exactly what you need. Consider that you always have. Your instincts and awareness are a source of an untapped super power. Natural Leadership may be hidden or forgotten, but it is never lost. Awaken your Natural Leadership.
Portions excerpted from The Human Herd: Awakening Our Natural Leadership by Beth Anstandig, copyright 2022. Reprinted with permission.
Licensed psychotherapist and cowgirl Beth Anstandig works with human herds providing leadership, corporate culture, and well-being programs through The Circle Up Experience.