Vulnerability vs Neediness

September 2, 2019
Devon Knows

I’ve been known on occasion to get lost in the murky space between neediness and vulnerability. I say ‘neediness’, the implication being ‘weakness’ obvs. Because anything that exposes your innermost squishiness is BAAAAAAAD innit? 

At the sage old age of 35 I do know this to be bollocks. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are (I am) conditioned to believe that vulnerability is synonymous with all of the emotions that make us crawl in our imperfect human skins – shame, fear, uncertainty, exposure. In accepting the perpetuation of that viewpoint without question we invariably lose sight of the fact that true vulnerability, rooted in trust and security, actually opens us up to the most wonderful parts of human existence – connection, creativity, joy, authenticity and intimacy. And without those we’re quite possibly merely existing rather than grabbing our humanness by the short and curlies and living. The pronoun switch is intentional: referring to ‘my’ vulnerability rather than ‘ours’ is far far too exposing, brain re-programme is a work in progress y’all. 

Humans are wired for connection, acceptance, the love of other humans – whatever that looks like. We just are: thanks years of evolution you sadistic bastard. Denying that at the risk of sounding ‘needy’ is like getting a little beautiful bouncy adoring puppy (yep, dog analogy, bear with) sticking her in a crate and leaving her in the garden. The longer you leave her there, cold and hungry and starved of affection, the more she’d morph into a vicious, growling beast of a thing. More and more desperate. She’d rewire herself to accept morsels of all of the things…food, ear scratches, a fleeting glance here and there. She’d lap up the scraps, you’d probably call her needy. 

And therein lies the belly rub: when we stick our quite legitimate human vulnerability – the desire to be really truly seen and accepted – into that crate and leave it neglected and untended, it very quickly turns into that thing we’re desperate to avoid: neediness. And, well, then we might be a bit screwed. 

We don’t want to be vulnerable because we’ve been confusing that with neediness but they aren’t the same thing at all. We all have needs but we don’t start out ‘needy’. We become needy when we’ve deprived ourselves of the basics. And we only really deprive ourselves of the basics when we aren’t vulnerable to begin with. Or when we don’t have enough self-love and acceptance to trust that we can hold ourselves regardless of the actions of others. D’you see where this is headed….? 

It might just be conceivable that acknowledging and owning our vulnerability might stop us being needy. We could honour the very things that make us human, respect and meet our own basic needs and stop ourselves getting backed up and unfulfilled which is when the neediness takes over. 

It’s not quite as easy as that though is it? First we have to learn to accept that it is no one else’s job to fix us. Exposing our innermost selves in the hope or expectation that another will swoop in on a white horse and whisk us away or better yet try to fix the problem for us is the very neediness we all love to hate. Exposing our innermost selves because it’s beautiful and we’re ok for it to be seen is vulnerability. And that’s pretty fucking-a. 

Committing to vulnerability without the guarantee of acceptance is the ultimate trust test. A little like that excruciating team building day where we know we’ll at some point have to fling ourselves backwards into the waiting arms of our colleagues knowing for an ABSOLUTE FACT that Elaine from Accounts really does not have the forearm strength for this shit. 

We may fall, Elaine may drop us, it might sting, we may not throw ourselves willingly into Elaine’s arms again any time soon but we will live. 

Imagine trusting Elaine this one time. Imagine her spindly wrists don’t buckle under the pressure. Imagine she catches us, sets us gently on the ground and we carry on as we were. Or imagine we fall and pick ourselves back up, dust it off and crack on. Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s broken. The universe hasn’t been dragged screaming into a whirling vortex of hellfire by that shit demon from Dogma. We might have a little more grudging respect for Elaine. We may have a little more grudging respect for ourselves. Who knows? 

I started this lost between vulnerability and neediness. Now I’m a bit confused somewhere between Elaine from Accounts and a ridiculously cute puppy. 

What I’m saying, with apparently every single word I know, is that vulnerability is ok. And like a muscle it needs using gently and often before we can trust it enough to hold us up.  Vulnerability is categorically not the same as neediness. 

If we exercise that muscle often enough we’ll learn to have faith that we have the capacity to open ourselves up without the crippling fear that we are somehow demanding too much of others because it’s entirely possible to be vulnerable and functional and responsible for our own stuff. Sure it’s wonderful when someone can sit there with us and say ‘I see you. You’re alright you are’. But there are also mirrors. Maybe we could sit with ourselves and practice. 

Eventually we might drop the word needy from our vocab. We might accept that we have needs and that it’s ok to seek to have those met safe in the knowledge that we trust in ourselves enough to change our own course or indeed meet our own needs.

We won’t settle for scraps but we won’t be dependent. We won’t be emotionally isolated either.

We could be strong and authentic and open and that might be what vulnerability is truly about. And that doesn’t sound so bad…..does it?!*

*disclaimer: yes it sounds excruciating but oh so worth it.

Wonderful Wednesday 12th December 2018

The Real Live Column

I write a column too (I KNOW!) Here's one I liked writing: On slut shaming. Conclusion: not cool.