Thursday, May 25, 2006

On Being a Needy Asshole

The other day, in email conversation with a friend I hadn't spoken with in a while, I painfully recollected a memory of myself as a needy asshole. This led to lists of needy asshole recollections.

As I write this the discomfort of these memories and the feeling of overwhelming neediness comes back to me and I feel somewhat paralyzed to recount them.

I am less of a needy asshole than I once was. This is not because I am not needy. First of all, I have big news, which would have been useful for me to learn at a young age, but I was forced to learn this one the hard way: being needy is human. So, yes, I am still needy. But I am less needy and I am more able to ASK for what I need.

Along the way I got the message that being needy was unattractive, pathetic and just plain BAD. But, of course, since I was human, those pesky needs just kept showing up. Needs bad, but needs won't go away... I decided (not what you would call consciously) that I would figure out another way of getting my needs met: passive agression, whining, guilt, submission, mooching, etc. All these tactics sort of worked only in that I thought I wasn't showing how needy I was (which would be BAD but which was sadly obvious, if only energetically). For instance, one of my clever ways to get men to like me (a need) was to act like I didn't need anything, especially love, and it helped that I didn't think I deserved anything anyway. Oh yeah, that one worked really well--I was an unparallelled man repeller/lousy man chooser.

As a struggling artist, I was often broke and really on my own without any typical support structures. I moved a lot. I house-sat. I slept on couches, etc. On the one hand I was ashamed of my predicament. On the other, I expected people to feel sorry for me. I sometimes outstayed my welcome because I couldn't figure out what my next move would be. I might complain about the art world or the difficulty of being an artist but I was never able to honestly and simply say how scary it was to live so out on the edge.

My asshole-neediness was so much about shame and not feeling able to say what was really going on with me. I really needed to be taken care of but that just seemed so unacceptable to admit. I feel that I was often a burdensome friend and I apologize to the many people on whom I unloaded this.

I know I had stuff to work out (and did) to feel less needy. For instance, for a while in my early 40s I was a single mom--talk about needs: try being a single parent. Even though I was ostensibly more needy and, was, indeed, exhausted and overwhelmed much of the time, I felt much more able to look after myself (and my daughter) than I had in my 30s--part of that was having the strong purpose of being a good mother. By the time I entered into my relationship with Dave I had developed some skills which have served me well.

I am now much more able to ask for what I need in the moment. (I also chose a man who wants to be part of the relationship equation). If I need a hug, I ask for one. If I need to be held, I ask for it. If I need him to listen without commenting, I ask for that. I say when I'm feeling vulnerable. I still feel shame around certain emotions or behaviours, but I am often (if only eventually) able to admit it. In other words, instead of energetically and passively emitting my shit onto other people by not acknowledging first to myself what is going on with me, more and more I am able to own what I am going through and ask for what I need. I also try to take it in stride if I can't get what I ask for.

That was also a problem in my needy asshole stage. I mean who can or wants to look after a grown adult? But that's what I thought I needed, particularly in an emotional sense. I've always been resourceful and good at surviving, but I always felt so outside and so alone. I had to fall apart (a few times) and put myself back together to learn that I could support myself. I am still dealing with support issues. Del, my Gestalt therapist says to tell myself: I don't need support.

When Dave doesn't get my art or when I feel like I'm not finding the right people to help me with this project, for instance, I get that all alone feeling. Del says: a) one step at a time and b) do it for myself.
In my needy asshole stage, I would do a good deed but I would expect something back (i.e. I didn't just do it because I wanted to, there was always this idea of tit for tat). Not a good recipe for friendship. I put that on my friends, too. And I apologize for that, too. Lucky that I'm growing up (better late than never).

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