The Battle of Insatiable Neediness Vs. the Shame of Having That Need

My therapist and I managed to patch things up in my last session, after a pretty serious rupture a couple of days before. Towards the end of the session, I sought some final reassurance from her. I needed to make doubly sure before I left that things were going to work out okay in our relationship and in continuing my treatment.

“So you’re not leaving me then?” I asked, eyes wide and doe-eyed, voice high-pitched and timid like a child, “and things are going to go back to normal between us?”
“Lovey, what have I told you?”
“I know, but…” I pleaded, “…I need you to say it again.”
She breathed out, loud and slowly. Lovingly. “So long as our work together is effective, I am not planning on going anywhere.” She smiled, a gentle smile.

She had that look on her face. The look of compassion and love and curiosity and sadness. The look that says “I am here. I care about you. I see your pain.”

I could breathe a little more freely again.

Usually after these ruptures I need a hug. On one hand I think it’s to confirm that things are okay between us. I need the reassurance. On the only hand, it’s for the comfort. When I’m in that pit of sadness, a hug from my therapist feels like a little spark of hope and light within the dark. When she hugs me it breathes life into me. It makes me feel whole for a moment. She is also the only person I feel safe hugging me like that; the only person I really have to hug me at all. It means the world to feel safe and held for five seconds every week.

An inner tug of war was bubbling inside of me.
“I need a cuddle. It hurts so bad. I can’t leave without a hug. It’s only all better if she gives you a hug. Tell her you need a hug. Quick, you can’t leave without a hug!”
And the other half of me, screaming the opposite. “Don’t do it, don’t you dare. You don’t deserve a hug. What if she says no? It’s not worth the risk. Stop being such a fucking child! She doesn’t want to hug you, anyway. LEAVE”

The urge was too strong to resist. The power of the need to be held was greater than the power of the shame that was holding me back from asking. Two impossibly infinite forces. And yet, only one possible outcome.

I took the plunge. “Please can I have a cuddle?”
I think I said it in my Little’s voice again. And I could not for the life of me look her in the eye.
She touched my arm, affectionately. “What would the function of that be right now, lovey?”
“I just… I just need a hug”.
“You know I’m happy to give you hugs. But I think you are seeking reassurance. And I think we need to come back to this next session. What is the function of getting a hug from me, right now, do you think?”

My cheeks were flushing and I could feel the shame erupting from within me. The shame. The cataclysmic shame. And so I started getting angry, although I doubt she knew it. It was my usual HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME FEEL SHAME response, typical of this dynamic.

“What’s going on for you right now?” she asked, “what feelings are you noticing.”
“I just NEED you to HUG ME.” I was getting antsy, and my Little was silently raging.
“What feeling are you noticing, lovey?”
“I’m just so fucking embarrassed”, I said, trying to hold back the tears. I cry when I’m angry. I cry when I feel ashamed.

And oh, the SHAME. The shame for asking. The shame for needing. The shame for admitting that need. The shame the shame the shame. The shame for being. There are no words to describe that shame. I wished the ground could swallow me up and make me disappear off the face of the Earth.

She stroked me arm; a gesture of compromise, I suppose. I shrugged her off of me.
“Don’t”, I hissed, “I don’t feel in control when it’s like that.”
It wasn’t fair that she could touch me on HER terms, yet wouldn’t hug me on MINE. I felt more uncomfortable and confused that way than if she hadn’t touched me at all.
“Okay honey. I won’t touch you. We’ll talk about this next week. This is all giving us information; this is valuable stuff. Look after yourself, and I’ll see you in a few days.”

I couldn’t look at her. I left in a sulk. I love her so much. But I hated her in that moment too. I had exposed myself, raw and vulnerable, in asking for that hug. Just a hug. And I even begged. Just for a fucking hug. And she still declined.

My Little doesn’t know the difference between whether a hug is for reassurance or comfort or what, and neither does it care. But my Little knows that feeling of rejection well. That feeling doesn’t need discerning. It is the one feeling I have tried to avoid all my life. That hurt. That shame. That sting.

So I left, defeated and helpless, regressed and broken once again. And as I left, I collapsed onto the stairs in tears trying desperately not to let the progress we had made in that session unravel before me in an instant. And whilst I could rationalise what was happening within me, and whilst I knew on one hand why my therapist did what she did, I couldn’t stop the punitive voices that pelted my brain like a rifle opening fire. All that anger, that rejection, every morsel of negative affect of the last 3 minutes was redirected straight onto myself.
“Well what did you expect? You got what you deserved. You shouldn’t have bloody asked and I told you not to but you didn’t listen. You are weak, so needy, so fucking greedy it disgusts me. You are an embarrassment. You are flawed. And you are entirely unworthy of love.”

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21 thoughts on “The Battle of Insatiable Neediness Vs. the Shame of Having That Need

  1. Oh, Babbler, the shame you describe, I know it so, so well. You’re right, there are no words for that pain. And this post really resonates with me, also because my therapist is the only person I have who hugs me, so if she denies me a hug, it feels like the world is cracking because it is literally my ONLY source of physical affection (which makes me feel my own intense shame, but it is what it is).
    I have so much care and compassion for your Little in my heart, and I’m sorry that your therapist didn’t respond in the way that Little needed in that moment.
    I’m going to re-phrase the last paragraph of your post…
    “It was so brave of you to ask, to take that chance, to be vulnerable. And she didn’t respond, but that’s not your fault. That doesn’t reflect on your worth. You aren’t weak – you’re tapping into a basic human need for loving touch, which is as basic and important of a need as food and water and oxygen. This need wasn’t met for Little, so it is even more intense now, and I can feel so much compassion for that. You aren’t flawed – you’re hurting. And you are worthy of love – from your therapist, from the people around you, from the world, from yourself. And your Little deserves to be met where she’s at, and when she isn’t, that really hurts, and the hurt is valid.”
    And I’m sending you some of that love right now – I know it’s not a substitute for your therapist’s but it’s still very real and I want you to know that. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lily you write with such love and care; it’s incredibly touching and I wish I could echo it even slightly. It’s 1am here and I’m knackered so sorry for any incoherence. Please know I really appreciate your kind words, understanding and compassion – and mostly, you 🙂

      The paragraph you wrote.. it gave me the idea to try and write something similar for myself. I know, ironically, that doing something like that in response to all this would make my therapist proud. I’m not mad at her. The rupture has been repaired on both sides. This post was just about me and my neediness and my shame. For you to get my experience of this (exactly what you said, like the “world is cracking”) is pretty profound and meaningful. Though of course I would rather no one had to endure this sort of pain…. it means a lot for someone to get this “attachment pain”, because not many people do. Sending you love right back and virtual hugs from across the sea ❤️❤️❤️

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      • Babbler,
        Your comments are so kind and caring, what are you talking about?!? 😉 And I appreciate every single one that you leave on my blog.
        You’re right, it would make your therapist proud, and I’m so that that you’re going to write something for yourself and share it with her.
        Yes, I also wish that nobody knew my pain – but since I can’t control that, I will embrace the fact that we do know each other’s pain, and can share it with each other, and hopefully move through it together. Because, importantly, we are not on this journey alone (even though it often feels like it) and that makes all the difference.
        Also wanted to let you know that I did reply to the comment you left on my blog (for some reason, since my blog is private, WordPress does not notify my readers of when I respond to their comment, which I hate, but which apparently is not fix-able. Know that I always respond to comments, hopefully within a week). I also sent you an email.
        I’m imagining a current of warmth connecting us across the ocean, and that image makes me happy 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aw thank you. I’m seeing her tomorrow so let’s see how that goes!
        You have such a profoundly insightful and wise way of thinking, writing and relating. Everything you write carries so much meaning and thought. I’m going to check and respond to your email now 😘 hugs x

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a hard one, because being touched is a basic human requirement, and as other people have said, there is no shame in that. Our society has become really touch-averse (sadly, for good reason, as lots of traumatised patients have got there through inappropriate touch). It makes perfect sense that when anyone is upset they might feel a strong desire for a hug.

    Yet here’s the thing, just as anyone could ask for a hug, then also the other person MUST have a right to refuse, yeah? Otherwise the right to do whatever one wants with one’s own body is seriously compromised. So as long as the asker is happy to be disappointed sometimes, this is a perfect scenario – someone who is able to ask for hugs is in the best position to get lots!

    So the only – and I really mean ONLY- problem with this situation is when you have an inability to accept a decline. There is absolutely no shame in really wanting a hug, or in asking, but once we start to use the word ‘need’ it becomes a gun to someone’s head, How can they deny you what you ‘need’? Especially if they are there to help you. But what if they just don’t want to hug? For any reason, no matter what? So in this case your mind didn’t help you, by saying, “You really NEED a hug’ as though your survival depended on it, when in fact it did not. Please don’t assume I think you were exaggerating; I know that you were genuinely convinced that you couldn’t do without that hug. It was your mind that set you up for a fall.

    The trouble is that if we tell ourselves we ‘need’ something then it makes that thing unbearable to do without. If we subsequently experience a ‘no’ we go into a shame response, which is natures way of saying that we risk being excluded from the group. Shame is probably justified here, because asking for hugs always carries a social risk (whether we like it or not, it just does; I don’t make the social rules!)

    Fortunately there is an antidote. It involves practice (of course!) Hold your body upright, and practice looking strong in the mirror, and saying in a soft but matter-of-fact voice, “I would really like a hug, and at the same time, I can survive not having one.” At first your brain will fight you; that ‘Little’ voice’ will come up with EVERY justification for the word ‘need’ but remember, this is a distortion, and leads you to bitter and painful disappointment. Giving your potential hugger a choice avoids that my-needs-versus-yours ultimatum. No place for shame there.

    With practice your brain will get the message, and this phraseology will become more natural to you. This is entirely for your benefit; Don’t deny your desire to be hugged, never feel ashamed of that, and don’t feel bad for asking, but don’t be fooled by your mind’s attachment to getting it. You will be ok with or without. Always.

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    • Hi Christine. Thank you for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it. A few things come to mind…

      Firstly, I think one of the reasons I find this situation so hard is because generally I do not ‘do’ physical intimacy. So when I let myself be open to that with my therapist, it brings up that vulnerability (as a result of trauma) in itself, which feels like a huge risk. Being told no after that feels 10x worse because of the risk/fear associated with touch I have in the first place. She also usually says yes, and I struggle immensely with any inconsistency in how she relates to me.

      Secondly, r.e. people’s own boundaries, I totally respect that. I hope that comes across because that is VERY important to me. But this interaction wasn’t about that. I know my therapist and I know she is happy to hug me. But this was more about me and my process; she just didn’t want to enable my reassurance-seeking (which we had been talking about in the session, in relation to developmental trauma stuff). So you are right, I ended up feeling the opposite of what I set out to feel. Instead of feeling reassured, I felt disappointed, hurt, shamed and angry. And now we have to address yet another issue between us…

      Third, one of the main issues was that she wasn’t hugging me BUT she was willing to touch me ON HER TERMS (she was basically stroking my arm affectionately). I feel uncomfortable with this because I go into a freeze response and feel contaminated etc when touch is NOT on my terms. This is what confused me – how could she say no to a hug but then touch me in her own way? That messed with my brain and made me feel more unsafe than if she hadn’t touched me at all.

      Fourth, I notice feeling shame in response to you saying that shame is justified!

      Lastly, you are right about one more thing: Even though it might not be (well, it isn’t…), it still FEELS like life or death in that moment. It still feels totally unbearable. The top-down practice you’ve described is something I would be willing (although resistant at the same time) to try, and I am constantly rationalising and checking facts despite the bombardment and opposition of my emotion mind. And trying to move away from the word ‘need’ – thanks for explaining the value in that, it does make sense to me. However I do think that without the more ‘bottom-up’ processing of this stuff (e.g. trauma therapy) I won’t be able to move through these sorts of experiences fully, if that makes sense.

      I really appreciate your care. I hope you are well x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, those comments all seem really valid, and explain totally why you were so upset. I think that comes across strongly in the original piece, this painful vulnerability. This is why denying the desire for a hug or suppressing the urge to ask are not the answer. Shame being warranted is just a technicality – we feel shame if there is a risk of rejection by the group. It’s nothing to do with right or wrong. So for example a young girl may adore her favourite doll but find herself ridiculed by her peers for taking it to school and feels shame. Shame is a kind of alarm that goes off in situations of potential social risk. Sometimes it goes off inappropriately, but in the case of hug-requesting, I only meant that it probably still has a social function (the technical-nerd in me coming out, there…)

        I do agree that this has developed over time, for obvious reasons, and also in true dialectical style I would really urge you to practice as I suggest – you will be amazed at how much IS achievable top-down. My heart has made an investment in you feeling less pain! So what I say is offered with much affection.

        Wishing you well in all you are doing, and always watching with interest and a problem-solving mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I understand what you’re saying. And don’t worry, I’m a nerd too and a proud one at that. I know everything you’ve said has been because you care and that means so much to me. I find the mirror exercises torturously cringeworthy AND I hear you and the value in practicing doing them anyway. I don’t know if you saw my most recent post but my therapist has decided that her hugging me probably isn’t helping me and so we aren’t going to do that any longer. I’m devastated but at the same time I do understand in wise mind, and your comments have helped me think about it the whole situation differently – so want to thank you again for your insight.

        It means so much to me that you take the time to read my blog and care about my progress. I’m very grateful to you and I hope our paths cross again in the future. I hope you’re well, lots of love 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. this is the current topic of work with my therapist. rather than a fear of rejection, my issue is the fear of imperfection. I mean, they are very tightly knitted together. but getting to the bare bones of it sometimes makes the solution’s approach a little different.

    you deserve good things and people in your life, I believe. and it’s okay if *you* don’t believe. but maybe step one is working on accepting that some of us think so? ❤

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    • So kind of you, thanks honey. All the same right back to you. Thanks for commenting and relating and for caring, I echo the sentiment your way. And yes, maybe you’re right…. my therapist said something like that today – “what would it be like to stop invalidating yourself and start showing yourself some compassion?”. It’s a work in progress… lots of love to you x

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  4. Lots of love to you. I know how it is. I am so attached to my therapist and we’ve had a lot of ruptures similar to the ones you’re talking about as a result of my “neediness.” I totally relate to the shame you feel. Right now I’m sitting here reading this thinking how much I want my therapist to call me lovey and honey…but I know you just wanted that hug. I completely relate. xo

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  5. I could really relate to your need for a hug from your therapist. I used to have a person in my life I felt like I had an insatiable need to receive love and acceptance from, but I often felt that deep, deep shame asking for it, and to this day I feel ashamed giving into that need. I completely understand feeling torn between shame and the need for something you can’t quite explain. I feel for you. Great post and sending love your way!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi there, it was interesting to read the story and the comments! I personally think when you need a hug it really matters from Whom you would like to get a hug, would you agree?

    Want to share: I so need a hug myself now but from the certain person who is my “favourite person” and no ones else cuddles will do it for me. Also, when I feeL empty and down, I cuddle my rabbit. My rabbit doesn’t care if I’m 😭 he is just always up for cuddles. It gives me a relief, warms me up inside when I pat his head and hold him)

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    • Yes yes yes it makes a huge difference!! Most people I would never want to hug me, but my therapist is one person I crave hugs from the most. I totally relate and cuddle my cat and dogs 24/7 too. Lots of love and take care ❤️

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