I'm needy--help! (pun intended)
August 3, 2007 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm needy--help! (pun intended)

Something that pushes my buttons is the feeling that I am being ignored. For instance, I have a really hard time waiting for someone to contact me when we are dating, and I get upset if I call or text message someone and don't hear from them. This makes me act all sorts of insecure.

I could go into a deep psychological interpretation for why this happens (there are reasons) but I would rather just learn to grow up. If I can't learn how to feel less needy, how can I act less needy? What are tricks for distracting yourself when you're obsessing about why he didn't call? How can you stop yourself from sending a text message or email to check in when you shouldn't do it?

I seem to have a lot of difficulty with modern forms of communication (cell phones, instant messenger, text messages, etc.) because when you know the person has received your communication but hasn't responded it feels like they are ignoring you. This makes me incredibly anxious. I really wish I could be more independent.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Just because you've left a message on a cell phone, or sent and email doesn't mean the person has actually read it. Absent those intraoffice email receipt functions, you don't actually know when someone gets a message you've sent. Even with IM - without a webcam, you don't know if the person is actually at their desk at the moment.

Just in the past day, I discovered someone I thought was getting my messages wasn't - because I was using an old email address for them!

There's nothing wrong with feeling upset if someone isn't getting back to you in a timely manner, but I'll assume here you mean "I called them ten minutes ago, why haven't they called me back?" level of anxiety.

The best option is, in fact, to walk away. Put down the phone, walk away from the computer, and go do something else for awhile. When your thoughts stray back to the subject, tell yourself, "I'm not going to start fretting until it's been x amount of time." Pick a reasonable amount of time - a day, or a few for casual contact. Examine your expectations, and ask yourself, "is that reasonable?"
posted by canine epigram at 9:39 AM on August 3, 2007

Two ideas that may be of meager help. One is that the brain gets better at what it practices. If you can force yourself not to think 'needy' for a while, it should start to get easier. Another idea is to get a wider life, and not put all your emotional eggs in one basket. I'm assuming you're pretty young. Get out and get involved in more things! It's a wide world with lots of interesting stuff going on in it.
posted by DarkForest at 9:42 AM on August 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing that you are also compulsive in monitoring your incoming messages and replying ASAP? Maybe you could take up a hobby that renders you incommunicado for a few hours at a time (swimming, movies, theatre, whatever floats your boat). It will probably be hard, but stick with it. Then observe that the sky has not fallen, and try to understand that other people have known this all along. It might be a start, at least. Good luck.
posted by Jakey at 9:45 AM on August 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

How can you stop yourself from sending a text message or email to check in when you shouldn't do it?

This really is the worst feeling in the world, isn't it? I wouldn't necessarily say you're needy - I would say that you haven't found someone who is compatible with you in the frequency of communication department. =) You shouldn't feel like you have to restrain yourself from connecting to the person you love!

Have you considered being honest and telling the person that it makes you anxious when you don't hear back right away? Ask and ye shall receive - maybe he will make a better effort to be sensitive to this.

If that doesn't work, don't go on torturing yourself. Find someone who doesn't make you feel like you shouldn't contact him, like you have to wait a certain amount of time before you do, or like you have a limit as to how many times you can talk in a day. He is out there.
posted by infinityjinx at 9:46 AM on August 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

Get a small notebook. Each time you send a communication that you know will trigger this response, write down the date and time sent at the top of page and a "not to worry before" date or time. Everytime you start to obsess about that phone call or im or text, open the notebook to right page, write the day and time of the thought and the words "too soon to worry". That should relieve the pressure for a little while. In the beginning you might have dozen and dozen of entries and that's OK. Eventually the emotional part of brain will figure out what the rational part already knows and then it is get easier. The secret to success is the act of actually writing all this down - you can't just do it in your head.

What happens if the "not to worry before" date passes? Then pick a rational, appropriate response. It might be appropriate to follow up at that point with a second message but at least you waited long enough that you won't look incredibly insecure.
posted by metahawk at 9:49 AM on August 3, 2007 [4 favorites]

There are so many reasons why someone would not respond immediately, and most of them probably have nothing to do with you or ignoring you.

I'm a slow-responder. Here's a few reasons why I do it...

1) I won't answer my cell phone to chat with someone if I'm in the company of other people. Personally, I feel it's kind of rude. So I won't answer a call, and I'll call back when I'm alone.
2) If I'm alone but out in public someplace, same deal. I don't like to talk on the phone if I'm shopping in the supermarket or out in the busy street. Half because I don't want the world around me to hear what I'm talking about, half because I don't want to be distracted by the world around me while I'm talking to someone.
3) I'm often not very good at articulating my thoughts on paper, so when it comes to emails, I frequently will wait a day to reply to some emails so I can give a little time to think about what I really want to say. In the past, I've often worded things poorly and regretted not waiting a bit before sending an email. Now it's a habit.

And these are just some of my own slow-correspondence hang-ups. I'm sure multitudes of people have their own. In my experience, slow correspondence is usually about THEM and not YOU. Just try and focus on that the next time you feel anxious about not hearing back from someone.
posted by Squee at 9:53 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know exactly what you mean about feeling needy. It's always been an issue of mine in past relationships, though I hide it well.

For me, the idea of "I'm not going to start fretting until it's been x amount of time." is what does the trick for not acting needy. If I contacted a girl I liked in the morning, I forced myself not to try and get a hold of her again until the next day. The problem with saying, "I'll divert my attention for a while and see where I'm at afterwards," is the chances of your attention really being diverted with this kind of anxiety is very slim. You have to be able to create hard rules about how long you'll wait to hear back, else you will probably fall back into acting obsessive.

Unfortunately, I haven't got many tricks for actually dealing with the anxiety itself that goes along with this. In the past, the only real cure has been when a girl constantly reinforces that they dig me. For instance, say I don't hear from a gf for 2 days. I'm going to feel a lot less stressed if she reinforced our relationship and her liking me the last time we talked. In real life, compliments and positive reinforcement kind of throw me off, but in relationships, they're very key to help me getting very anxiety-driven as you describe.

infinityjinx is also spot-on about communicating your issue. For me, I don't expect someone to revolve their communications around me. I let them know I'm one of those guys who needs lots of positive reinforcement in a relationship, and I'm more than happy to reciprocate.
posted by jmd82 at 9:55 AM on August 3, 2007

I think we need a bit more context from the OP. If we're talking about OP not hearing back from someone after a few days, that's miles apart from, "I called them, and it's been two hours and THEY STILL HAVEN'T CALLED BACK about a date for next week!!!"

There are a lot of reasons that you don't often hear back from someone right away, and it'd raise huge red flags for me if someone I was dating (back when I was), told me, "I get really anxious when I don't hear back right away." Nobody wants to feel like they're on an electronic tether. Constant checking-up on someone is a really off-putting display of insecurity, and I suspect that's what the OP is asking for suggestions to resolve.
posted by canine epigram at 10:03 AM on August 3, 2007

General anxiety-lessening techniques work. Breathe deeply. Get outside and walk. Exercise. Hang out with friends.

I've also found that spending large chunks of time away from my computer helps enormously. Just turn it off. Go read a book, or go outside, or whatever. I'm not a huge cellphone person, but if that makes you anxious, then turn that off and leave it in another room or at home, too. There's something about sitting in front of a machine that's designed to give you answers quickly that makes you expect immediate gratification; I think the only way to get out of that mindset and slow your expectations down is to turn it off and go do something that's not throwing new info at you constantly.
posted by occhiblu at 10:14 AM on August 3, 2007

Oh yeah, I remember this feeling. I used to have it all the time.

Something that really helped was getting into a secure, steady relationship. If my husband goes on a trip for work and only calls every other day or so, it's understandable. I know he loves me and I know he's coming home. But when my ex-boyfriend wouldn't return my call within the same day it made me nuts because I wasn't sure of how he felt. If you're secure in your relationship just remind yourself, He loves me, and just because he's busy doesn't mean he loves me any less.

Something else that helped was having a set time to talk. When my husband and I were dating and living in different cities we phoned each other each evening after we were done with work/class. It wasn't something we agreed upon, really, it was just a routine we fell into. It was nice because I knew that even if he didn't have time to respond to an email that I'd sent him, I could talk to him later on.

I also recommend distraction. If I was doing something else, especially something fun, it kept my mind off of things. It also made me feel good to know that if my boyfriend did call me then, he'd be the one waiting around for me to call him back, instead of me constantly being tied to him. I could have a life too!

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 10:15 AM on August 3, 2007

More friends. If you have x casual friends, that's more chances that one of them will be giving you attention at a specific time, which will cause you to instantly forget/stop worrying about why all of the rest aren't [giving you attention].

Also, avoid like the plague anything (MySpace) which lets you know when your message has been read, it will just piss you off knowing that your message was read a week ago and so-and-so still hasn't had the decency to reply. (Michael, that means you, you &!@&*#!!)
posted by anaelith at 10:17 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

You need an outlet for your worried feelings other than contacting the person you have the feelings about. Get a notebook and write your feelings in there.

At the moment, I've got someone who calls me more than I would like. It makes me much less likely to answer the phone when they call, and take longer to return their calls. It's not special for me to get a call from this person. It might be if they called less often.
posted by yohko at 10:41 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I could go into a deep psychological interpretation for why this happens (there are reasons) but I would rather just learn to grow up.

I don't think there is a shortcut. I think you are going to have to deal with the deep psychological reasons behind this. It's most likely stuff from your childhood that you can't undo, but confronting the person who did it to me, and knowing they love me NOW, has done me a world of good. Well, most of the time. I used to struggle a lot with your exact dilemma. Now that I'm in a serious, secure relationship I don't blink if he doesn't call me back while he's on a business trip. However, there are still other things he does (unwittingly) that set off my insecurity alarm. My point is that it's a process, with no shortcuts.
posted by desjardins at 10:53 AM on August 3, 2007

I think you are going to have to deal with the deep psychological reasons behind this. It's most likely stuff from your childhood that you can't undo, but confronting the person who did it to me, and knowing they love me NOW, has done me a world of good.

It's not always that easy (except on TV). I suffer from separation anxiety, and yet I grew up in an incredibly loving home. Both my parents were attentive, supportive and there-for-me, yet I was a nervous kid -- the kind who got worried if his mom was ten minutes late picking him up after school.

I remember, when I went away to a week-long camp, being really scared that I'd return to find a family member had died. There was no rational reason for this fear. Everyone around me was in good health. In fact, there were no deaths in my family throughout my childhood. I even made it into my 20s with four living grandparents.

Why was I like that? Why -- for as long back as I can remember -- did I get nervous when important people weren't within eye-shot? Well, there is a possible explanation: I was a premature baby and I had to stay in the hospital for the first month of my life. So if you believe such things can affect your personality, maybe mine was affected. But, of course, I have no memory of this. And who am I going to confront about it? It's not a secret my parents kept from me, and it would be weird and untrue for me to tell them I was mad at them for leaving me in an incubator.

In any case, this is an issue I wrestle with every day. As I get older, I do get a bit better. I distance myself from communication devices (no checking messages every ten minutes!), get involved in activities and try to relax. I keep trying and failing to learn to meditate. One day I'll succeed. I know it will do me -- and maybe it could do anon -- a world of good.
posted by grumblebee at 11:08 AM on August 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

So, here's what seems to be happening now. You expect someone to return your contact, but they don't. The story then comes up that they are ignoring you. This story brings with it feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

Right now, when these feelings come up, you have one strategy: talk to the person you're fixating on, and get them to reassure you.

You can interrupt this pattern at several different points. One is by choosing not to buy into the story that not responding = ignoring you. You can test this story against the facts, and perhaps find alternative stories that explain the situation more accurately without making you as unhappy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has numerous tools for identifying and altering the connection between thoughts and feelings. You can do CBT with a therapist or as self-help.

Another skill you can develop is dealing with the unpleasant feelings. This skill is called self-soothing. It's the ability to tolerate your own unpleasant emotional states, and to find strategies to shift your mood.

Here's a link that talks about tools for changing your mood. Check the sidebar links for a bunch of self-soothing techniques.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:42 AM on August 3, 2007 [6 favorites]

grumblebee, thanks for challenging my assumptions.
posted by desjardins at 11:46 AM on August 3, 2007

Hey anon, I've been there too. Everyone's given you good advice... just try to distract yourself too. It gets easier with time.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:46 PM on August 3, 2007

You know it's funny... I've been dealing with this in a major way this year. I didn't realize how needy I was about communication until recently. I've really learned a lot about giving without expecting, just because it makes me feel good to do the giving. About not keeping score. Because I used to get really angry that I was the only person who kept friendships together and called or visited... but now I've really just kind of let that go. I really needed to.

I only text one overseas friend regularly. But then last year I got to where after I texted him I would stare at the phone and wait for my reply. If I didn't get one within a half hour I would get ticked off. It really bugged me. If I didn't get one in an hour, I'd start freaking out. My mind would go crazy, because I know he can text message people quickly, and I couldn't figure out why wouldn't he respond, dammit! Because I REALLY wanted to get a response instantly! I was in the mood for a conversation with him! And dammit, I deserved one. I'd go through all sorts of thoughts about "why do I put so much effort into friendships when nobody else cares" and insecure control freak things like that. I mean, why was I even bothering? I really just would pace around the house and implode. So stupid.

Then when I'd talk to him later, before I could grill him on whether or not he'd gotten my message & why he didn't respond, he'd explain that his phone had run out of credit, that he is only able to afford so many texts a week and he used them all up because his uncle was in the hospital or something. And I had to step back and realize that IT'S WASN'T ABOUT ME. That people don't NEED to jump just because I texted them, it doesn't mean they don't want to talk to me. It doesn't mean they don't like me and maybe I should just lighten up.

Lately I've decided just to text or call my friends just because I feel like it and to make myself happy, and I try to not make my happiness hinge on whether or not they respond instantly. I put it out there and then I just let it go. If I ask a question in a text and I don't get a response, well then maybe the question wasn't important or I should ask someone else. Not being needy, I find that not only do I get better responses from people because I put out better energy and people WANT to respond, but I also find that when people apologize for not contacting me right away and I say, "It's okay, I understand you have a life, I wasn't upset" I'M NOT LYING.

Fact is, by being needy I was mostly just punishing myself with insecurity. It's about me, not them. And usually if they don't respond immediately, it's about them & not me. If that all makes any sense.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:51 PM on August 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

This happens alot to many people. The fact is they are not calling for a reason. They might be busy and don't think much of it. You have to face the fact that they might not be interested in you. My advice is that if you get anxious for waiting for their response than you shouldn't contact them at all. Plus you deserve better than that. They also might be too shy to call back or might end up calling you later.
posted by ahreumee at 2:49 AM on August 5, 2007

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