04-14-2017 comfort 3

A deep cultural blind spot has recently come into my awareness, and it’s the kind of blind spot that, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. When I was in Bali, I spoke to a Hindu high priest, who is also an indigenous Balinese shaman—a rare combination—and he said that during the Kali Yuga, many blind spots will be revealed, and it is our invitation to just let ourselves see what has been in the shadow, for only then can it be illuminated with healing light. So let us shine light on this pattern and explore it together with curiosity.

This pattern has to do with our relationship to needs, and it plays out in our dynamic between the masculine and the feminine (within ourselves, but also out-picturing in relationships between men and women, as well as playing out in patriarchal systems, like the Western medical system).

As humans, we have needs. It’s a simple fact. If we don’t get our needs met, we suffer and/or die.

We need healthy food, clean water, shelter, physical and emotional safety, emotional intimacy, and a feeling of belonging to a tribe of people who love us. We need the opportunity to do work that matters—without having to sell our souls for a paycheck—so we can give our gifts to the world and have them received. We need to be loved but we also need a place for our love to land. We need beauty and nature and the opportunity to express ourselves creatively. We need sex and good health and a deep connection to our true self.

As Abraham Maslow outlines in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it can be tough to focus on getting deeper needs met when we’re scrambling for survival, as the Syrian people are right now. Maslow asserts that we have to get basic physiological needs and safety needs met before we can begin to meet our needs for love and belonging, esteem, and self-realization. While his model has been criticized as being specific to more narcissistic “me-centered,” self-improvement focused cultures like the United States, and while I sense that such critique is valid, the gist of it is that to be human is to be needy—and the sooner we recognize this, the healthier we can become emotionally, physically, spiritually, and societally.

This is not about gender—because it happens to all of us—but the out of balance masculine has been trained to reject the needs of the undervalued, invisible, and societally dismissed feminine. It is not the masculine’s fault. This part within us all—men and women—has been conditioned by the patriarchy, and this pattern is ready to be healed. The global crisis our planet now faces requires us to come face to face with this systemic wound. We cannot neglect it any longer.

The Rugged Individualist

Think of the origins of American culture. We were built upon the pioneering spirit, the survivalist “We can do hard things on our own” mentality of those who populated the Wild West. John Wayne movies and other archetypes of the hyper-masculine rugged individualist cemented this pattern in our collective psyche. The message we’ve all been taught—men and women alike in my generation—is that a strong individual does not need anybody else. We can take care of ourselves—and if we’re really strong, we can also probably single handedly take care of an army of other needy people. (This pattern, of course, is a recipe for codependence, but more on that in a bit.)

Here’s are the Cliff Notes of these revelations, and then I’ll share more.

*As long as we don’t let ourselves be needy, we cannot truly support someone else who is in need.

*To express our needs feels vulnerable, so it’s important to develop trust with those who will help you get your needs met. Vulnerability without safety is a recipe for trauma. True intimacy requires both. If you’re opening yourself to someone who cannot hold your vulnerability with compassion, it’s masochism. If you are repetitively refusing to meet the needs of someone you love when they are lying before you, naked and vulnerable, it’s sadistic.

*No matter how much we try to demonstrate loving behavior with others, if we are in denial of our own vulnerability and neediness, if we judge our needs as weaknesses and reject or exile those parts of ourselves, then we will be unable to show up with true compassion for others when they need us.

*One person’s need is not a criticism of the one who you’re asking for help from. It is simply an expression of need, desire, vulnerability, and the natural interdependency of human beings.

We All Have at Least One Inner Child Inside

Even if we have the most noble intentions of service and compassion, when we lack compassion for the wounded, child-like, scared, hurting, angry, or protective parts in ourselves, we will consciously or unconsciously reject others when we perceive them as needy.

But here’s the kicker, beloveds. We are human beings. We are biologically, emotionally, and energetically tribal. We need one another, now more than ever. The sooner we learn how to express our needs without entangling in codependence, the sooner we will come together in unity with those in our tribes who cannot only help uplift us; they will help us survive the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

Neediness Versus Codependence or Narcissism

I’m not suggesting that we should all act like damsels or dudes in distress, crying out like helpless, “poor me” handless maidens for what we need. I’m also not promoting narcissism. I’m simply saying that your needs matter, and so do the needs of everyone else in your village. Your needs are not more or less important than anyone else’s needs. The narcissist usually has no problem asking for what she needs and demanding that her needs get met. The narcissist tends to deny that anyone else has needs. It’s all about the narcissist and his or her needs. What I’m talking about is the pattern more commonly seen in those who partner with, are employed by, and befriend narcissists—the codependent types who put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. (Are you codependent and don’t know it? Find out and get free help breaking the pattern here.)

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t get curious about what we need, keeping our own side of the street clean. Do you really need to have your partner clean the dishes right this minute? Do you really need to process some emotional drama at midnight? Might it not be kinder to wait until your partner has had a good night’s sleep? When you’ve denied your own needs for far too long, sometimes you begin to feel like every need is an emergency, and if you don’t get your needs met PRONTO, you have a meltdown. Attuning to and communicating your needs more regularly can prevent such meltdowns.

Part of the transformational growth process is learning how to meet our own needs, self-soothe, find our center in the midst of chaos, comfort ourselves when we are in need, and re-parent ourselves, allowing the wise, Divine part of ourselves that I call your “Inner Pilot Light” to give our wounded parts what they may not have gotten from Mom and Dad. The ability to interrupt the perpetual victim story and meet our own needs changes everything, because it makes us self-reliant and resilient and interrupts the pattern of thinking that comfort and safety lives outside ourselves and that we have to constantly grasp for it or cling to it.

However, in the “spiritual” realms of relating, we can take this wisdom too far, turning it into yet another way the culture perpetuates the Lone Ranger story of independence. Now we’re back to John Wayne, James Dean, and the Marlboro Man, only now they’re dressed up in holy drag.

So how can we be honest with ourselves, attune to our needs, and communicate what we need to those we can trust to hold our needs safe? How can we take the stigma off being “needy” and interrupt our codependence patterns? How can we get our needs met without going too far and slipping into narcissism? Such are the challenges of these times.

This requires the ability to hold a particular paradox. You’re a human being, so there are times when you’re going to be needy. And . . . you can take care of yourself because you have within you this wise mentor, parent, and beloved who can hold you in great arms of love when nobody else can. Both are true at the same time. At some point in your development, being self-aware enough to know what you need and being brave enough to take the risk to ask for help from your trusted inner circle when you’re needy may be the bravest thing you’ll ever do.

When Things Fall Apart

Let me share with you a personal story about how I was hurt by men who couldn’t or wouldn’t attune to my needs. Although I’m sharing my experience about four different men in my life, this is not about gender. The same could apply to women. I’m just using these examples because in my own experience, men have been uncomfortable with my vulnerability and neediness much more so than my girlfriends have.

A few years ago, shortly after my divorce, I had three men in my life who were all teaching transformational men’s work, exploring the sacred masculine, and supporting men with spiritual growth. All three were devoted to sincere inquiry about what it means to be a conscious man when the Divine Feminine is rising and the patriarchy is crumbling. These are extraordinary men, doing their very best to be good, honest, equality-supporting men of integrity without losing their essential “manness,” if there is such a thing. These men love me. I know they do. And yet, when the shit hit the fan in my life and I really needed them, I reached out for help and they systematically pulled away from me when I was at my most vulnerable.

As I faced one crisis after another, my resilience was tested more than its been tested since my Perfect Storm ten years ago. I found myself on my knees. (If you’re curious to see me at my most humbled, Will Pye actually videoed me when I was in a state of acute grief here after losing five people I loved in six weeks. Hear the story here.)

During this Perfect Storm, I found myself feeling much needier than I usually feel. Many see me as superhuman, as if I’m always this pillar of strength—spiritually resilient, physically and emotionally strong, financially independent, stabilized by a “pronoia” world view that keeps me bouncing back. But I am not superhuman. If anything, I am super human, with all the vulnerability, shadow, and neediness of any other vulnerable human. There are times, especially when I’m in crisis, when I need help, comfort, support, encouragement, reassurance, physical protection, and touch. I believe that my ability to attune to my needs and ask for help is a strength, not a weakness, but as I reached out to these men who are trying to be spiritually conscious men, they systematically rejected my request for help. I was gutted.

As my world fell apart, I found myself struggling. Yes, I could go into my inner world and always find comfort from the invisible arms of love that hold me when I’m scared, heartbroken, ashamed, disappointed, or grieving. But I was hurting so much that I needed human arms, human comfort, ordinary human help to hold me while I did my inner work and remembered my wholeness. I needed someone to simply reassure me with “I’m here. I’ve got you. I don’t see you as broken and I will hold you in your wholeness. You are not alone.”

I was shocked that all three of these men couldn’t (or wouldn’t) show up for me when I was in crisis. One of my girlfriends explained that I was failing in my discernment of who I could rely on in times of need. “Lissa, if you want to buy eggs, go to the supermarket, not the gas station.”

Oh my God! I had been going to the gas station expecting to get eggs! Are you doing the same thing, seeking to get your needs met by someone who simply doesn’t prioritize or isn’t capable of meeting your needs?


Neediness as a Form of Manipulation

When I asked one of these men—we’ll call him Guy #1—to show up for me, he accused me of being manipulative. He said, “If you really needed me, I would know. But you don’t really need me. You’re just manipulating me to get attention.”

I can only assume from his reaction that he has been manipulated by many women who he perceives as needy. Perhaps this is a core wound, when someone uses her expressed need to get what she wants. (“Meet my need or I’m out of here.”) Guy #2 told me that my needs felt like demands, and he wasn’t going to let himself be manipulated by a demanding female. Guy #3 turned my request for what I needed into a power struggle. (If you need that, come over here to get it. Don’t make me come to you.) Surely, there is a shadow feminine/shadow masculine pattern worthy of exploring here too, and maybe there’s a more nonviolent conscious way of expressing my needs to the masculine than what I was doing, but I’ll save that for another post.

Spiritual Bypassing

At one point after everyone had died all at once, I was hurting, deeply in a state of grief and moving waves of pain through my heart. I sought out comfort from Guy #4, and he kept referring me to Byron Katie’s “The Work.” He told me that I was only hurting because I had thoughts that hurt, and if I did “The Work” on my thoughts, then I wouldn’t be needy anymore.

I walked the labyrinth in my backyard, fell to my knees in the center of it, and screamed to the sky, hands clenched, tears streaming down my face, “I am allowed to have needs!”

That was the last straw. I withdrew into a circle of the Divine Feminine. My very feminine priestess sisters held me and made me tea and let me cry. They didn’t see me as broken. They didn’t pity me or feed my victim story or puff themselves up with their need to rescue me. They didn’t think there was anything wrong with me having needs. In fact, they praised me for having the self-awareness to know what I needed and being brave enough to ask for support.

They loved me through my journey into the dark night, as I tapped into the wellspring of my inner strength and made my way back home. Later, I laughed when a guy friend said to me, “The problem between men and women is that men all expect women to be the perfect woman. And women all expect men to be the perfect woman. Newsflash: There are no perfect women.”

What Didn’t Help

When I was at my most needy, I quickly discovered what didn’t help.

  1. I didn’t need was to be fixed.
  2. I didn’t need to be distracted from my inner process.
  3. I didn’t need anyone to feel sorry for me.
  4. I didn’t need anyone to take me out for ice cream to try numb or gloss over my pain.
  5. I didn’t need “advice,” because my intuition was telling me everything I needed in order to get through the pain.

When I was paralyzed with pain, what I needed was so simple. I just needed someone to hold safe space for me so I could calm my nervous system enough to take care of myself. (I love this video about how to hold space.)

Why is this request for space-holding so triggering for some people?

One of these men—Guy #2—had an insight. He said, “If you were a damsel-in-distress who I perceived as weak and needy, it would activate the knight in me. I might rise to the task and come and save you, and then I’d feel very manly. But you’re not a helpless damsel-in-distress. I’m not sure I know how to be with a spiritually mature woman when she is needy.”

I asked him to unpack that deep comment, but he said he couldn’t. He didn’t have any more insight at that moment. I sensed that we had just hit the Mother Lode.

I was needing emotional support in that moment, but when I confessed over the phone that I just wanted a hug, Guy #2 rejected my request. Instead of getting off the phone and coming over to hug me, he asked if he could share an insight with me, something he saw as a blind spot in me. I said no, that I would listen later, that I would welcome feedback about my blind spots when I was feeling stronger, that right now, I just needed comfort.

He bucked. “Why won’t you let me tell you what I see in you? I think it would help you to see what I see.” He was angry and frustrated. I could feel that there was a hurting thing inside of him and it was bumping up against the hurting thing inside of me. I saw that critical moment as a lynchpin for us both.

“This,” I said. “Right here. This is it. Can we explore this, right here? Why do you not want to comfort me right now? Why do you feel like you have to fix me instead?” I felt like if we could work this out for ourselves, we would be working this out for men and women everywhere. I work with women. He works with men. I saw it as not only a personal but a transpersonal moment.

But he refused to answer my question and abruptly insisted he had to hang up.

I cried while the Great Arms of Love that live inside of me held the hurt little girl who had her Daddy wound triggered.

The Scalpel of Truth

I thought of all the masculine energy I had encountered along my spiritual journey (much of it in the bodies of the female gender and much of it within myself, conditioned as I’ve been by the oppressive feminine-denying patterns of the patriarchy). That penetrating energy of the masculine, that sword-like cutting away of all that isn’t truth, that deep scalpel of love and integrity and ego-slicing—it has served me exquisitely, and I am deeply grateful for the way this kind of masculine energy can help me see what I may be blind to. I know that, in that lynchpin moment, if I had agreed to listen, Guy #2 would likely have offered me penetrating wisdom that would slice away everything that veiled my blind spot. I am grateful to have people like this in my life.

But when I am acutely hurting, the scalpel doesn’t help. Sometimes I just need the comfort of strong arms and strong nurturing energy, that compassionate, “I understand” response, that silent “I’ve got you” holding energy, that “I love you even if you’re feeling weak right now” and “I know you are whole even if you feel broken” reassurance.

It seems to me that when my world was falling apart, most of the people who carry strong masculine energy could not show up for me, not because they didn’t have bandwidth, not because they had needs of their own that they needed to prioritize (which would have been totally valid), but because of some deep shadow of our culture. It baffled me. It took me over a year to realize that these people with strong but imbalanced masculine energy had not made their peace with the feminine—inside or outside themselves. And it’s not their fault. The culture is responsible. We have all been traumatized by the patriarchy, and this is one of the ways it is coming to the surface to ask for healing.


A few months later, after we had taken a two-month communication break, the same Guy #2 reached out to me and said he had an epiphany. When he was growing up, his father was authoritarian, bordering on abusive. His mother was kind and gentle, but weak, ineffectual, and in his estimation, “needy.” She wasn’t strong enough to protect him from his aggressive father.

Guy #2 said, “I was attracted to you because you always seem so strong. Maybe unconsciously, when you ask for what you need, I perceive you as weak and needy, like my mother. Maybe because my mother never stood up to my father on my behalf, I don’t feel safe around a woman I perceive as weak or needy. Maybe my vulnerability, my innocence, my inner child doesn’t feel safe, so I lash out—or I leave.”


One of the other men (Guy #4) went to see a therapist after I withdrew from him and asked for more distance in the relationship. (Learn about the intimacy dial I use and how to give unconditional love but conditional access here.) He expected the therapist to side with him in how he responded to my request for support, but she didn’t. She said, “Lissa has a right to have needs and get her needs met. This is not a weakness in her that needs to be fixed. This is a strength.”


He was surprised but curious to learn more. One epiphany after another arose, and he reached out to me to say, “My therapist says that when I was living in the orphanage as a child, I wasn’t allowed to have needs and I wasn’t getting my emotional needs met. So your request for emotional support triggers that wounded, abandoned little boy in me. Because I don’t ever let myself be needy, I haven’t learned how to show up for you when you need me. Really though, I don’t know how to show up for ME when I’m needy. So I have to work on that. My therapist says I need to learn to attune to my own needs and learn how to ask for help when I need it.” He explained that he wanted to keep the distance between us because he didn’t want to keep hurting me but he didn’t know how to give me what I need.

The Zen Boyfriends

People who consider themselves “spiritual” give a lot of lip service to compassion, unconditional love, and Oneness. So what might cause these seekers to reject someone they love when he or she is needy? (By the way, this pattern applies not just to men rejecting women when they are needy. Women are perhaps even more guilty of rejecting men when they express vulnerability and need. I rant a bit about women who shame men when they’re vulnerable or needy here.)

Let’s get curious. What is really happening here?

When I taught my Relationships on the Spiritual Path class, a pattern emerged. This pattern seems to apply to many people who have done a lot of therapy, twelve-stepped something, practiced meditation extensively, read a lot of self-help books, lived in a monastery or ashram, or dived deeply into a Zen or yoga practice. The pattern is described hysterically and heartbreakingly in this article The Problem With Zen Boyfriends. (Once again, don’t make the mistake of thinking there aren’t Zen Girlfriends too! This is not necessarily about biological gender, people.)

The pattern causes good people to make unkind choices in the name of spirituality. One of my friends had one of these Zen Boyfriends, who she lived with. She crashed her car, and she was scared, hurt, and feeling needy on the side of the road when she called him for help. He was a meditation teacher who refused to answer his phone (which was on) or respond to the message on their answering machine (which he could hear) because he was meditating and didn’t want to have his meditation disturbed. She broke up with him.

Why would good-hearted, well-intentioned “spiritual” people shy away from tending to the needs of people they love? These are not unkind people. They are often otherwise generous, service-oriented, love-based people. They say they’re all about the heart. They care. But is that true? Or are they using their spirituality to cloak spiritual robes over an underlying narcissism? Is it an “I’m so spiritual that I can’t be bothered to meet your mundane human needs because it’s more important that I spend four hours meditating so I can connect to the Divine?”

How does this happen?

My A-ha Moment

When I reflected on the repetitive trauma of reaching out to men I thought I could trust who weren’t interested in meeting my needs, I pieced together a puzzle of clues and concluded that Guy #4’s therapist was spot on:

If you don’t let yourself have needs and get them met, you most likely won’t show up in a healthy way when someone you love is needy.

I am not alone in suffering great pain in the wake of this pattern. One of my clients told me the story of how her Zen boyfriend refused to show up for her over and over again, even as she was going through chemotherapy. I asked her the obvious question I had to finally ask myself after Guys 1–4. “Why would she want to stay with this guy in the first place? What part of her did not love herself enough to think she deserved a man who wanted to show up for her when she was in need? Instead of wallowing in her victim story about how he failed to show up for her time and time again, why didn’t she set some boundaries, making it clear that if he chooses to continue to fail to show up for her when she’s in need, there will be consequences?”

She heeded this feedback. She did make her needs known, they did separate for a while, and it jolted them both out of their patterns. They both got help separately and have since reunited. Both of them were guilty of what Robert Augustus Masters, PhD calls “spiritual bypassing”), a pattern I have also played out in my own relationships. After loads of therapy and spiritual counseling, I finally learned to create more distance from those who reject my right to have needs. And I’m now a few months into a deep and heartful relationship with a wonderful guy who really wants to meet my needs, is willing to be vulnerable and let me meet his needs too, and has demonstrated his willingness and ability to show up with an open heart during my mother’s recent cancer diagnosis and my canine attack.

It’s still a work in progress for me, but I’m grateful that Richard is patient with me. I’m very clear that the growing edge of my spirituality revolves around learning to receive the kind of love, attention to my needs, generosity, and emotional availability that people like Richard have to offer me. After a decade of healing from codependence and the Savior Complex, I feel like I’m finally reaping some of the rewards of all that work. Phew! I

A Strong Way to Be Needy

It’s not just me or the men in my life that struggle with this unhealthy relationship to neediness. Whether you’re male or female, many of us have been trained to “man up” when we are in need. A “real man” (or a strong, independent woman) is supposed to just stuff emotions, never expose vulnerability, and stand strong for damsels/dudes in distress without admitting that he/she is afraid of the oncoming train too!

Just imagine what happens when someone who has been conditioned to “man up” feels needy or vulnerable. Imagine how he feels when he has to say, “I can’t handle this myself. I need you to help out with the bills for a while,” or “Life is spinning out of control and I need you to help me figure out how to handle this.” We may make jokes about guys who won’t stop to ask for directions, but imagine how someone who has been conditioned to always be in control feels when he gets lost and has to ask for directions? Imagine when a guy gets fired and, on top of his own fear and shame, he knows he might get shamed by his wife, his friends, and his parents. Imagine how a “man up” man or woman feels when she loses all of the family’s money in some Ponzi scheme from some cunning, manipulative, corrupt Madoff-type guy, when she has to go home and tell her family, “I lost it all. We have to sell the house.” Just think how that Madoff-type guy feels when he has to tell his wife and children that he was so greedy that he hurt other people and got caught and is on his way to jail.

Imagine how a very masculine woman feels when she feels so weak that she has to ask someone to make her a cup of tea. Imagine how the very masculine female doctor feels when she has to say, “I can’t handle showing up for my patients right now because I’m so depressed I want to kill myself. Imagine how she feels when she can’t show up for her sick partner or her differently-abled child because she’s just not strong enough to take care of anyone but herself in that moment. Imagine when she says to herself, “You are worthless. You are weak. You are nothing if you can’t man up and handle this yourself.” Imagine her feeling crushed under the weight of all that pressure to be in control, to stay strong, to keep it together, to force function.

Now imagine if he was strong enough to say, “I need help.” Imagine if she was strong enough to admit, “I have a need.” Can you see how vulnerable it might be for him or for her to admit that vulnerability or ask for what she needs?

Now imagine crushing that vulnerability with the message that “spiritual people” can fulfill all their own needs and shouldn’t reach out to others for support, that neediness is a sign of spiritual weakness.

What if this is the ultimate strength?

Neediness as a Gateway to Intimacy

Without permission to be needy, we will never be intimate. We won’t be intimate with ourselves, with other humans, or with the Divine. When we’re needy, we feel humbled, and that humility opens our hearts and brings us closer together, reminding us that we are interdependent beings, linked together at our roots. We need one another, and the science supports this. In fact, our biology shows us over and over that our health suffers when we do not let ourselves need one another. As I described in my latest TEDx talk here, we are tribal beings who wither without social support, community, and others who we can care for and who care for our needs in return, not in a codependent way, but in a healthy inter-dependent paradox of self-sufficiency and neediness. When we don’t allow ourselves or each other to have needs, we suffer from the kind of existential loneliness that predisposes us to cancer, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Willingness to be vulnerable, to be self-aware, to ask for what we need from those who want to take care of one another—may, in fact, be the ultimate sign of strength. It may be the only way we will survive what is coming in this transition time on our planet.

Gift Economy

Over Christmas, my daughter and I visited twelve National Parks in the United States. Many of them, like Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, Bandolier National Monument, and Walnut Canyon, feature the remains of ancient Native American cliff dwellings. As we read the history of these tribes, my daughter said to me, “Wow, Mama. These people really needed each other, didn’t they?”

I explained to her the tenets of what Charles Eisenstein teaches in his book Sacred Economics, about gift economy. In indigenous communities that were based on gift economy, nobody questioned that everyone needed each other. In fact, if you didn’t cooperate with the tribe, you were ostracized from the tribe, and this meant certain death. There was no question that division of labor meant that you needed your neighbor to share the buffalo he just hunted or you needed your fellow tribe member to give you some of the berries she gathered. You needed your tribe to protect you from harm and to warm you when the weather got harsh. Neediness was an obvious fact of life.

Yet in a currency based economy, we are cut off from the directness of our neediness. We think we can just pay someone to meet our needs, which makes us “independent” and “self-sufficient” if we are wealthy. We tell ourselves, “I don’t need friends. I can just hire a therapist. I don’t need touch. I can just pay for a massage. I don’t need the baker. I can just buy some bread.”

Because we rely on currency, we forget that we still need the therapist and the hands of the one who massages us and the baker who makes the bread!

Siena and I spent New Years Eve and New Years Day on the Taos Pueblo with a Native American family who lives on the Pueblo. Siena was delighted after visiting all those abandoned cliff dwellings! “Mama, people still live in these!” She was able to witness the way people allow themselves to need each other there. We got to eat the New Years feast and witness the Turtle Dance and snuggle together in front of the kiva with our new friends. Siena asked me if she could move into the Taos Pueblo. I felt sad to tell her that we had to go back to our own village now. She said that now, more than ever, she is antsy to go visit the Q’eros with me, the indigenous village in Peru where I had to privilege of living for a bit a few years ago. I will take her there. I want her to see how much they need each other. I feel called to raise a daughter who knows how to tend to herself but also gives herself and others permission to be needy.

Do You Let Yourself Be Needy? Do You Let Others Have Needs?

My mother was just diagnosed with cancer and is choosing to opt out of conventional cancer treatment. She is learning how to ask for what she needs and get her needs met. I’m also on a healing journey, after being bitten by a pit bull who removed a large chunk of skin and subcutaneous tissue from my inner thigh. It has been a very uncomfortable experience to feel dependent on those who are helping me. Right after the dog attack, I relied on others to help keep me out of the ER, to help me find the right wound care experts, to treat me with their healing gifts, to drive me to appointments, to change my bandages, to help me bathe . . .

I even nudged myself to lean all the way out of my comfort zone by asking for financial help when my family needs it via the Indiegogo campaign Mom and I just launched this week. (You can listen to our family’s music video and/or donate here.)

In my little village, we all have a hard time asking for what we need, so we have a family practice, and often, throughout the day, we’ll ask each other, “You need anything?” It’s a reminder—a prompt—for us to check in with ourselves and each other and to communicate what we might need.

What about you? Do you let yourself be needy? Do you communicate your needs to those you can trust? Do you force yourself to “man up” and “force function” or do you give yourself permission to be vulnerable? Can you be needy without being codependent?

What would it be like if we all felt safe asking for help when we need it and giving to others when we have extra love/energy/time/attention/money/bandwidth to give to those in need?

I wonder . . .

I need you all. Thank you all for being part of my Love Warrior tribe.


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  1. Elsie

    Lissa , this is an amazing piece of powerful writing! No one else has written about the relationship of needs, vulnerability, and interactions between people ( men and women/ women and women/ men and men etc) is quite this way. I keep reading parts over and over! Thank you so much!

  2. JaniceELP

    This is an article many people need to read. I have a friend of about 55 years’ duration, and she does not comfort anyone. That includes her own husband and it included me when I called and asked her to come over because I needed to talk with her. I was utterly devastated by something that had happened, and I needed her comfort. I have no family left, and she is my longest-term friend, so I depended on her. She showed up and sat with me while I poured my heart out and sobbed and sobbed for about 2 hours (something extremely uncharacteristic for me), but she said absolutely nothing, offered absolutely no emotional support, and did not even hug me until she left. I might as well have been wailing at or talking to a blank wall. I have since realized that she has become utterly consumed with the Bible, all things “Christian”, and pop psychology ideas that have come out of “prosperity theology” and the “Secret”, which have caused her never to think about anything negative. In truth, she has killed off part of her humanness, part of the person she was created to be. She shares nothing whatsoever about her life, her husband’s or children’s problems, or any medical issues. We were such close friends since high school, but she is no longer the person she was, and she is not relatable any more. There is no intimacy in our “friendship”, because only part of a human being exists any longer. One cannot relate to an artificial person, who seems never to have any problems and who cannot comfort another in pain. This has been a great loss to me, and it has left me feeling very alone and hurting. I don’t know how people can be so consumed by religious ideas that they cease being the people they were, destroying their very humanness. To make matters even worse, my friend and her husband are in charge of burying me when I die, because i have no family to do that (and I am leaving them considerable money). Yet, she never calls to even check on me to see if I’m still alive, and she wouldn’t know if I were dead. I’ve often thought that I could be lying dead in my house for 6 months or more, and she would never know it. How can some people give so much time to God and religious study groups, church, prayer, etc., but find no time to even call to check on a friend? I think that some aspects of religion have done great damage to the kindness and love we are to give one another.

    • Brenon

      Janice, thank you for what you’ve shared. I can’t imagine how it must feel like for you having such a long term friend start acting this way. I recognize that at times my own behavior has been not too unlike your friend’s, and often for “spiritual” reasons. On the flip side I don’t let some of my own needs be known by others because I think they aren’t legitimate for the same “spiritual” reasons. So thanks for this very clear example of what this can look like when taken to the extreme. This it’s a good wake up call for me.

    • Lissa_Rankin

      Dear Janice, I am sorry for this evident pain in your life and pray that you are gifted with someone who can give you the attention and intimacy that you need.

      With love

      • JaniceELP

        Thank you very much for your reply. I hadn’t realized how deeply this has hurt me and how great the loss has been until I read your reply and Brenon’s reply. Something deep down welled up inside me, and a flood of tears came down, unstoppable and dislodging that pain, even if just a bit. I cried for a long time. Also, no one has told me that I deserve anything since my mother died, almost 8 years ago. Somehow, when you are always the only one who ever tells you that you deserve better, it is like living with an echo chamber in your head. It is not confirmed by anyone, and you start to wonder about even what you do deserve. (I took care of my parents for the last 14 years of their lives, and I had time to stay in touch with only my 4 closest friends during those years. Between the time my father died and the time my mother died, all 4 of those friends died. At my mother’s funeral, I realized that I had absolutely no one and that I was all alone on this planet. That has been a horribly lonely place to be, especially when you’re almost 65. It is also very hard to get your bearings and to get back into creating a life at that age and without any relationships. When I contacted the friend I was talking about and told her that my mother had died, she hugged me and told me to read a Bible passage, then left. I should have known that a large part of her humanness was already gone. Maybe, I cried yesterday, in part, for her, too.)

        • Lissa_Rankin

          Dear Janice,
          I feel your loneliness in my own One heart. There is no shame in being lonely or yearning for comfort and friendship. I don’t know where you are in the world, but I am certain that there is someone who lives near you who yearns for this kind of friendship the way you do. I wonder what would happen if you just surrender this intense and beautiful desire to the Universe and pray for help getting this need met if it is aligned for you. Perhaps something quite mysterious could be right around the corner if you open to it and keep your intuition tuned to signs that someone might be wanting and capable of giving the same thing you yearn for…

          • JaniceELP

            Thank you very, very much, Lissa. I’m going to do just what you have suggested. In the meantime, I have given lots and lots of my time to a philanthropic organization I joined last fall. Doing good for others and contributing to the greater good has helped me deal with the loss of the person I thought was my best friend. I still have a hole in my heart from that loss and all the others, but I’m hoping that I can meet people through this organization or otherwise, who are whole and fully human people, with whom i can find close friendships. I had to end a budding friendship with one member because she continually told me that my beloved mother is in hell and i am going there, too, because we did not worship Jesus. I think that no friends are better than toxic ones. I reiterate, religion has done a great deal of damage to many, and that’s a shame, because it could be used to do much good. I’ll be calling on the universe to light my path, whether or not I ever find such friendships again. I thank everyone who posted here, expressing the sometimes ineffable, the very best that the universe has to offer, and I wish everyone a light heart, filled with peace and love, happy moments, and genuinely caring family and friends. May each and every one of you be lifted by Lissa’s writings and words spoken to you by others who cross your path. You have all given me a hug that I needed, even if electronically. Thank you.

          • Lissa Rankin

            What a wonderful way to meet caring people (and yes, avoid the toxic ones!) Sending lots of love and many blessings to you, Janet.

    • Rebecca Kelso

      Hi Lissa and Janice,
      I have to say, this article really moved me, as did this comment. I was literally just thinking today that no one approaches me anymore for comfort, sharing, etc. I don’t think I’ve really looked at how much I have embodied the “Lone Ranger” mentality until very recently – and certainly I haven’t recognized it as much as I have after reading this post. Honestly, I think what stops me from being a better from is how uncomfortable I feel offering my support. I feel I won’t say or do the right thing, or I don’t want to look stupid/weak in front of others so people think I never have a problem so then they don’t want to share their problems with me. Maybe I’m just rambling, but I think I can see both sides of this – Janice – I have been just like your “friend” and I’m trying to be more in touch with my vulnerability now. I too feel I have somewhat killed off my humanness and getting it back is no easy feat. Thank you both for sharing.

    • myracraig

      Janice, I completely understand about your lack of friends. In the past I have went through times I call ” friendless” times. What happens is that I am growing and changing and some of the folks I had been hanging around do not really grow or learn from life. Very, very few friendships will last a lifetime. It sounds like your uber, uptight “friend” has chosen to shut down her feelings. In my opinion she sounds toxic to you. With all the care-taking you have been doing it is very apparent that you have a big heart. Please find a support group of caring, loving people who WILL support you and listen, and be worthy of your love and support too. SO glad you reached out on here to open up. In fact, I am on FB if you want to message me, feel free!

    • Susan Kuhn

      To pick up on Lissa’s theme from her article…your friend likely doesn’t have a clue about needs being met because no one has ever met hers. You and I are in similar positions, perhaps — short on family but acutely aware of a dimension of human connection that is often absent in family. I am just about your age. I can assure you based on my experience that as you open to other sources of love and care…they will show up! Every so often I rewatch Under the Tuscan Sun to remind me of this. My religious faith has also helped me. Finally, I have a life-long friend with whom I have grown apart…I truly can’t stand the emptiness of being around her and I have let her go (to me different from rejecting). Love makes the world go ’round…and it is there for everyone. Do you remember that great Barbra Streisand Song, “People”? (People, people who need people…are the luckiest people in the world.) Your friend can’t give what she herself doesn’t know, but there are others who can, as sure as the sun rises in the sky every day. Much love.

  3. red turtle

    an important and challenging topic. as you say Lissa, we live in a culture that does not value or cultivate interdependence and as a result we all suffer big-time. while we need to practice expressing and asking for needs to be met and responding to those of others, for many of us the network is not there and the reciprocity is not reliably available. As Thoreau said,

    “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is
    concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of
    mankind.” so many of our entertainments are an attempt to forget for a moment or an hour the lack of functional community in our world.

  4. Mark DiOrio

    So much to say, but I’ll consolidate with an Amen Sister. I’ve learned to avoid ‘spiritual’ people’, and instead get my inspiration from our world, people who care about animals and the environment, and a little dolphin who lost her tail.

  5. cheerytomato

    I had some big “ah-ha”s while reading this. Thank you, Lissa, for sharing your insights. I know this will help me tremendously….

  6. Leslie Mildiner

    As a guy…I have to respond thusly: However Guys 1-4 presented themselves…spiritually aware, fully conscious, friend to zen//whatever – the (red0flag) suspect behavior here is that none of them were willing to go over to Lissa and just hug or hold her when she asked?? I put it out there that there are not representative of a lot of guys. I have guy friends, straught/gay/inbetween of all spiritual or secular backgrounds and ages who would almost certainly give me a hug and make me a cup of tea (and have) in times of pain for me. I feel there’s more here to be explored by Lissa as to what brings her into orbit with guys like that. Because I’d go further and say I smell male b.s in these “insightful” guys “insights” after the fact. They ring a tad hollow.

    • Lissa_Rankin

      This is exactly the conclusion I came to Leslie! I withdrew from men for a while to try to discern what I was calling into my field, how I was being seduced by people who couldn’t or wouldn’t show up. I’m now with a wonderful man who says that meeting my needs meets his need for intimacy. And I love meeting his needs too. It’s so nourishing!

      • Leslie Mildiner

        That’s excellent! Yes for me, I just reacted to the idea of say, 4 male friends of mine NOT responding to your needs in the way you described – I would call into question what was going through their heads….So I felt compelled to leave a note about that. Just wanted to add – so very sorry that you’ve had all this shock and trauma, your Mom’s diagnosis and the shocking dog attack. I hope some further calm appears on the horizon soon.

  7. Emilia Eneva Nagy

    GREAT post AND thank GOD I healed and married a man who is ALWAYS there for me.

  8. Janette


    I need to read, reread, and reread again to fully take in.. so many points hit so close to home for me.

    Thank you for sharing <3

  9. Suzanne

    I can’t even imagine what you’re going though, Lissa, and I’m glad that you can share openly here. You’ve addressed so many frustrations and difficulties each one of us have in experiencing life’s shadows and contrast. People think that spiritual teachers are exempt from pain, suffering, and emotional needs but that’s just not true. There are no pre-conditions for love, connection, and empathy – just being human does the trick.

    I just wrote a post about this today called “Feeling first, solution last.” I think that most of us haven’t been taught what real empathy is. We want to approach pain with our minds, instead of our hearts. If there’s a problem or someone is suffering, we automatically move to advice-giving or solution-finding because it feels active instead of passive; we trick ourselves into believing that we can bend pain to our will this way. Empathy, however, is just sitting beside someone saying “I know you’re hurting. Tell me how you’re feeling. Let me be with you while you’re going through it. What do you need?” It isn’t judging pain as being bad; it isn’t trying to fix; it isn’t being a saviour; it isn’t projecting. It’s just being a friend.

    Being able to express your needs and ask for help, and have them heard and met, is the foundation of trust, which in itself is a foundation of love.

    In my experience, the people who don’t know how to give empathy to others often have difficulty empathizing with their own pain, as your examples show Lissa. Bypassing is a tremendous temptation. People who can’t trust their own emotions, or who haven’t had trusted and unconditionally loving people in their lives, are hurting too.

    This is why your blog and writings are so important in helping us grow. Thank you.

  10. Dr Rachel Wood

    Dear Dr Lissa Rankin,
    I found the spiritual under-pinning of this post to be very potent & attractive.
    I used to be a great fan & follower of yours (bought x5 copies of your book to give away in 2012/2013 to help it reach no.1 best seller status), but somehow (long story) I drifted away from your writings…

    Today i happened to open this latest email (first time in years that i’ve bothered) and was blown away to find my ‘Perfect Living Master’ Baba Gurinder Singh Ji (sant mat guru) speaking to met thru your writing. Thank u darling for being his conduit.

    Having Multiple Sclerosis (since April 2001) with a very new “first” husband (we got married 12th June 2015)and who is now my full-time carer… this was The Best message I’ve read in ages.


    Lots of love & Deep Gratitude
    Dr (Mrs) Rachel Donnelly

    • Lissa_Rankin

      What a blessing to have you among us here Rachel. And many thanks to all the beings who bless me with the opportunity to bring their wisdom into writings such as these.

      With love and congratulations on your marriage

  11. Jordyn Fitzgerald

    This is beautiful. I’ve noticed signs recently that I need to slow down, take care of my own needs, and be open to the idea of feminine energy. Just today I listened to a podcast with Ashley Albrand who mentioned the idea of the divine feminine. And now, I come across your article. I’m going to take this as a sign to tune into this energy further!

  12. myracraig

    The universe always comes through for me! Would you believe I just had a troubling phone conversation with a close friend on Thursday.So, this article has been helpful. Needless to say after being totally brushed off by said friend, I will need time to cool down and go over things. I called her on her day off to talk as I just lost a very close friend in March, so my grief is still quite raw understandeably. She just totally blew me off, and said that I “set her up”? I could not even understand why she would say such a thing to me? Obviously she was having a bad day, but even on my worst day, I would never blow off a close friend like that. I said that to her, and she said…well, nobody’s perfect? When she is in a good mood she can very compassionate and available, but oh wow, I had never seen this side of her before?? I guess in the future I will have to ask her if she is in the mood to listen IF I call her again…:(. She herself lost a very close friend 4 or 5 years ago and myself and her other friends showed HER a great deal of compassion.

  13. Fred DeFalco

    Lissa, Thank you!!!! You just save 5 years of my life by reducing my stress over needs I have been struggling with for 4 years. I will use this article as a daily devotional for the next two weeks. Hugs and Blessings!!!

  14. Susan Kuhn

    Thank you for this article. As others have said, it bears rereading many times. I so greatly appreciate the depth of your writing and awareness.

  15. Leslie Notis

    This was a very special and uplifting article. You are now my new, official mentor. Thanks.

  16. Artemiss Keyhani

    Brilliant article and great insight… yes, we have developed the Lone Ranger complex in the face of feeling vulnerable – so instead of challenging that twisted frame of reference, we have made our own natural ways of being wrong… and it is costing humanity far too much. Time to embrace the paradox indeed.


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