The Secret Power of Need

When I (Barry) was a small child growing up in Brooklyn, NY, in the early 1950’s, I rarely felt safe. I needed love but dared not show it. I was afraid of being ridiculed or worse, physically abused. My need for love eventually went underground, hidden even from me. Like many of us, I learned how to present a show of strength, independence, and competence.


But in truth we all need love. For me, it took having an affair with Joyce’s best friend in 1971, and Joyce ending our marriage, to realize the depth of my need for Joyce’s love. And it was this epiphany that eventually saved our marriage, even though it took two years to fully heal this betrayal.


There is a major difference between codependence and interdependence. Codependence arises out of our unconscious need or dependence upon another person, and is thus often expressed in an unhealthy way. It is a refusal to acknowledge our dependence upon another, and therefore puts pressure on the other person to fulfill our needs. In order to grow in love, we must realize our interdependence, the awareness of our healthy need for one another that puts no pressure on the other person.


An important aspect of the journey of relationship involves first the recognition of our codependence, really our “neediness,” and then our acceptance of it. For each of us to accept our codependence is to accept a part of our humanity, rather than to judge it, make it wrong or push it away, which keeps it buried and unconscious. The acceptance of our codependence humbles us, and can lead to our awareness of healthy dependence, which we refer to as interdependence.


It is important to remember that there is a vast difference between feeling our need for another (an aspect of interdependence) and expecting or demanding another to fill that need (an aspect of codependence). Interdependence implies taking responsibility for our feelings, desires and actions, and requires nothing from another person. When we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, a codependent interaction is the result, and we come across as too needy. When there is a feeling of joy or peace mixed in with our feeling of need for another, we are touching upon interdependence, and healing our codependence. I remember one time, when I was a resident in psychiatry and on call at the hospital, I felt the depth of my need for Joyce’s love. I called her on the phone and told her how much I needed her love, and how happy it made me. There was zero pressure on Joyce to do anything except feel how very important she was to me. It made her very happy, and still does today every time I reveal my conscious need for her love.


Some years ago, Joyce and I were invited to teach a weekend on relationship wellness to a group of fifty people who were in the middle of a longer program. Unfortunately, we did not know much about the content of the whole program. Nevertheless, we dove in with this group, and helped them become vulnerable with their need for love. At the time, we didn’t understand why there was so much initial resistance, but eventually everyone opened to their deeper needs with, what seemed to us, a rather extreme amount of tears and catharsis.


Finally, one person felt the need to clue us in to what was happening. The focus of the training thus far had been on the unhealthiness of needs, and the vital importance of getting rid of human needs to achieve spiritual growth. And then we come along and actually encourage the opposite, to embrace all our needs as a way to embrace our humanity, creating a more solid foundation for our spirituality. One by one, each person in the group expressed their gratitude for what we were bringing to them, describing it as a breath of fresh air. The overall leaders of this program were not present, and we were never again invited to teach in their program. They might have had a mutiny to face after our “helpful” workshop.


I like to share that one of my highest paths of spiritual growth is the path of need and dependence. At one workshop some years ago, I vulnerably shared how deeply I need Joyce’s love. During a break, a woman approached Joyce and said, “Barry is so needy! How do you stand that?” Joyce immediately said, “Please wait right here,” and ran out of the room to find me. When she did find me, her face lit up with joy and she said, “Barry, there’s a woman who thinks you’re too needy!”


I was stunned and deeply flattered. Never before had anyone called me too “needy.” Overjoyed, I said, “Where is she?” Joyce grabbed my hand and guided me back to the woman. Standing in front of her with a grateful smile on my face, I said, “You really think I’m needy?”


The woman was not smiling. She was dead serious, and obviously a bit uncomfortable with my eager joy. Still, she said, “Yes I do.”


I grabbed her hands and said, “Thank you. Thank you for seeing a part of me that I have kept well-hidden for far too many years.”


I’m not sure this woman really understood my joy and gratitude. She looked a bit confused, but I saw the slightest smile creep onto her face.


We need to acknowledge and be honest with ourselves about our codependence, our unhealthy ways of relating. Yet our eventual healing and fulfillment lies in accepting our interdependence, the awareness that we are not alone on this planet. We need each other very much. Our survival as a species depends on our interdependence. We can only survive through love and cooperation … and acceptance of our need for one another as well as our need to give to one another.

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