“Need” is not a four letter word

Ever since the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago, the concept of self-reliance has been instilled deeply into our consciousness. As a nation, the fledgling United States was not going to have to answer to some mother/’nother nation. Fast forward a few years to frontier days, and the concept of the lone cowboy or sole homesteader reinforced that independent ideal.  Perhaps the Women’s Movement piled a few more bricks onto this wall of expectation, with quotes (widely attributed to Gloria Steinem) such as “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

No wads of panties, please; I’m an ardent feminist (actually humanist) and do feel there is value in self-reliance and independence for all. The problem once again is the all or nothing bent the culture widely attributes to the concept of needs, given the above background: needs are bad. I’m a good person if I can take care of all my own needs, and a pitiful loser if I don’t. No one wants to be needy, and of course our dichotomous brains snap like a magnet to that interpretation of needs.

Recently, I heard the phrase that is the title to this post, and realized how often we do actually treat our needs as something to be denied, avoided, even damned. The need to look strong and run from any possibility of being labelled as needy is endemic, and I hear sad stories again and again about the toll this belief takes.  A woman with breast cancer who revealed her illness only after treatment left her so ill she could not function. A family suffering the loss of a loved one who refused the help of meals. A friend traversing a divorce who revealed the fact only once the divorce was final.

We fear that if we speak up about our need for help, not only will we violate the unwritten code of strength, but we’ll bother or burden those who love us. We’ll slip into that category of needy, and they’ll shrink from us, unwilling to take on one more task in their already swamped lives.

Perhaps the best perspective to adopt when evaluating whether you should clamp your own mouth shut and not reach out to others in time of need is to practice a reversal. How would you feel if you found out a dear friend or family member was traversing one of life’s dark valleys and denied you the ability to help? Almost universally, we want to help–and feel deprived and even insulted if our friends don’t trust us enough to reach out and honestly express their needs.

Back to the pioneers. They weren’t really completely self-sufficient, but traveled in wagon trains because that increased odds of survival. The founding fathers had an enviable network of support, like-minded souls sharing lively debate over a beer. The reality is like the potty-training book Everybody Poops. Everybody has needs.  No shame. Not an unspeakable expletive. Accepting support, emotionally or practically, is a great way to bond with others, as well as get what you need out of life.

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