If you often use the words annoying or irritating when referring to someone, chances are that person is clingy and needy. Can that relationship be saved?
By: Lindiwe Mciteka Pictures: XX
“I bumped into an old acquintance from high school while shopping one day. We exchanged numbers and had our first social hangout that weekend. Since then, she’s been blowing up my phone and social media by liking and commenting on every picture that I post. She’s constantly suggesting we hang out or passes by my house or office. It’s all a bit much because we were never close friends to begin with,” says Linda*. People with an excessive desire to be accepted or a fear of rejection can be classified as clingy or emotionally needy says Dr Lungile Lechesa, a clinical psychologist from Johannesburg. “Clingy people have insecurities of being rejected or abandoned, and struggle to be alone. They seek validation, which can be masked as attention-seeking, and have a hard time making friends because they tend to cling to one or two people,” she adds. Zanele* feels that her ex had a similar fear of rejection during their three-year relationship. “We met at the gym, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer until I agreed to go out with him,” she recalls. “At first I was flattered by his desire to spend all his time with me, but he soon became controlling and wanted to know my every move. He got really upset when I didn’t answer my phone right away, and would wait outside my office. The last straw was when he accused me of cheating. So, I broke up with him, but then he cried and apologised. It was draining and exhausting, and has changed my approach to relationships. I’m now very wary and intolerant of anything that reminds me of the way my ex behaved.”
In Zanele’s case, the signs that the clinginess had become excessive were all there. “Anything that impairs your ability to function is unhealthy. A clingy person does not care of other people’s emotions because they are more invested in having their emotional needs met. They are also prone to anxiety, and struggle to regulate their own emotions,” says Lungile. She also adds that there are a few underlying causes of emotional neediness. “Clinginess may stem from a difficult childhood experience or lack of a healthy attachment to a parent or caregiver in infancy, where their emotional needs were not met. They may also have had an experience that taught them that when people leave, they don’t come back. And, will often develop a strong need to hold on to significant people in their lives.” Roxy Saanglai, a life coach from East London, adds that insecurity is also a factor. “Clingy people have an emotional deficit and a need for constant reassurance, attention and affirmation from others instead of finding that within themselves,” she says.
AVOID OR ADDRESS IT
It’s tempting to avoid the clingy person instead of addressing the issue directly. But, going about it this way stunts the growth of your relationship. If you really care about this person, it’s best to address the problem head on. “Set healthy boundaries within the relationship that teaches the person that independence is important to you. Hopefully they will learn their own independence in the process,” says Lungile. You can also take it a step further by suggesting therapy. “There often is no easy way to recommend therapy, but it can be done from a place of love and care. Chances are the clingy person also has signs of depression, anxiety or deep-seated insecurities. So, highlighting those issues may encourage them to seek help,” she adds.
WHEN YOU ARE CLINGY
So, you’re reading this article and it dawns on you that you are the clingy one in your relationships – be it with a friend, significant other, your child or colleague. Lungile says you can often tell if people tend to avoid you or cancel plans frequently. “The reality is that the more demanding a person is, the more likely they are to push away the people close to them. You may also find yourself having a lot of unnecessary arguments or disagreements with people, particularly your romantic partner; when they speak to someone of the opposite sex, don’t answer your call or text immediately or they accuse you of being too needy.” If you find yourself unable to function and carry out daily activities without obsessing and overly preoccupied by about the other person, are constantly checking their social media profiles and are unable to do activities independently, you may have a serious problem. “Becoming distressed at the thought of being away from the other person, borderline stalking them and self-medicating with substances in order to cope with the absence of the other are all signs of extreme emotional neediness that need urgent attention,” says Lungile. Building your self-esteem is an important factor to recovery. “As a life coach, I teach positive self-love and building your confidence back up, and I encourage you to pursue your own passions,” Roxy shares. She adds that keeping yourself busy will give your partner and friends space; you will begin to respect their boundaries, create them for yourself and practice healthy social behavior. Lungile recommends speaking to a therapist or a counsellor to address the problems at their root. “With awareness and insight, it will be a lot easier to learn skills that help you to be more independent which will lead to healthier relationships.” Also look to meditation which helps to keep you calm and regulate your feelings. “Using positive mantras such as ‘I am enough. I am worthy. It is okay to be me and to love myself’ while meditating helps to reinforce those feelings and builds you up,” says Roxy.
*Not their real names