Processing the stuff we’ve been taught to feel ashamed of.
Last week, in my relationship, I felt needy.
I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but I felt sensitive, raw, emotional, and easily hurt/rejected by my partner. I cried a lot, and spent the week trying to figure out what it actually was I was feeling and needing, both so that I could explain it to my partner (who really wanted to help), and so that I could sort of “put it away” in the right spot in my mind.
Few things are more upsetting than when my emotional filing cabinet is a mess.
Not understanding what I’m feeling means I can’t properly process it, and having a bunch of unprocessed feelings sitting around is similar for me to how some people describe walking into a dirty kitchen with all the drawers and cupboard doors open, and dishes overflowing the sink: it’s fucking stressful.
This is why I regularly do the work to understand myself. I notice what I’m feeling and wanting, what hurts, what might be going on, and what I need. I use a narrative-based style of emotional processing, turning the story over in my mind (or out loud with my people) and exploring it until the narrative comes into focus and I know where to put it.
So anyway, I’d been feeling needy and sensitive, and I kept asking myself questions to see what the root of it was.
Is this just because of the pervasive stress of Covid and #blacklivesmatter?
Is this about the upcoming move, the huge risk I’m taking with my new love, or the uncertainty of the next few months? (Oh yeah, I should probably tell you that this weekend I put my stuff in storage in LA, and flew to the east coast, because my boyfriend and I are going to be spending the next four to six months with our families.)
Is this because I’m leaving Los Angeles and I’m sad?
Is this, as the mean voice in my head keeps insisting, because my boyfriend is mad at me, or because he doesn’t love me as much as I love him?
Because that’s the thing: the sensitivity and anxiety was definitely centered around my relationship, even though I couldn’t name why.
Granted, it was a wildly stressful week for both of us as we navigated the complex logistics of our move. He’s driving, and I flew, so we had tons of moving parts leading up to it. Storage units. Missing license plates. Towed cars. Sold furniture. Donation boxes nobody would take. My boyfriend put his three cats on a plane and sent them to his parents, a process which went horribly in every way you can imagine, although they eventually safely arrived and are doing well.
Looking back I can see that that’s when my neediness first arose. The day he put his cats on a plane, he was hurting and exhausted, and wasn’t up for hanging out.
While I always had pets growing up, I’ve never felt connected to, or loved, a pet. So when other people are feeling feelings about their pets, I’m always a bit lost. I’ve never felt that bond, and I don’t get it. This is something I used to feel immense shame about (and frankly is a bigger topic for another day), but that day I mostly just felt insecure about being a shitty partner.
That night I sent him donuts on doordash, and told myself that it was totally ok for him to need space. But the needy feeling had already arrived, and even though we spent time together over the next few days, I never felt quite re-connected.
We were still warm and loving, but something was just… off.
It was frustrating that I couldn’t name what. Something that brought up a well of sensitivity, and primed me to feel rejected and wounded at the tiniest provocation. I felt rejected whenever he looked at his phone, as if I was competing with his phone for his attention. I felt wounded when he wanted to nap instead of have sex, like it was a reflection on how much he wanted me. Once I got my feelings hurt because he left…. after I told him repeatedly that he should leave.
I used to call this “crazy girl behavior,” a yucky phrase to me now because it misunderstands (and shames) both mental illness and gender, but which I took for granted as a teenager to mean that my hormonal brain made me illogical, unstable, and “too sensitive and emotional.”
Thankfully I know better now, and I trust that there is always validity and truth to what I feel, even if I can’t see it yet. Sometimes this kind of trust requires holding uncomfortable conflict, such as knowing both that my boyfriend wasn’t doing anything wrong or hurtful, and that it was valid for me to feel hurt anyway.
It’s worth noting that I have often felt constantly needy in my past relationships, but I’d never felt it with my current partner. He is just too damn good at cultivating intimacy and making me feel seen, cared for, appreciated, and loved. So while the feeling was an old familiar one for me, it was new to be processing it with this person.
At one point while we were brainstorming about it, I asked for reassurance that he loves me, thinking that might help. He gave me a long, nuanced, and moving speech about the way he feels about me. (This is where he shines.) It felt good, and I liked hearing it, but I noticed it didn’t penetrate to the wounded part of me the way his beautiful speeches normally do.
Apparently it wasn’t reassurance I needed.
Frustrated with the lack of narrative ability to properly file my feelings, at a certain point I just decided to cash in some of the trust we’ve built up, let it go, and focus on the move. After all, bandwidth was already low for both of us between the horrific state of the world, the stress of the move, and the emotional baggage coming up around it.
So that’s exactly what we did. We moved all my shit into storage, ran errands, ordered Insomnia cookies for dinner, and got through. Then on the way to the airport he started talking, and the narrative clicked.
This wasn’t just “him talking,” though. He talks all the time, and he hadn’t been quiet or anything. But this was like an eruptive force, his words bursting through a deep dam, about all the stuff he’d been thinking about lately. He told me about his cats, and how it felt to leave them at the airport; how they didn’t understand what was happening and were so scared. He described how they had been his family in Los Angeles, how they had saved his life, and how his heart broke knowing they must have felt like he just… didn’t want them anymore.
He also told me about some sexual assault allegations rocking a music scene he was deeply invested in, and how he’s been wondering what his responsibilities are as a fan and consumer when the stories coming out are complex and unclear, and how he’d been wrestling with the boundaries of cancel culture and what it means to both believe women, and believe in people’s ability to grow and change.
As he spoke, it clicked for me— the thing that had felt off for me was this. My partner withholding their “stuff” is a huge trigger for me, and he hadn’t been sharing the heavy things on his heart.
I fell in love with this boy in part because he shares so much of himself with me. He’s normally eager to share his inner world and think out loud, but this week he’d been keeping shit in. Some part of me had felt it, and felt threatened.
When I asked him why he hadn’t shared that stuff before, he said it just seemed too heavy, too sad, too yucky, too confusing.
He was processing his stuff too, trying to organize his own filing cabinet, and he didn’t want to bog me down with it. After all, he knew the animal stuff would be hard for me to understand, and once I’d established I was feeling sensitive and hurt, it just seemed wrong to bring it up.
Listening to him talk in the car dissipated a lot of my hurts, though, and by the time we got to the airport, I felt my filing cabinet all neatly organized and my distress and neediness gone. I realized in that moment how important it is for me to be invited into my partner’s inner world.
Some part of it may be about wanting to establish a feeling of safety and a fear of being shut out– all shit I’ve worked on in therapy. But some of it is just having an intuition sensitive enough to pick up on subtle changes. If my spidey senses pick up on something being different, but I can’t figure out what it is or why, it’s unsettling. (Not to mention that like most women, I’ve been gaslit by people who didn’t want to deal with what my intuition was picking up on my whole life.)
I also just feel closest to my partner when they’re freely sharing their inner world with me. Thank goodness this one does just that freely, deeply, and often.
I share all this because I think it may be useful to know that:
if you experience bouts of neediness, sensitivity, or emotionalness that you can’t explain, you are neither alone, nor are you “crazy.”
You may just be sensitive, like me, and picking up on subtle things your conscious mind can’t place. And if so, then you might need to spend some time working on both your connection with your body and Self, and your emotional-processing process.
Because we all deserve access to our innermost truth, and a nicely organized emotional filing cabinet.
Love and sensitivity,
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