Neediness comes in two basic varieties: Some of us tend toward helplessness, looking to others for assistance or solutions. Others continually look for direct or indirect reassurance that they are doing well and/or are loved and wanted. Regardless of style, these days, we're all sending out S.O.S. signals a bit too frequently. Social media, email and texts are exacerbating neediness, says dependency expert and Adelphi University psychologist Robert F. Bornstein, Ph.D., because it is far too easy to reach out, 24/7, without actually having to talk to someone or look at them—the kinds of social interactions that would normally stop us from making excessive requests. Based on his and others' research, Bornstein has two key suggestions to help us move toward healthy dependence (that magical point between being too clingy and too aloof).

1. Make "I Can Do It Myself" Your Default

Before you ask for help with a tech problem, party menu or tax form, promise you'll spend five minutes more trying to figure it out on your own. If you do, you'll get that delicious feeling of self-efficacy. If you still can't resolve things, at least you'll be justified in asking for help. (Curbing neediness is about switching to from knee-jerk, automatic asking to conscious, deliberate asking, says Bornstein.)

2. First, Breathe. Then Connect, Don't Demand

Asking for reassurance, says Bornstein, can quickly spiral downward: The more we need it, the less satisfied we are when we get it, and the more likely we are to ask again—to the point where we drive friends and family nuts. (Bornstein also says that clinginess is a major deal-breaker in dating relationships.) So when you're feeling wobbly, first stop and step away from the phone or keyboard and focus on something else—a grocery list, crossword puzzle or just your own breath. A 2013 study found that needy subjects who listened to a 20-minute mindfulness recording felt less anxious and negative afterward, compared with the control group.

If you do still want to reach out after a breather, remind yourself that connecting with others is healthy, while demanding things from others is generally not. For instance, instead of asking a date when he wants to see you again, think about what he might need and want. Send along a thoughtful or entertaining message, instead of putting him in the position of having to respond to your pleas for affection. You'll likely end up getting the closeness you crave while breaking the reassurance-seeking cycle.


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