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Is “Neediness” Really Emotional Starvation?

In a letter to an anonymous note, Dr. Jonice Webb answers a very common question in psychology: is there such a thing as a needy child? Dr. Webb answers: No.

The anonymous author explained that her mother repeatedly informed her that she was a needy child often wanting to be held, was dramatic, and shy in school. Many children and adult children of alcoholics or dysfunctional families face such criticism from parents. Typically, the parent’s accusations are meant out of malice rather than to be constructive in any way. Children, especially young children, are inherently needy. They are in need of parental love, attention, affection, and support. Unfortunately, not all parents are mentally well when they decide to have children. They take their own childhoods and mental illness out on their children in damaging or destructive ways. “Many parents don’t realize that their job is not simply to provide for their children an raise them,” Dr. Webb explains, “they’re also supposed to respond to their children’s emotions.”

As an addict or alcoholic in the recovery process can relate, there is little responding to emotion when you are so disconnected from your own. Mental illness, and the presence of harmful substances, skews the mind from functioning normally. Spiritually speaking, the mind becomes occupied with matters of the self, leaving little room for divine intervention or empathy for other people.

Dr. Webb immediately explains that there is no such thing as a needy child, but there is such a thing as a child who is emotionally starved. Needy adults are characterized by their driving desire for those same things a neglected child is- that same love, affection and attention. “Growing up emotionally ignored results in growing up with a tendency to ignore yourself,” she explains. “How can you know yourself when your parents never knew you? How can you feel that you’re lovable when you didn’t feel love from those who brought you into this world and are supposed to love you first and best?”

Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction often includes recovering from a painful childhood and past. Through the therapeutic process of recovery, the underlying issues which led to addictive behaviors are discovered. For adult children of emotionally void homes, drugs and alcohol provided a solace and access to feelings of love. Additionally, substances also provided an escape from the emotional pain.

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