Why are borderlines terrified of being needed? Why does it feel unsafe to need anything from anyone else? A look at why borderlines continue to look to others – loved ones, family members, or relationship partners – non borderlines – to meet their needs and at why many fear being needed by others.

A non-borderline responding to a previous article I’ve written said and asked the following:

“You said in a previous article that anyone close to you: terrified you, triggered you, seemed to need you, and made you feel like you could treat them they way your family treated you. I understand all of the above, EXCEPT the fear or discomfort of someone ‘needing you’. Why is that uncomfortable? What does that mean to a borderline to be needed? A.J.? This has always taken me for a loop.”

Firstly, yes, in the past, if anyone managed to get close to me it did terrify me. It also did trigger me. It did not “make me feel” that I could treat them as I had my family. It rather, in a dissociative sense, FELT so much like my family of origin that I would just regress to past behaviour — largely, behaviour of not only a young age but also behaviour that was all I knew in the past in terms of how to relate to anyone who was close.

Secondly, I was only close to rather “needy” people. I, myself was very needy, as were those in my family of origin. Therefore, this reality also set up a pattern of both expectation and behaviour on my part. I expected to be “used”, “manipulated”, and “lied to” — this happened. Of course I was also using, manipulating and lying to others.

I did not have any boundaries, or limits or any sense of what boundaries and limits were or were for. This left me even more open and vulnerable to the abuses of those around me. As I was extremely dysfunctional so to were the people that I came to know. I came to realize some years ago that using, manipulating, and lying all had to do with attempts to protect and take care of myself — much as I do now with boundaries and limits and honesty. Though, for most borderlines in the throes of active BPD, without boundaries there is little to no true awareness of actual “self”. It is this lack of a known self that so often puts those with BPD in a no-win situation that they project out onto loved ones and that trap them in between the rock and hard place of BPD. This also leads one to act in ways that one may later realize are not in line with their authentic self — who they really are and what they value — how they want to treat others and how they want to be treated by others.

For me, when I was borderline, being needed or God forbid, being counted on terrified me because I was very inconsistent and unable to be there for me. I need me and could not take care of myself — though I was not aware of this in the past a major part of what scared me about others needing me was how much I needed them because I didn’t have me.

Also, when I was borderline and needy and unaware of who my “self” really was needing someone would echo my past when I needed my mother. My mother was never there for me emotionally and she was very abusive. So in my mind — subconsciously, even, need = I’m going to get it – I’m going to be abused – I’m setting myself up for more pain — I will be deserted and unloved — I am not worthy of needing or being needed.

Being needy is also equated for most borderlines as being controlled. (More often than not the control is perceived and is being dissociatively re-experienced by the borderline — as opposed to actual control being exerted upon them in the present) Once a borderline feels even a hint of being controlled they will usually present a tremendous amount of resistance — push/pull. Borderlines have a terror of being needed because they need so much that they did not get in healthy and consistent ways as children.

I think most borderlines have difficulty being needed for reasons such as mine. I think also that many have difficulty being needed simply because the wounds that have so emotionally damaged them have left them way to needy to be needed.

Some borderlines go the other way — that is to say, they try to be rescuers and seek validation through being needed and so they work extra hard to help, to care, to be there for others. I did some of this too. I tried everything. What I found in trying to help everyone all the time was that it was just another way to neglect helping myself. It also left me very angry very often because I was trying to meet certain needs through others with unrealistic expectations so I got hurt time and time again.

Most people who are diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder have some major aspect of their initial bonding, attaching and getting close to someone cause them incredible and deep wounding pain in what is experienced or perceived as abandonment. Therefore whenever they try to be close to someone, even years later, in adulthood, they begin to re-live those very painful childhood experiences through a measure of dissociation. That is how “YOU” become “THEM” to the borderline you may be in a relationship with (or were in a relationship with). It is not something that a borderline consciously chooses to do to themselves or to others. It happens and will continue to happen until the initial wounds are healed.

So, to truly be close to someone, first you must know who you are. Secondly, one must know the difference between where they end and another begins — have some boundaries and limits. Thirdly, a person must have some understanding of self-care, what his or her needs are and how to meet them on his or her own first. Fourthly, in order to be close to anyone at all, in the first place, a person must be able to tolerate being alone and distance. Borderlines often struggle with all of the afore mentioned.

It is also worth noting here that as I recovered from BPD it took me a long time to learn that often what appears to be closeness, or what feels like closeness, is really neediness in disguise. At times it was my own neediness and at times it was the neediness of others. Before any two people can relate to each other in a healthy way each must first have dealt with meeting his or her own needs. It is only after each has dealt with his or her own needs that two coming together, in friendship or primary relationship can then truly experience what it means to be inter-dependant, as opposed to codependent, and close to someone else in a healthy and meaningful, lasting way.

For any borderline to overcome his or her terror of need, he or she NEEDS to find out who he/she – one needs to find the lost self is and what he/she needs and then learn to meet those needs for him/herself.

Learning to meet one’s own needs also means learning to tolerate needs that one cannot presently meet. This involves learning to be alone, (as opposed to seeking out others to fill the void of self), to delay gratification, (as opposed to wanting instant gratification for everything), and to self-soothe when one hurts, is sad or gets let down, (as opposed to acting out or acting in to keep one’s feelings and pain at bay — or dissociated from self). In my healing process I found that the central aspect of it all really was learning that I can take care of myself and that I can meet my own emotional needs. Of course, we all, BPD or not, struggle with aspects of this from time to time. However, we do not have to be needy just because we need something. Borderlines NEED to learn to be okay with what they feel and with what they need. It is okay to need. It is okay to be lost with that for awhile. The terror will diminish as the borderline learns to face what they truly feel and why they feel what they feel.

If you are borderline, give yourself permission to feel the pain. Identify and name the pain. Welcome the pain in. It is the precursor to your setting yourself free from BPD and from the terror of Need — both needing and being needed.

© Ms. A.J. Mahari – April 23, 2000 – All rights reserved.