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Needy and clingy people can become obsessive and emotionally abusive. They will find ways to keep tabs on you so that they are always on your mind. They need constant attention and there’s little you can do to make them happy except to be with them all the time.

Neediness can turn into bad behavior to the point where, unless you comply with everything, they’ll make you believe you’re being awful to them.

I received a comment on one of my Love and Abuse episodes called If You Leave Me, I’ll Kill Myself: The Ultimate Abuse of Your Empathy and Compassion. The commenter described her experience with a partner who was extremely clingy and needy.

Neediness or clinginess can spiral into obsessive behavior, where someone feels they absolutely must have you in their life no matter what.

It’s crucial to recognize that encountering or being with someone who is overly needy or clingy, who insists on being with you constantly and keeping in touch with you no matter where you are, is a warning sign. At a minimum, it’s an orange flag, if not a red one.

I anticipate some might question this, suggesting there’s nothing wrong with a partner’s neediness or clinginess. Some might even say they cherish it, or they themselves are needy or clingy but wouldn’t resort to threats of self-harm.

I get it. I’m speaking from the standpoint of someone who has been that needy and clingy person. For most of my life, I felt the need for a partner’s constant presence.

The thought of being single, equating to loneliness and unhappiness, was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. For me, relationships were a must, and as soon as one ended, I was on the hunt for the next one, wanting to be with them every waking moment.

But let’s not confuse this with the honeymoon phase of a relationship, which is a beautiful time filled with discovery and intense connection. It’s after this phase, when things settle down, that you really see who you and your partner are.

If you find yourself with someone whose neediness and clinginess persist beyond this point, it’s important to be aware and cautious that it doesn’t evolve into obsessive behavior.

Speaking from personal experience, it took repeated relationship failures and feedback from people in my life expressing their need for space and independence for me to realize that their desire to spend time away wasn’t about abandoning or rejecting me. It was about respecting their right to be their own person, to make their own choices, and to have a life, just as they did before meeting me.

If you’re in a relationship, remember that your partner had a life before you. While life inevitably changes when you meet someone new, the question is, how much should it change?

In my case, when I met a new partner, my life would transform to the point where I lost touch with my own individuality. It’s a tricky situation when you or your partner stops feeling like a separate person and starts to believe that life is solely about the two of you as a unit. It’s no longer about ‘me,’ but ‘us,’ and that’s where things can get complicated.

The concept of ‘I’ in a relationship is akin to the absence of ‘I’ in the word ‘team.’ However, in a partnership, maintaining individuality is essential. There’s you, there’s me, and then there’s the collective ‘us.’

This perspective, which you may or may not share, I find to be very healthy. It allows for personal autonomy within the relationship’s boundaries, giving both partners the freedom to interact with friends and family and to enjoy some much-needed private time.

In my own experiences, I’ve often invited my partner into my personal space. I craved their presence because it reassured me of their love and the stability of our relationship. This was especially true during times when a small argument would ignite a fear in me that we might not make it through and that our relationship could end. That fear was the driving force behind my neediness and clinginess, the compulsion to be inseparable from my partner.

It’s crucial to have these distinct elements – me, you, and us – in a relationship. Without them, one can feel overwhelmed by a partner who never wants to be apart. This doesn’t mean you’re constantly doing your own thing; it simply means you have the opportunity to do so. It’s about having the space to maintain your individuality, engage with others, and pursue your interests, all while respecting the agreed-upon boundaries of your relationship.

For instance, if monogamy is the agreed standard, then that’s a boundary you both adhere to. It’s about having clear guidelines that define what is acceptable within your partnership.

When I talk about the importance of these three entities – me, you, and us – I’m advocating for the ability to have experiences independently, without your partner constantly by your side or monitoring your every move.

This isn’t meant to sound harsh or as if I’m pushing my partner away. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment that we should both enjoy the freedom we had before we met. We were people with our own lives, interests, and social circles, and these aspects contribute to our overall happiness and sense of connection to the world.

So, while neediness and clinginess in someone you’re dating isn’t inherently negative, it’s something to be mindful of, as it can potentially evolve into obsessive behavior.

This is why I felt compelled to create the episode “If You Leave Me, I’ll Kill Myself.” It was a particularly difficult episode to create, but it’s something I had to do because it’s a reality for many people.

This topic is frequently searched for online because it’s challenging to find information on how to handle a situation where someone threatens self-harm if you leave them or even if they misinterpret something you say. It’s an emotionally treacherous scenario.

In the comments section of that episode, I mentioned that the most caring, empathetic, and open-hearted people are often the most susceptible to such individuals because their openness makes them vulnerable.

When someone with a big heart encounters another who appears loving, compassionate, and kind, it sets off all the right feelings. It seems perfect, like the best thing that could ever happen. However, when the initial bliss fades, and the neediness and clinginess persist, what you might be witnessing is obsessive behavior.

This obsession can escalate into emotionally abusive behavior as the person begins to control you by making you feel guilty or wrong for your actions. They prey on your kind nature, twisting it to ensure you feel heartless if you don’t comply with their wishes.

The sad truth is, these relationships don’t improve; they worsen, eventually reaching a point where they plateau in a state of dysfunction until you manage to leave. Leaving, however, is the hardest part. Your kindness and compassion make it difficult to walk away because you don’t want the other person to suffer, and that’s not who you are.

But by staying, you allow them to continue exploiting your empathy, which can be emotionally devastating and leave you feeling trapped. I understand this feeling of being stuck all too well.

Reflecting on my past self, if my partner had left, it would have felt like the end of my happiness. It took me a long time to realize that I shouldn’t rely on someone else as my primary source of happiness. That mindset is toxic. Believing that your happiness depends on someone else can lead to those obsessive behaviors that manipulate someone’s kindness and empathy.

People who say something like they’ll hurt or kill themselves if you leave know you don’t want them to get hurt, so they use that to control you. And the most difficult part is that sometimes, they might actually follow through on their threats.

Taking responsibility for someone else’s actions can be a heavy burden, especially for those who are naturally kind, generous, and empathetic. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you’re the key to someone else’s happiness, comfort, or even their will to live. If you start thinking that you’re the only thing preventing someone from harming themselves, you’re shouldering an immense weight.

Let’s talk about setting boundaries, particularly in new relationships. It’s crucial to communicate your needs early on. For instance, if I need personal space, I’ll make it clear to my partner that while I value our time together, I also need time to myself.

It’s important to establish that you can’t be micromanaged—constantly being checked on or having to report your whereabouts. If my partner can’t respect my need for independence, then we might not be compatible.

In the early stages of a relationship, after the honeymoon phase—which typically lasts two to four months—you’ll want to address these issues to see where the relationship is heading. However, if you’re already deep into an established relationship, it’s a bit trickier. You may have inadvertently set a precedent by tolerating certain behaviors, which can make them seem acceptable over time.

When it comes to emotionally abusive behavior that has been tolerated, the abuser may see no reason to change, as they perceive their actions as successful. In such cases, it’s vital to either establish new boundaries or have a candid conversation about the issues at hand. If that’s not possible or safe, more drastic steps may be necessary, such as leaving the relationship.

Whether you’re able to have a productive dialogue or find yourself in a one-sided situation where you’re always to blame, you must consider your options. Staying might mean enduring the status quo, which isn’t ideal. Alternatively, you could choose to leave, separate, or take a break from the relationship.

In some cases, distancing yourself or going no contact might be the healthiest choice.

It’s essential to protect yourself, especially if you’re in a situation where you’re made to feel responsible for someone else’s happiness. Such emotional turmoil can be incredibly damaging. Hopefully, this information empowers you to make the decisions you need, bolster your confidence, and begin any necessary healing.

Remember, a healthy relationship consists of three components: me, you, and us.

When each person’s autonomy and independence are respected, and you both enjoy your time together within the relationship’s boundaries, you can build something wonderful. However, when control and emotional abuse enter the picture, it becomes problematic.

Navigating these challenges is never easy, but understanding the dynamics at play can help you make informed decisions about your relationships and well-being.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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