“They need me.” This is something I hear from clients in conjunction with should I move here or there, should I get a big place or a small place, should I plan for them or not. It could be in reference to aging parents, grandchildren, adult children, or a partner.  It’s interesting to me that this is never the phrase used by parents of small children, who actually need the client or children who are already the care giver for their parents.  I have never had a client say that they have made a choice about where to live because their small children need them.  They move right past that to what the children actually need which is to stay in their school district or be moved to a better one, to have access to this or that opportunity or that a move will improve their situation.  So when it comes to need based propositions, when clients tell me that someone needs them, I immediately start trying to suss out if that is an actual need or if it’s something else.

In these cases I’m trying to sort through the needs from the uses and the handy to haves.  When someone tells me that “they need me” the first thing I’m looking for is who are we talking about and what are the details of the situation.  Sometimes its the client that needs.  They need to be involved in a relationship in a certain way which may or may not be wanted by the other parties and so we delve into that.  Everyone wants to be needed.  It’s part of being valued by our community and to feel acknowledged.  It builds connection and relationship.  However, if there isn’t really a need and we try to force ourselves into something our actions could damage connection instead.

So then there’s uses and the handy to haves.  Like, it would be great if young parents had family nearby to help especially when the baby is new.  It’s useful for the parents to have that kind of support in raising their children (good boundaries being kept, of course and everyone getting along and having open communication) and it can be useful to have elders nearby when they are in need of support further down the line.  The problem comes in when needing help turns into using people.  Everyone needs help at various times in their lives.  From financial crises to injuries and illness to children to event planning and grieving, we each have moments when we need help, but people don’t always limit their requests for help to when they are in need.  Some people put out the signal that they need help when in fact they just want another resource.  Or they really feel that it would be handy to have this or that person to be able to do this or that, but instead of being open and honest about it they push the need button.  The person providing the help feels that they are being valued, at least at first, but then feel like they’ve been suckered because they actually have been.

“They need me,” is a phrase that seems like it’s about logistics, about a problem that requires solving or a redistribution of resources, but is actually being used to indicate relationship and connection or lack thereof. Also, it’s misused almost as muck as “like” at this point.  It has almost no real meaning because we have devalued the term to the point where it’s fairly meaningless.  So when someone starts talking about how much they are needed in a situation or how much someone needs them, throw a flag on the play, even if only in your own mind.  As they talk about the situation it should become clear rather quickly who really is needy in the situation and whether there is actual need or use or just a desire to have someone handy.