Have you ever wondered if you are too much or too needy?
We carry a lot of baggage around our needs, others’ needs, and the many mixed messages about having needs but doing everything possible to not be seen as ‘being needy’.
The result? A relentless pursuit to keep our needs hidden, fueling feelings of scarcity, shame, and worry.
But needs are an inherent part of being human.
In a society that has weaponized needs so that if you need, you are “needy,” the idea of expressing our needs even evokes fear and shame.
And we’ve created a moral binary around needs–good to have needs, bad to be needy, or good to help people but bad to be helped–which is exhausting and only serves to prop up the myth of rugged individualism.
Today’s guest joins me for a deep dive exploring our complicated relationship with needs and neediness. Mara Glatzel is the author of the book Needy, and we’re digging into how we come to see our needs as problems, as objects of shame, as feelings to heal or to banish, instead of as natural and normal.
Mara Glatzel, MSW (she/her) is an author, intuitive coach, and podcast host who helps humans stop abandoning themselves and start reclaiming their humanity through embracing their needs and honoring their natural energy rhythms. Her superpower is saying what you need to hear when you need to hear it and she is here to help you believe in yourself as much as she believes in you.
Listen to the full episode to hear:
Learn more about Mara Glatzel:
Learn more about Rebecca:
Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:
Mara Glatzel: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be known. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to matter. There’s nothing wrong with having conditions for what you need in your relationships in order to exist, in order to thrive. That’s how I think of needs. Needs are those conditions. It is the what. It is what you require in order to exist and thrive in your relationships. What I find is that a huge hindrance for us in asking for what we need is even knowing what we’re allowed to need to begin with.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: Have you ever wondered if you’re too much or too needy? Have you gone to great lengths to make sure your needs remain hidden? Well, no surprise, y’all. We have a complicated relationship with needs, like a really complicated relationship with needs. We carry a lot of baggage around our needs, around others’ needs, and the many mixed messages about having needs but doing everything possible to not be seen as being needy. We’re all just a few clicks away from finding a listicle post alluring us to the toxic red flags of neediness and another click away from reading about how to speak your needs and have them met. Oof, you can't win, right? We hold a lot of polarities around needs, and at a great cost to how we care for ourselves and others in the spaces we work and lead.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
When we suppress our needs, we end up fueling the parts of us that hold scarcity, shame, and worry. This only fosters a deepening of needs, often trying to achieve them in ways that only perpetuate the pursue/distance dance of needing.
Now, needs are foundational to our existence, and our society has weaponized needs, so if you need you become needy, and the idea of being seen as needy evokes fear and shame. Now, expressing needs for some evokes a kind of reaction I see when people watch a horror movie, like, “Oh, the horror! You have needs,” or “You showed your needs, ahhh!” [Laughs] Or that look that people get when they smell something bad or you cringe or feel repulsed, like, “Ew, you have needs,” right? Or maybe something slightly different comes up for you more like pity, which, of course lands so differently than heartfelt compassion and empathy in the face of understandable human needs like, “Aww, poor you that you need something.” [Laughs] Like yuck, right?
Now, sure, how we express our needs warrants attention, but y’all, it’s less about pathologizing neediness and more about things like boundaries and expectations and understanding our relational wounding. But I see how we further complicate our relationship with needs by creating this binary around them, like it’s good to have needs and bad to be needy or it’s good to help people but bad to be helped, [Laughs] and, therefore, putting moral meaning on a subjective perspective on needs.
This is incredibly exhausting, right? When we put a moral meaning on a need (and want to note humans, by nature, have needs), then we invite shame in to have a say on our needs, on our very existence, right? So instead of seeing needs as natural and normal, we then try to exile them, only leading to a culture that supports the myth of rugged individualism.
When we shame needs, we become critical of ourselves for even having them. Our legitimate needs become wrapped in a shame that leaves us with the burdened belief that these needs arise because, what, something’s wrong with us, right? How messed up is that.
I also see in some circles I’m in that people are exalted for caring for the needs of others, like when you over function and go above and beyond what your capacity to care for people, what you have, you're a hero, right? You're a true soldier. You're a saint. [Laughs] We celebrate taking care of others in need, but we still judge the heck out of having our own needs. It’s a mess, and I could not think of a better person to join me on a deep dive exploring our complicated relationship with our needs than today’s guest.
She wrote a book aptly called Needy, and we dig deep on how we come to see our needs as problems, as objects of shame, as feelings to heal or banish instead of natural and normal. Mara Glatzel is a master’s in social work, is an author, intuitive coach, a podcast host who helps humans stop abandoning themselves and start reclaiming their humanity through embracing their needs and honoring their natural energy rhythms. Her superpower is saying what you need to hear and when you need to hear it, and she’s here to help you believe in yourself as much as she believes in you. That’s pretty awesome, huh?
So, for our conversation today, listen for Mara’s point about how when we deny our needs, that equates to denying our humanity. Pay attention to how Mara connects our needs with our intrinsic desire to be known. And notice when Mara makes a special example around the destabilizing impact of centering our needs and priorities.
All right, y’all. Now, please welcome Mara Glatzel to The Unburdened Leader podcast! Mara, welcome!
Mara Glatzel: Thank you! Thanks so much for having me. I’m stoked to be here.
Rebecca Ching: I’m really looking forward to this conversation. You wrote a book about needs and being needy, and I have to tell you before I even jump into the questions, I started talking about this book to my colleagues, to my clients, to my friends. Can you guess their reaction when I brought up the title of this book?
Mara Glatzel: What has become so amazing since the book came out -- this was not -- I mean, obviously I know it’s kind of a polarizing word. It’s striking in a certain way, but what I have noticed since the book coming out is that it’s this great litmus test for whether or not the book’s for you. If you hear the word needy and you feel some kind of way, then you know that there’s something for you there, and certainly that’s the case for me, which is why I chose it. But that has been really fun to realize.
Rebecca Ching: You're spot on because I can't think of a person who didn't respond in this kind of orbit of stepping back and then they're like, “People talk about that,” or, “Can I talk about that,” or, “I don't want to be seen as needy, but I have needs. Oh, my gosh, Rebecca, stop.” You know, some kind of combination of that. So I am really excited to be able to share this conversation with so many today.
I want to start off just by getting some definitions out there. I’d like for you to talk about how you define needy and how you see a difference between needs and needy, if at all.
Mara Glatzel: Yeah, you know, I think at this point I’m going full tilt neutrality with the term needy, and that’s a reclamation, absolutely, because this is a polarizing term, and we all can have that.
It’s evocative. We think of that hungry ghost. That person, typically a woman, from pop culture who is whiny and never satisfied and is like a pot boiling over all the time and talking about her feelings and ruining everyone’s day with her emotional baggage. And we don't want to be that, right? We’re well conditioned not to want to be that, and it happens so seamlessly that we go from that image to the presence of feelings, the presence of needs is what makes you a needy person, and that’s bad, right? So we can't do that either.
When I was writing this book, I was thinking about how that neediness is born out of this desire to be seen and to be known and to be prioritized and to feel as though you matter in your relationships, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I want that for all of us. And that far more often neediness, as we have come to know and define it, is what happens when we suppress our needs and pretend that we don't have them. And then we do become -- we create this inevitable situation where we are that pot boiling over because we’re pretending, we’re pretending, we’re pretending until we can't pretend anymore. Then here’s this big eruption, this thing that we don't want to be, and now we’re either villainized in our relationships or, more likely, we’re villainizing ourselves for the very presence of that thing that we’ve been trying to suppress.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be known. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to matter. There’s nothing wrong with having conditions for what you need in your relationships in order to exist, in order to thrive, and that’s how I think of needs. Needs are those conditions. It is the what. It is what you require in order to exist and thrive in your relationships.
What I find is that a huge hindrance for us in asking for what we need is even knowing what we’re allowed to need to begin with. And so, I remember people used to ask me, “Well, what do you need?” and I didn't even know what was on the table, like what am I allowed to ask for? I have no model for that. I have no vocabulary for that. And so, I sought to write a book of words for you to help you learn how to explore, “Okay, so we have these collective needs for safety or for belonging, for love, for contribution, for celebration. How do I experience that? How do I personally ache for that?”
I often think about how if the need is the what -- you know we talk about needs and wants, right? The need is the what and the want is the how, and they really work together. If you are hoping for or wanting a more satisfying life, we have to consider both needs and wants. I often find people want to put these into a hierarchy. I urge you not to. Think about them side by side, that the need is the what. That provides the container. “I need to eat breakfast. I need to feel loved,” and that want is what specifically you're hungry for or how exactly you feel loved, or you desire to feel loved, right? “I need to feel loved. What I want most is a tiny handwritten note or an unexpected text message,” or, for me, it’s always words. Those few extra words, “I took out the trash because I love you,” right?
That’s what makes me feel loved, and that it’s not just having that need met just kind of in this check-the-box kind of way, but being known specifically, and I think we can offer that kind of care and consideration to ourselves, and the more we practice it, the more that we’re able to articulate how others can meet our needs in those specific ways too.
Rebecca Ching: So let me jump in here. You said a few things like having our needs is neutral. And I connect the dots to some training I just did with The Right Use of Power organization and it has me thinking a little bit about how they're talking about power as just it’s kind of what we’re born with, that we have it. That’s another word that’s been particularly polarizing for women. So connecting some dots there, and I’m agreeing with so much of what you said, and I’m feeling parts of me still go, “Hey, remember those days when we thought it was so badass to not have any needs?” When we said, “No, I got it. I’m fine. I’m good. I don't need anything,” and that was a badge of honor, and we were almost praised for it.
Mara Glatzel: Oh, yeah.
Rebecca Ching: The machine. There are still echoes of that in me. As I’m hearing you talk, I’m noticing them because I don't agree with it at all, but noticing how deep those beliefs, and actually those are burdens, that it is a good thing to deny my basic needs as a human being. And so, this has gotten really warped.
But I want to follow up and make sure I didn't miss this. Do you see a difference between needs and needy or are they one in the same to you?
Mara Glatzel: To me being a needy person means a person who is in fluid conversation with their needs, right?
I think that we can reclaim that word much like, “You're a big feeler.” I’m like, “Yes, I am a person who is very in touch with my feelings.” In that kind of way it’s like what is that supposed to mean? It means I have needs? Yes, yes I do, and so do you, right? Having needs is a fact and not a flaw. We all have them. Whether or not we’re willing to interface with them, and sometimes “not having needs” means that your needs are being met by and large, either by circumstance or privilege. If you don't really feel like you're needing anything, that is sometimes the case, right? My needs are already being met, and so, I don't have that feeling of there’s something that I need that I don't have that I have to articulate.
Rebecca Ching: The word needy is really difficult for me to still sit with, even though I am agreeing with you 100%. I loved your book, I wanted you here on this show, and I’m still sitting with parts of me that are like, “No, no, no. Don't be needy.”
So walk me through the barriers that we, especially those of us who identify as female or hold some other marginalized identities, what are the barriers that we face in identifying, expressing, and caring for our needs?
Mara Glatzel: I think there are many. You are not alone in feeling that way about the word needy. I feel that way too, and it’s such a practice to learn how to be in relationship with my needs in a different way.
I grew up in such a time that the major romantic comedies of that time were, you know, the women who were successful, meaning that they got the guy [Laughs] were women who were cool and chill and they just went with the flow and they didn't have too many feelings, and that just is enough, just that.
I’m married to my partner. I haven't dated a dude in a long time. It is still a present thought in my mind. So just that. Just the way that needs are depicted in the media, and there is this hysterical woman -- I mean, I think this impacts people of all genders who were socialized as girls, that idea of having needs, having feelings, expressing those things, that there is this untethered hysteria to it that must be avoided at all costs. It has no place in the workplace, no place in a successful relationship, no place in public at all. I think about this with my child.
I have two children. They're three and six, and they have temper tantrums wherever they are, but god forbid they’re having a temper tantrum in the grocery store or, oh, god, a restaurant, right, where fabulous people are eating their food and they don't want to see a toddler who’s upset because she asked you to cut her bread and then you cut it the wrong way. We get these messages that are essentially saying your humanity is not welcome here, it’s inconvenient, I don't want to deal with it, and also, we suffer the cost of that. And so, I think that there is this reckoning that we encounter where we have to choose how we want to live.
What is true is that people love it when I do more than one human can possibly do in a day. What is true is people love it when I say yes. They love it when I overachieve. They love it when I anticipate their every need. All of those things are absolutely factually true.
I get praised for them up and down. But what’s the cost? What’s the cost of pretending that I’m perfect? What’s the cost of only feeling like I belong in my relationships because I’m good at doing things for other people?
A couple of years ago, I shattered my ankle, and I had an 18-month-old child, and my partner and I work for ourselves from home, and overnight, I mean, in a moment, I went from doing many, many, many, many, many things all day to spending the next 6 months non-weight-bearing, basically in bed, not able to pick my kid up, not able to help with anything.
Rebecca Ching: Six months?
Mara Glatzel: Six months.
Rebecca Ching: Six months with an eighteen-month-old.
Mara Glatzel: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: Just wanted to make sure that was all really clear.
Mara Glatzel: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: No weight-bearing activity for six months with an eighteen-month-old. Okay.
Mara Glatzel: Nope, I eventually did kind of get a scooter, and she would scoot with me on my scooter. But, I mean, I couldn't do anything real, you know? I couldn't really change her diaper. I couldn't pick her up out of her crib. I couldn't do any of those things. And my world imploded in so many ways during that time because even though I had done this work for so long, really not being able to contribute was so confronting because I didn't understand what my own value was as a wife and a mother and a human if I wasn't able to do all of the things that I was doing.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, just pause for a moment there because that’s big. If we are not contributing and we’re not doing, we’re faced with a reckoning of our value and our worth and our identity. How did you move through that?
Mara Glatzel: It was really dark for a while, and I, at the time, think I couldn't quite realize how dark it was because it was dark in so many ways.
It was a brutal injury. I’m really lucky to be able to walk. I had to have surgery. I was on all of these opioids that I had to wean myself off of, and even being a mental health practitioner and knowing so many things about all of the steps of this process. It was powerful to realize how our understanding of ourselves is formed and how when those vital components are taken away, which is why when I’m talking about prioritizing and centering your needs, I am doing so lovingly and gently because I fully understand that this destabilizes the status quo of your life in so many ways.
But also, you’re not what you do, and you're not what you offer others, and you're not your perfect productivity and your best days and your glory moments. You are that full spectrum of your experience, and until we can really allow ourselves to take that in, we’re always gonna be chasing more. We’re always gonna be putting our needs on the back burner until we get to wherever it is that we think that we’re going, and then we’re gonna find somewhere else to go, and again and again and again. We’re always gonna be an afterthought in our own lives, and this is challenging because as I said, it is true. There are people in your life who won't love this change in you, and also, I do believe that with time you will love it because you're gonna realize who you are and what you want and what you like and what feels good, and more importantly, that chasing that feeling of I just want to matter to somebody, that when we slow down and we start to matter to ourselves, the whole world opens up in this huge way.
Rebecca Ching: There it is. Because thinking back to the restaurant example you shared, being in a restaurant with your young kids who are being PhDs in their ages, fabulously, and inconveniencing others and their expectations, their needs for a peaceful dinner. I’ve started thinking about after reading your book how often I and others can get repulsed and want to reject others’ needs though, too. There is some social proof that having needs or being needy will -- you’ll feel rejected. And so, I just was thinking about that. I’m sure we could psychoanalyze the heck out of that, and I think there are some important things to name around that too.
So it’s not just we reject our own needs often because we’ve been taught that that is not okay and we’re uncomfortable with others’ needs at the heart of it because we’re not owning ours, especially those who are conditioned as women.
Mara Glatzel: Yeah, I think that the other thing we have to name is how deep this runs and how we carry these stories about what it means to have needs back to the very beginning of our lives. However our needs were treated or not (validated or not), we carry that with us, and I find that we go in two directions. One is the needy direction, the classically needy direction, and the other is, “Needs? I don't know them. I don't want to talk about them. I don't want you to have them. I certainly don't want to have them. I don't want anybody to bring them up.”
I think about this in relationships because I have a pretty classically anxious attachment style, and I’m needy relationally, right?
I always have this tendency, as my partner certainly is of the opposite spectrum, right? We polarize each other in that way, and there’s some great healing to be done in that, but there’s also a lot of room for miscommunication and misunderstanding because I’m like, “Needs are here,” and my partner is often wondering, “So we’re allowed to have needs? That’s, like, a thing? You think that’s a thing? I'm not so sure.” And that wherever it is that we are, we come by that honestly. We come by that through experiences and how painful it is to be a person of any age who doesn't feel as though somebody -- that your needs are validated, that you're allowed to have needs, that it is an okay experience in relationships.
I find that the people in my life who say to me things like, “Thank you for asking for what you need,” is so powerful. That’s something I try to say to my kids when they ask me for what they need. Whether or not I’m gonna give them what they need is another thing completely, right? Because that's a thing! “Thank you so much for asking for what you need. I don't have the bandwidth for that right now,” and that’s okay, but we can validate the presence of a need without having the capacity to meet that need. I think the more that we’re able to have these conversational skills around needs, the better equipped we are to have conversations that don't make us feel invalidated in that kind of way, and not everyone’s up for that.
I mean, I think the most thing to take home around conversing about your needs is that how somebody responds to you and your needs is more often about them and what they're allowing themselves to ask than you. Whether or not somebody has the capacity for what you need is not a referendum on your worth or on what you need. And third of all, that this piece of really understanding that I am responsible for my needs and where am I outsourcing that and making it somebody else’s problem because I don't want to or know how to deal with it myself. This happens a lot in mind reading.
I mean, talk about the romcom example, this is what I learned. When you're really good, which usually means you're really hot, you will get your needs met because people just will be falling over themselves to give you what you need without you having to ask for it. So if you have to ask, it’s already bad. You should be embarrassed already, and that’s a huge obstacle to overcome in relationships and how much misunderstanding happens because I think if I need something and I’m worth having that need, you are going to just know or give it to me without me having to ask, and if you don't, what’s wrong with me and what’s wrong with my need, and how much mismanagement and miscommunication is happening in these silent conversations.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, you are nailing this because I am having flashbacks (not like debilitating ones, but memories is probably a better word) of conversations and being told, “Rebecca, you just need so much,” you know? And so, then I internalize don't be too much, and then there was the vice grip of other family members where I’m like, “What do you want? What do you need?” And they wouldn't tell me, and they were mad that I didn't just know. And so, it was like this mind F.
And so, in our family, it’s very similar to yours. “What do you need? I don't know if I can give it to you, but whatever you want, I want to hear it.”
Mara Glatzel: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: Sometimes my kids will get silly like, “I want to go to the World Series and sit in the dugout,” or something. I’m like, “Awesome! Can’t do it, but man, let’s dream on.” But sometimes it’s like, “I don't want to go play with this person,” or, “I don't want to go with you all on the road trip. I’d rather stay home and read,” and we get to talk about that and validate that because in our house, the F word is a bad word, but it’s not the one you're thinking of. It’s saying, “I’m fine.” I'm like, “Oh, no, you didn't,” and the kids get all irritated. I’m like, “You just said a bad word!” They're like, “Okay, mom. Seriously? You're being lame!” But it’s like what’s going on? And so, I really appreciate that, and I’m just kind of connecting some dots on how much my experience with that vice grip of being told my needs were too much for others and I was supposed to mind read for everybody, and that was insulting if they had to tell me. I wasn't really loving them well if I didn't just know. Dang, yeah, and I obviously see that play out with all that I’ve worked with over the last two decades.
So, for you, what are some crucial practices you use to nurture both identifying and honoring your needs?
Mara Glatzel: So the number one practice that I use is giving myself time and space to check in with how I am feeling somewhere other than in that exact moment, right? I have a very hard time connecting with myself in the presence of other people still after so much practice. So this might look like me getting up and going to the bathroom and just having that space to say, “What do I think? How do I feel?” Or maybe somebody asks me to do something, and I might say, “I don't know. I have to check my calendar,” right? That’s code for I need two minutes to myself to even think about whether or not that’s something I need to do.
So just having that space and having those tools to be in conversation with myself about, “Well, how do I feel about that? If I make that commitment, what will I need in order to make good on it? Knowing I only have a certain amount of capacity, if I say yes to that, I’m gonna have to say no to something else. Am I willing to do that,” right, to have that conversation. And so, I think having actual physical space can be really useful, and this might look like saying, “Hey, I need a break from this conversation. Let’s circle back in half an hour,” or whatever the case may be.
But the other thing that has been really useful is that I no longer have unspoken conversations about needs, and this is a boundary with myself and a boundary with the people in my life. And so, a couple of years ago, I had been doing this in my work for a while where I would say when I would run a retreat or something, “I’m here. I’m absolutely game to help you get whatever it is that you need. I love to do that. That’s so pleasurable for me. What I’m not gonna do, and it’s not pleasurable for me, is to try and anticipate or guess what you need. So your job is to ask. My job is to decide whether or not I can make that happen or maybe we compromise. Whatever. We take it from there.” I was doing that in my work, when all of a sudden I kind of thought, “Well, I want to do this with my spouse. I want to do this all over the place.”
And so, I had conversations with the people who were closest to me to say, “Look, I know this is a C-change for our relationship, but I am no longer going to be reading your mind. If you want something from me or you need something from me, you have to tell me what it is out loud and explicitly. I’m not going to -- any of the kinds of things that I was doing before, I’m not gonna engage in that anymore.”
It was important for me to say to them, “I love you, and I have such a vested interest in you getting what you need. But I just don't think that it’s working for me to assume that I know, and I certainly don't want you to assume that you know what I need. Let’s just talk about it.” Not in a heavy-handed way, but in an oft occurring kind of way.
What’s tricky about this, the self-boundary part, is that is the data still available for me? Yeah, it is, 24/7. I’m just getting all of those cute little messages like reading the room. Like we say, “Well, read the room.” I am always reading the room, and so, this has been a practice with myself where I might notice that my partner has something going on, but that they're allowed to have their own private experience without sharing it with me or without me inviting myself into their process prematurely. What does that look like for me to just notice and wait? It’s really uncomfortable, I mean, phenomenally uncomfortable.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, exquisitely uncomfortable to see someone you love uncomfortable, and you have to sit with their discomfort that brings up discomfort within me? Yeah, my husband’s gonna listen to this, and he’s gonna totally be like, “See? Just let me have my moment. Don't try and fix me.”
Mara Glatzel: Well, and it’s hard, and I hate it, but also, I will say that when I think about it. When I expand out from it, everybody needing to be okay in order for me to be okay is an unfair expectation.
Rebecca Ching: I think unfair is almost too mild of a word.
Mara Glatzel: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: It’s a ridiculous one.
Mara Glatzel: Yeah, so being able to have that freedom to not be managed in all of the moments, right, and what happens in a relationship when both of us are relieved of the impossible task of reading the other person’s mind and having that mean love.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh.
Mara Glatzel: Right?
Rebecca Ching: Leading is hard. Leading is also often controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action. Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small and denying your fundamental needs.
Leading today is not a fancy title or fluff or bragging rights but is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up. Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is both actionable and aligned.
So, when the stakes are high and you don't want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader Coaching is for you and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than how you were taught.
To start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can’t wait to hear from you!
I want to shift a little bit but continue on this theme around discomfort. If you can take me back to a time when you saw the connection between your capacity for discomfort and setting boundaries to care for your needs, and I’m just curious how this experience helped you build more trust.
Mara Glatzel: Yeah, you know, I’m sure I’m not alone in reading discomfort as meaning you're doing something wrong, and you should stop what you're doing and go think about -- like Monopoly. Go back to start and read more and listen to podcasts or hire somebody or go to therapy, figure it out because we’re not supposed to feel uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable all the time now in this version of my life, and it’s not great. I mean, I can't say, “Oh, now discomfort and I are best friends,” but I think no longer reading the presence of my discomfort as there’s something wrong and understanding, hey, discomfort accompanies so many things.
This process of putting my book, Needy, out into the world was hands down the most uncomfortable process of my life, and I did it on purpose, right?
I did it intentionally. It was worth the discomfort, and showing up as who I really am in my relationship, asking for what I need even when I know that the other person is super tapped out or, frankly, doesn't want to give me what I need and yet I still need it, right, being present for those conversations, having my own back and being at my own side and learning to expect that discomfort will arise whenever you are doing something meaningful or vulnerable, and that instead of having that be the stop sign of, “Oh, no, the discomfort is here. Something is amiss. Maybe I’m not ready.” That was really hard for me because the discomfort would show up, and I would think, “I’m not ready. I didn't do what I needed to do, so now I have to rethink the whole operation.” How much time I spent in spinning in that, rethinking and coming back, getting uncomfortable again. Rethinking, getting back.
That now instead I get curious about the discomfort and ask myself what I need. When I’m uncomfortable, what is supportive for me? Tending to the discomfort instead of reacting to it in such a way that you're backing away constantly helps you to move through it and helps you to not be afraid of it anymore. I think for me spending so much time in discomfort these days, I have a short menu of things that I can kind of run through in my mind and say, first of all, expecting and anticipating that discomfort will arise is so key for me because it reframes that, “Oh, no. Discomfort’s here.” It’s like, “Yeah, discomfort’s here, of course. That tracks up and down.” Then thinking, “Okay, well, what can I do to make the rest of my day more comfortable? What can I do to support myself in this moment so that I can just be here in this discomfort without making it mean something about me, about what I’m trying to do, or react to it in any way?”
How can I just be with this and know that eventually it will fade, and it will change, and I will come back again, ultimately?
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. I mean, that takes a lot of trust, and for me, I always say discomfort is data, not your identity, and that data, you're helping me fill it in more. The data is what are you needing, what are your needs and what does your system need for you to care for it, and to befriend that and be in relationship with that versus trying to exile it is a game changer.
You wrote in your book, Needy, how to advocate for your needs and claim your sovereignty, the following words. You said, “Tending to yourself is an act of rebuilding trust, and building self-trust is generated through a simple principle: follow through.” I love that. I love that, and I just think it’s not -- the way that you frame it, it’s very different than we hear in a lot of personal and professional development spaces, you know? It’s like a power-over move. This is really different, and I would love for you to talk about the stakes for us. What are the stakes for us to follow through on caring for our needs?
Mara Glatzel: Yeah, so I want to name that we may have a gut reaction to that follow-through piece. It’s a little bit like that Nike “just do it” thing. And when I talk about it in the book, what I mean by follow through is don't abandon yourself in the process because whether or not you do the thing, I don't really care. I mean, yeah, sure, make good on your promises to yourself. That is a good rule of thumb, by and large. Prioritize your promises to yourself over other things that you’re promising to other people. That is what keeps you in good working order.
But the missing piece for me, because I was and am, in many ways, a type-A, perfectionist, control freak kind of person, and I had this all-or-nothing approach where if I was gonna take care of myself, that meant I had to do it perfectly. I had to honor every commitment. I used to have this cute joke that was like, “You know, when I promise something, I’ll be there. Put it on my tombstone,” meaning etch it into me because that is how deeply I am promising this to you. The shadow side of that was, at all costs. I will show up and produce and do the thing at all costs. I don't subscribe to that in the same way anymore. I do endeavor to commit to less so that I can keep my commitments. Keeping my commitments is really important to me, but what this looks like in practice is show up to the conversation.
If I say I want to start moving my body, and I make every effort to reclaim that decision from diet culture and the workout abuse of my youth, then I do my due diligence to be really kind to myself about the commitment that I’m making and really generous, but then I notice I said I wanted it but I’m not showing up for it at all. That is an opportunity to have a conversation with myself and to say quite literally, “What’s up,” right? Not to beat myself up and say, “See, I knew it! You missed two days. You're never gonna do it again,” all of these things about me as a human being, but instead that follow through. Follow through with yourself. Don't just ghost yourself in the process. Follow through and say, “Hey, you made a commitment that you're not showing up for. Does the commitment need to change? Do you need some tangible support?”
What I mean by follow through is really continue to show up to the conversation. “Okay, Self. If not this, then what? You need support? What can I offer you? You have feelings? Fine. Great.” You are allowed to have your own experience. It doesn't have to be perfect in order to be good or in order to be supportive, and how can I stay present in my relationship with myself so that I can hold the thread of whatever it is that commitment that I made and be in intentional communication with myself about it.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Mara Glatzel: For me, it used to be so painful to break my promises or see myself in such a way that I would ghost on myself because I couldn't confront it. If I can't be perfect, which I can't (none of us can), then I’m horrible, I’m nothing, right? That all-or-nothing thinking. Just how important it is to be by our own side during the process and how much can be worked out. Showing up for ourselves the way that we want to be shown up for, with that curiosity and that camaraderie and that “just checking in,” genuinely.
Rebecca Ching: You know what’s interesting is how I read that landed in a way that I think people build my trust when they follow through with me. Whether it’s their commitments, whether it’s even remembering something that’s important to me, honoring something that’s important to me, and then I went, “Dang, again, we are the first to abandon ourselves. Not other people. We’re the ones who abandon our boundaries, abandon our needs,” and so, that follow through kind of landed with me in that way.
So I’ve just been kind of thinking, and so, if there is something that I’ve committed to myself and it’s not happening, sometimes even what I’ve committed to may not really be meeting my needs but maybe my should-needs. And so, I really appreciate digging into that.
I want to move to another gem. There are so many gems in your book, so I had to choose. I would love to hear more how you differentiate self-responsibility and hyper-individualism and how does that change how you cared for your own needs?
Mara Glatzel: This is a tricky. This is a sticky wicket because it can be challenging to thread the needle between we are responsible for ourselves and our needs, and also we are human and we’re a hyper-social species. We need one another. We coregulate with one another, and how do I navigate where I end and the rest of the world begins, and who’s responsible for what. We live in a culture here in The States that praises hyper-individualism, and that is dangerous in and of itself because it lets us know, just like it’s great to not be needy, it’s great to be these autonomous units, and how lonely we all are for genuine and authentic experiences of ourselves and of one another, but also how scary and risky that is to be authentic when there’s so much emphasis placed on being these little robots that are doing all the right things and producing at all costs.
And so I think, for me, the way that I think about this -- and I have a chapter in the book about sovereignty. I’m of multiple minds about the word sovereignty, but I included it because the concept is so important for people who need this book.
This idea of I am my own. My life is for me to live it. Because I don't know about you, but I grew up with this belief that my life was for me to be of service, that I did not even matter in the landscape of my own life, that my life was just this vessel to better myself, to do for, to be pleasing for others, and to be successful in this very contrived kind of formulaic way, and that was the gig. I was nowhere in it, and so, when I think about being responsible for myself, what I mean is it’s my job to walk myself through the front door. It’s my job to be in relationship with myself in such a way that I know what I need and I’m learning how to communicate that with other people. Do I meet all of those needs by myself? I do not. We are in relationships with people. We have mental healthcare professionals of all sorts. We’re meeting these needs in a multitude of ways. Also it is an unfair expectation to expect that one person in your life to meet all of your needs, I’ll squeak that in here.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Mara Glatzel: A total set up. So, you know, it takes a village of people to meet your needs. There are different needs that I get met with my sister, with my partner, with my dog, right?
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.
Mara Glatzel: But it’s my job to be the facilitator of that, to be the person who’s in touch with myself and see, “Well, how am I doing? What do I need? What’s going well? What’s not going as well? What pivots need to be made, if any?” and to communicate that as honestly as I can.
But that doesn't mean I’m responsible. I think this is the line, right? Don't ask for anything. Take care of all of your needs on your own in the shadow corners of your life. That’s where we tip the line into that hyper individualism where I am responsible for everything. I cannot let anyone see me or know me.
Rebecca Ching: Right or even acknowledge the impact of the cultural burdens that we’re breathing in day in and day out that impact “mindset struggles” or “imposter experience struggles” or whatever that’s been labeled. And so, to me, what I really appreciate about self-responsibility is I am responsible for my actions. I’m responsible for caring for, identifying, and speaking, and getting my needs met doesn't mean solely without in community but to speak up for that, and I’m accountable for that process. Hyper-individualism, there is no accountability with that. It’s, “Oh, you're struggling? Well, go deal with that and let me know when you're fixed,” you know? It’s like, “That’s not my thing. It’s your thing,” and then there’s a sense of, “I did it on my own, and you should too.” That has been making us so sick. You really go deeper into this in the book, so if you're listening to this, please grab your copy. I really liked how you unpacked this.
Before I move off this, I would love for you to share what are some common beliefs or internal narratives that you hold or have held that fuel you staying stuck with hyper-individualism over moving to self-responsibility?
Mara Glatzel: You know, I used to be the kind of person who saw myself as this ever-flowing foundation. The trick is you can borrow against yourself for a period of time. This is seductive. So the fact that we can borrow against ourselves for a period of time makes us believe that we can do that all the time if only we try harder. I was so susceptible to those toxic productivity culture and really, for me, this was rooted in diet culture.
It was like, “You should be better than you are. Who you are is not acceptable. You are a project. You are a work in progress. Kind of a come back to me, and your life will begin.
I mean, when I was a teenager, when I was in my early twenties, I was holding my breath, trying to diet, trying to change my body so that my life would begin, all the while living but not really living. I think that this is the piece, this is where it gets so tricky is we say, “Okay, well, I’ll get to myself.” First of all, that I need a whole blank calendar or these huge spaces to take care of myself or $20,000 in my bank account or anything like that. When I’ve earned it, I’ll take care of myself, right? It's like, well, when I have earned my own attention at the time of retirement, which is the ultimate set up, I’ll have a space in my own life. And yet so many of us are not retiring. The whole thing is just ridiculous.
But this piece of putting your needs and your care on the other side of this thing, which becomes this pattern of always having a thing to put your needs on the other side of because it’s confronting and it’s messy and we think we need all of our time and our energy and our attention to be able to make a dent or for half our efforts to be worth it, and when we get stuck in that pattern, we are always going to be placing something between us and the tending that we ache for. And in order to have the capacity to be here now, part of what is messy has to be me taking care of myself. It’s all already overwhelming, inconvenient, out of control, and my own resilience in the face of everything on my plate is created out of these small moments when I can reclaim space in my life or take care of myself over the course of the day.
Learning how to meet yourself in that messy middle I think is just such an essential and valuable skill for us as human beings on the planet right now. The more that we can do that and the more that we can push back on our own perfectionism around what it’s supposed to look like, the better equipped that we can be, and when you are well cared for by and large, you do have that extra capacity for when the shit hits the fan, or somebody gets sick --
Rebecca Ching: There we go. There we go.
Mara Glatzel: -- or you need something.
Rebecca Ching: Yep.
Mara Glatzel: Or you have to kind of switch gears in that way, but if we’re constantly at that state, we’re burnt out or rapidly getting to burnout, and then you're the vessel for your own energy. If you have nothing left, if you're not in good working order, you don't have anything to offer anyone in your life.
Rebecca Ching: I appreciate all of that, and I appreciate the connection of hyper-individualism with diet culture and how insidious it is in the name of health and in the name of bettering yourself and how that whole, “Let’s delay your rewards and delay your needs so that you --,” the whole thing and having us be at war with ourselves, it moves us farther away from trusting ourselves. And so, I really appreciate everything you said
As we wrap up, I’m curious for you, what is your definition of success now that you’ve shifted your views and your relationship with and to your needs?
Mara Glatzel: Yeah, I think these days I see my felt experience of my life as one of the ways that I receive abundance, right? So I work for myself. Part of how I organize my life is that I have a good understanding of what my needs are, financial and otherwise. I work hard to meet those needs in a way that feels as good and as stress-free as possible, not always possible, but that’s what I strive for, and I let there be space, and that feels successful, right? Instead of always trying to make more, always trying to reach this, always trying to do that, it’s like really being in relationship with what do I need for my life, to feed my kids and have a roof over my head? And then the rest of it is to have space to live my life, right?
I was talking to somebody recently, and they were like, “Oh, so you only work 30 hours a week? Imagine how much money you could make if you worked 50 hours a week.” I was like, “But I don't want to work 50 hours a week.” That’s by design because I see being able to -- you know, my kids are about to come home in a couple of minutes, and I’m gonna hang out with them this afternoon, and I’m gonna cook dinner, and I’m gonna put them to bed, and I’m not gonna work again until tomorrow morning, and yeah, my to-do list is packed. There are so many things I could do, but part of what success means to me is that I’m able to have these good boundaries around how I want to live, which is the real thing.
Rebecca Ching: I love that because you've got such clarity on your enough in all areas, and then that’s based on and inspired by your needs. I love it. I love it, and way to kind of just name that.
All right, so to everyone listening, consider this conversation an amuse bouche to so much more goodness in Mara’s book, Needy.
Mara, are you ready for some quickfire questions before we end this conversation?
Mara Glatzel: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, what are you reading right now?
Mara Glatzel: I am reading Say It Out Loud by Vasavi Kumar, which I highly recommend. It doesn't come out until May 16th. I got an early copy because I had Vasavi on my podcast, but it’s great!
Rebecca Ching: Okay, adding that to the list. What song are you playing on repeat?
Mara Glatzel: I’m playing “Remind Me” by Emily King.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, what is the best TV show or movie you have seen recently?
Mara Glatzel: Shrinking. Have you seen Shrinking?
Rebecca Ching: Oh my -- blown my -- I love it, and I cringe and love it all rolled up together.
Mara Glatzel: Ah, yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So good. Yes, I’ll be debriefing that on the podcast at the end of the year for sure.
Mara Glatzel: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: What is your mantra right now?
Mara Glatzel: It is safe to be who and how I am.
Rebecca Ching: Dang. It is safe to be who and how I am. What is an unpopular opinion that you hold?
Mara Glatzel: You don't have to love or like yourself to take care of yourself.
Rebecca Ching: Dude! You're just not letting up here!
Mara Glatzel: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?
Mara Glatzel: At this moment, my emotional support TV show is, again and again, Madam Secretary.
Rebecca Ching: So good.
Mara Glatzel: And Elizabeth and Henry McCord are my TV role models for leadership, and I just soak it up. Whenever I need it, I soak it up.
Rebecca Ching: Mara, where can people find you if they want to connect with you and your work?
Mara Glatzel: Come hangout with me at www.maraglatzel.com. You can find the book there. You can find all of the ways that I work with people. You can also find a really fun quiz for what you need right now. I have resources that will meet you right where you are in this moment. Hangout with me on Instagram @maraglatzel.
Rebecca Ching: Wonderful! Mara, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for putting this book out into the world. Just thank you for who you are. This has been a delight.
Mara Glatzel: Oh, thanks for having me! This was so fun. I loved talking to you!
Rebecca Ching: When we deny our needs and the needs of others, we deny their humanity, we deny our dignity, and we deny our agency. I feel like we end up constantly in this needing bind where we shame ourselves for having needs and then get mad when others don't meet our needs. It’s a tough one, right? When we deny the needs of ourselves and others, we end up becoming complicit in a system that does not care about our needs but deeply cares about our productivity.
Mara flips the script on needs in Needy. She reminds us that needs are just like breathing and reflects our humanity, something that should be honored and prioritized instead of vilified and shamed. Now, I see folks, figuratively and literally, roll their eyes at those who have their own needs. The judgment and disgust on being seen as needy still runs deep, yet when we push back on the shaming of needs and honor our needs and those of others with respect and dignity, it sure rocks the boat on how things have been done for so long and what we’ve been taught about what it means to adult and lead well, and this is the work of an Unburdened Leader.
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. If this episode was meaningful to you, I would be honored if you would leave a review and a rating and share it with someone you think would benefit from it. It sure helps us get this incredible show out to more people, and it means the world to me. Thank you so much! And you can find this episode, show notes, ways to sign up for our free weekly Unburdened Leader email, and find ways to work with me www.rebeccaching.com!