Need.

In response to this blog, Mary asked THE important question (she has a habit of doing that, our Mary):

“But to go to such extremes as to have people in your life that don’t want you there?”

I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ll probably be thinking about that for a while yet. Mary’s right: the whole thing is screwy. Most of us don’t operate like that. We want people to be around us because they want to be. We would be fairly horrified if we realised that people endure our company, rather than enjoy it. We absolutely wouldn’t contemplate artificially creating an environment where that would be the case.

Way I see it, there could be several reasons why someone would prioritise your presence in their life over your feelings about it:

  • They have no empathy. They lack the ability to experience all or some of your feelings, so to them those feelings just don’t register. This may be because they lack the ability to feel certain things; for instance, if I’m incapable of love, I won’t understand your grief at the loss of a loved one. It could also be because they can’t perceive people as really real. Every person in their life is merely a tool designed to provide a resource.
  • They have no sympathy. They can understand your feelings, but they don’t care about them. This could be because they discount the validity of your feelings (your feelings on the subject are wrong because you’re not thinking right), or because they discount your validity (why should your feelings on this subject matter? How dare you try to make them relevant?).

People falling into the first group have a pathology. I don’t know if it can be overcome. I do know that they can be dangerous to be around; they can act like those children who open up a hamster to see what makes it go.

People falling into the second group… well, I consider them pathological too. Pathological assholes, to be precise. I don’t know if their responses are caused by nurture or nature. I don’t much care if they can be fixed. I just don’t want them around me. The only way to get along with them seems to be to completely discount your preferences and feelings in favour of theirs, or to engage in pitched battles over the slightest clash of interests. They can’t negotiate. They are like toddlers who can’t understand why they can’t have whatever they want whenever they want it, and their emotional reactions reflect that attitude.

Not everyone who doesn’t care about people is pathological, though. There is a large group of people who are able to experience your feelings and genuinely care about them. The problem is that they don’t care enough. Their relationship with you isn’t based on wanting your company: it’s based on needing it. The need doesn’t have to be real; as long as people believe that they need something, they’ll fight for it. The more desperate the need, the more people may be willing to sacrifice in order to get it met; and, while that may push some towards self-sacrifice, it pushes others towards sacrificing those around them.

People in desperate need may resort to tactics they would not otherwise consider and think that it’s ok, because “desperate times call for desperate measures”. They may also coolly and calmly evaluate their needs as more important than your wants. It’s genuinely unfortunate that you don’t want their company… but they need yours, and that’s what matters most.

I’m now toying with the idea of a new pyramid. Alongside Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there could be a “hierarchy of neediness.” The level of your self-perceived neediness would determine how low you’re willing to sink to meet that need, and how much you’re willing to hurt people in the process.

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