Some people are dangerously low-maintenance. As I’ve written before, they learned along the way to need as little as possible because others would not tolerate or could not consistently meet their emotional needs. As a response to parents’, friends’ or a partner’s unavailability or feedback that they were too much to handle, some individuals morph themselves into the easiest possible version of themselves.
Unlearning the label of “too much” and learning to take up space and voice needs is a practice that takes place in baby steps, over time. Here are some necessary steps.
1. Identify your needs
People keen on being as low-maintenance as possible may become so good at stifling their needs that they struggle even to identify them. Getting in touch with yourself may involve asking questions like:
- What do I feel right now?
- What do I need?
- What do I need from this relationship?
- What makes me happy?
- How does it feel when my partner says X?
- How do I deserve to be treated?
- What boundaries serve me?
Low-maintenance individuals may be accustomed to ignoring their internal voice. When a need arises, they may bat them down; reversing that process. In essence, the first step is hitting the “unmute” button on ourselves. Becoming higher (read: appropriately) maintenance means learning to listen to yourself when for years, you’ve ignored, denied, or pushed away your needs.
2. Remind yourself that your needs are valid
As you start to get to know yourself and your needs again, you will encounter the familiar voice telling you that you are “needy,” “dramatic,” or “sensitive.” You may need time to remind yourself that there is a difference between having needs and being “needy.” You may also start to dig into the history of those words by asking yourself questions like:
- Who taught me that I’m dramatic?
- When did I learn that I am too much?
- When was the first time I felt that way?
- What was that like for me?
- How has that label impacted the way I live my life?
- Does it still ring true?
These sorts of questions may best be explored with a therapist. But we have a responsibility to ourselves to validate ourselves and question those deeply held beliefs.
3. Ask for what you need
Chronically low-maintenance individuals may feel terrified others will reject or abandon them if they advocate for themselves. But that’s the next difficult step and it will feel unnatural. Asking for what you need may sound like:
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- “I need you to ask about me in addition to telling me about yourself.”
- “I need us to manage our household responsibilities together.”
- “I need you not to mention my weight.”
- “I need you to reach out the next time you want to hang out instead of me always initiating.”
- “Those kinds of jokes don’t work for me anymore.”
- “I don’t like that movie genre. Let’s find something we’ll both enjoy.”
Source: Pexels: Martin Pechy
Advocating for one’s self may upend long-standing dynamics in important relationships. After all, your friends and family may be unused to you voicing these kinds of things. These relationships may benefit from the fact that you don’t ask for much, don’t assert your needs, don’t voice your boundaries, and do put up with all sorts of treatment. You may even find that some relationships no longer work.
4. Deal with backlash
Part of the growth process is dealing with those who cannot abide by your new needs. Give yourself and your loved ones time to adapt. If you’ve been in relationships with people for many years, your new approach may feel jarring both to you and others. Dealing with the aftermath of asking for what you need may be the most difficult part of the whole exercise. If you’re called unreasonable, you may have to check in with yourself and see how you feel. You may be called upon to stand up for yourself when you’re just getting used to voicing any boundaries at all.
Prepare for some confusion as you find your footing. Certainly the goal is not to swing wildly in the other direction, shifting into a selfish, self-centered person. But if you’re used to asking for nothing, asking for anything may feel selfish. Stay the course — you deserve it.
5. Tell New Stories About Yourself
Dangerously low-maintenance individuals tell unhelpful stories about themselves. Their narratives sound like:
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- “I’m too much. If anybody knew who I really was, they would reject me.”
- “I’m so dramatic. Why can’t I just get it together?”
- “Other people never feel this way. They just get over it.”
- “Why do I have to be so sensitive?”
These self-recriminations keep the dangerously low-maintenance person feeling bad about themselves. Changing these narratives means checking in with ourselves and moving towards gentler language. It also brings us back to steps 1 through 3: identifying our needs, validating their legitimacy, and asking for them. It may also include a deep dive into where these narratives began as a way to start rewriting the story.
When so much of our culture encourages us not to need much and flings “high-maintenance” as an insult, it can be truly revolutionary to stand up for yourself. We are complex human beings who require maintenance both internally and externally. And that’s ok.