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Need and Greed

I got to thinking about greed, need and eating while reading a novel in which a psychologist character explains to a patient, “Of course, you were greedy. You were a child, you’re supposed to be greedy. Parents are there to fill your needs. That’s the whole point of parents.” Do you have difficulty differentiating need and greed when it comes to food and other things in life? Do you understand why that is?

According to the dictionary, greed is excessive wanting, a wish for more than your share and what you deserve. Children, especially very young ones, can’t possibly know what they deserve or require. When we’re young, we’re a bundle of desires—for hugs, food, attention, comfort, toys, help, and information. We want what we want and are run by our primitive brain, lacking a more mature brain component to help us filter our desires.

As the psychologist in the novel rightly insists, the whole point of parents is to be there to attend to our childhood wants. Well, maybe not the whole point. The other important thing parents are meant to do is help us see which wants are reasonable and which aren’t, when we truly are being greedy, that is, expecting or asking for too much. Unfortunately, there is no way of measuring greed across the board—what’s just fine in one family, or even on one occasion in one family, is too much in another. The job of parents is to guide us and teach us wisdom about our wants and needs.

But this doesn’t always happen. Often we have legitimate needs which interfere with parental needs and so they call us greedy. Sometimes this happens when we’re asking for too much and they’d do better explaining why excessive wanting or having isn’t good for us (e.g., too much candy). But sometimes they label us as greedy from their own perceptions of what’s appropriate (based on their childhoods and what they did or didn’t receive), culture, and whether our needs are getting in the way of their needs. They may even tell us we want too much because they simply can’t give us enough.

Do you have difficulty differentiating between need and greed when it comes to food and other things in life? Do you often feel greedy or “too needy”? Where did this perception come from? Did your parents (or others) describe you this way so that you came mistakenly to believe it? How does believing you’re greedy or too needy play out in the food arena? Rather than judge your needs as good, bad or too much, reflect on whether they seem appropriate to a situation. Don’t ever tell yourself you’re too needy or greedy. Instead reach inside to sense what might be enough or just right for you.