I’m sure you remember the tragic downward spiral of the young pop-princess, Britney Spears around 2007.
What if I told you that understanding the hidden forces behind her (very human) fate, could help you to solve some core issues in your own life?
As human beings, we are all in the hands of our basic emotional needs. Depending, whether we learn to understand the “physics” of those emotional drives or not, we may get hold of the steering wheel or spiral out of control.
Before we start, let me make it clear, I’m not putting a diagnosis or doing a psychological analysis on Britney Spears in any way. I suppose she had more than enough of that. What I hope is that through her story we will see our own lives from a new perspective.
What Britney Spears, the American Dream has to do with emotional needs?
Britney, the sweet southern girl, who found herself in a fairy tale
I recall first seeing her debut video. She was sweet, sassy, childishly innocent and at the same time, clumsily seductive. She was someone, most girls of her age wanted to be.
She had a mixture of natural openness and teenage timidity, which made it easy to relate to her. She looked like a lovely girl from a small town, who embodied the American Dream in her very own fairy-tale fashion.
While producing smash hits like “Oops!… I Did It Again” or “Crazy,” she kept amazing her raving fans with every move. She would blush when she was asked about her crushes, behave humbly not giving in to the usual eccentricities of the stars, goof around during interviews and documentaries, make jokes about herself, and put all her heart into her performances.
It is trendy to say today that that was nothing but an ingeniously built image. Still, I believe it was a valid part of Britney’s personality. (Part, I must emphasize.) That’s how her image obtained that lively and natural glow, for which many stars in the industry were striving, mostly in vain.
At the root of her many talents lay a unique ability. She could naturally radiate an immense amount of energy, using its creative versatility, and sparking the fire of others along the way. A feature she was possibly not even aware of.
She was like a fresh breeze. Her provoking teen attitude and her sensitivity created a magic mixture that became infectious.
That was when Britney skyrocketed to stardom.
The change from a fairy tale to a nightmare happened incredibly fast.
The press buzzed with Britney. It became insatiable, and what I would call blood-thirsty when the first shocking signs of her vulnerability appeared.
I remember when the news of her 55-hour marriage in Las Vegas broke. Although Britney’s management tried to make it look like the superstar was acting young and crazy (and let’s admit, we all do irrational things sometimes, or at least I hope so), there was that dense air of desperation about her.
For example, there was that infamous case with the paparazzo named Adnan Ghalib.
One day Britney pulled over on the Pacific Coast Highway, jumped into the car of a paparazzo that was stalking her and took him to the Peninsula hotel for a late “lunch.”
The public was enraged. That was not what its Liebling was supposed to do. The illusions projected upon the girl were crushing down on both her and her followers, and if there is one thing that people find hard to forgive, it is the shattering of their dreams.
That disillusionment fanned the suppressed envy and gloating of many, creating an atmosphere of animosity and disconnection around the star. At the same time, there were a lot of voices of concern and love, but they were overshadowed by the tabloid-rage, that’s why I believe they did not reach Britney when she needed that support most.
So when she shaved her hair, the press won the lottery.
It buzzed with details about how she stayed up for days in the belief that demons were following her, and how she attacked the car of a paparazzo with a green umbrella.
“People thought that it was me going crazy and stuff like that, but people shave their heads all the time. I was going through a lot, but it was just kind of like me going through a little bit of rebellion, or feeling free, or shedding stuff that had happened, you know?” she explained in a 2008 documentary “Britney: For the Record.”
Finally, she ended up locking herself up in her bathroom with her little son, Jayden for several hours, refusing to come out. There were rumors about a suicide attempt, and the turmoil around her gave enough material to discuss and analyze for a whole year to come.
Britney became a fallen star.
She seemed to have lost her connection with her family, her friends and many of her fans, but most importantly, with something deep inside her.
What happened to Britney Spears?
As the 26-year put it in the 90-minute exclusive interview with MTV, the “Britney: For The Record,”:
“I am a smart person. What the hell was I thinking?”
Now, I think this is the golden question that we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives.
Let’s stop here for a moment.
Put your hand on your heart. How many times did you realize that something you did was not right or even harmful? And how many times did you do it nonetheless?
How many times did you tell yourself what you needed to do instead? Still, you were doing the opposite?
With our rational mind, we know what we should do.
We know that we should leave our narcissistic partner, or quit gambling, or that it’s time to step up for ourselves and not allow people to mistreat us or to stop obsessing about washing our hands 50 times a day.
And what happens most of the times? Nothing (or very little).
What about all the well-intended arguments of our family and friends?
They only make us more defiant and desperate. And deep within we start to feel that there is something utterly wrong with us.
So, why is that?
Why do we destroy ourselves?
The answer lies below the surface of our logical reasoning: in the subconscious mind where our basic emotional needs live.
Our primal emotional needs
We all (even the most rational people) have emotional needs, just like we all have physical needs.
What are those?
The sacred trio of love, acceptance, and intimacy, accompanied by the need for safety, attention, creative challenges, the feeling of being in control, creative challenges, social connections, belonging somewhere and so on.
It becomes evident that at the peak of her superstardom Britney lacked not just one, but several of these fundamental emotional pillars.
“I didn’t know who to go to,” Britney wrote in a letter to her fans about her breakdown, “I genuinely did not know what to do with myself, and it made me so sad. I confess I was so lost.”
She felt isolated and disconnected. She was desperate to find a meaningful relationship, where she would get real attention, could be herself, would be accepted with all her flaws and insecurities, and where she would enjoy that kind of emotional intimacy that would finally make her feel safe.
Isn’t that something we all strive for? Yes, of course!
But there is a trap many of us, including Britney, fall into.
Namely, we want others to fill our needs.
Just think of the role of Kevin Federline in the life of the pop princess or what Bobby Brown was to Whitney Houston.
We are looking for a person (or a community, an idea, a thing, anything) that would make us feel secure, loved and worthy. The emphasis is on the words: make us feel in a certain way.
Because we fail at giving ourselves the feeling of being loveable, worthy and secure.
I know I might stir some emotions here. Some of you might ask if I’m implying that we need nobody and we should live on our own?
No. That means that we often want to build a house from the roof down.
We put the responsibility for meeting our needs and thus making us happy, on others. We are reinforcing a vicious circle of learned helplessness.
That never leads to a healthy relationship.
Could Kevin Federline, a man with insecurities, trust and responsibility issues which make a meaningful emotional intimacy almost impossible, fulfill Britney’s need for a nurturing connection?
Nurturing is a critical element of this game. If we can’t emotionally nurture ourselves, we can’t really nurture others. Our lack will destroy the healthy balance.
As you see, fulfilling these needs is essential for our health and long-term survival.
What happens when we fail to meet our basic emotional needs?
Now that is where the problems begin.
First, we experience tension. We start compensating with food, partying or whatever we find.
Soon this tension can become an actual pain. And that is the point when our compensations turn into what we consider a “crazy” behavior.
The brain cannot distinguish between emotional pain and physical pain.
If you go through emotional pain for your nervous system, it’s the same as being tortured in a torture chamber.
Looking back at the Britney who closed herself up in her bathroom with her child, going through all those feelings of loss, abandonment, fear, and insecurities, in other words, losing hope of getting her emotional needs met, is it proper to say that she acted “crazy”?
In fact, her behavior was pretty logical and consistent for her subconscious.
What does the subconscious have to do with our “acting crazy”?
The primary goal of our subconscious is to keep us safe and alive.
Fulfilling our needs is the first on its to-do list, so it tries to do that at all cost.
The problem is that we often
– don’t recognize these needs for what they are, and
– fail to learn to meet them in a healthy way, so we
– create compensations that give us the temporary illusion of fulfillment.
That makes us VULNERABLE.
Just think of the excessive partying after a breakup, whether it is Britney or you in the past.
Remember feeling even worse afterward? Ever wondered why?
You may have probably heard stories of ship-wrecked sailors, who were drifting in the middle of the ocean for days long without water.
At one point their thirst got so strong that they would drink salt water just for the momentary sensation of relief, not caring if that meant a painful death soon.
That is when we compensate our desperate need in harmful ways, with things (or people) that seem to fill it, but in fact, they do not.
The result? A rich palette of emotional problems, from slight anxiety to addictions or even psychotic behavior.
Britney’s “craziness” was a self-destructive way of compensation.
The more tension and pain we have accumulated from our unmet needs, the more vulnerable we become. It’s that simple.
But what does that mean in practical terms?
We will be more susceptible to
1. becoming the puppet to our unconscious emotional drives (Remember, we are our worst enemy?)
2. and being manipulated by others who promise to fill our needs.
According to her interviews, Britney had experienced both.
In the following articles, we will take an exciting in-depth look at what we can learn from Britney about our need for attention, intimacy, connection, security, and control.