Emotional dependency (sometime call co-dependency) and love look very similar at the outset and to the inexperienced, in reality however, they differ greatly. In a healthy relationship love, caring, understanding, helping, supporting, giving and getting, being with and doing things with your partner are all normal, however, so is having independence and differing activities, so are minor disagreements and differences. In contrast in an emotionally dependent relationship one person becomes more and more in need of the other persons company and attention. They can no longer feel happiness without being in the presence of their partner. They cannot self-sooth or validate their own actions, feelings, or thoughts, they need their partner to fulfil this role. They usually have low self-esteem and self-worth, they seek security and trust in another because they don’t trust in themselves. This becomes a constant need over time, because the partner offers soothing and fulfils the need for validation and closeness they want to spend more and more time with their partner, they ask more and more from them. Any time they are not with the partner or the partner wants to do something alone they feel rejected and seek to avoid this feeling, so they become needier, eventually this becomes a fear that their partner will reject them, that their partner is cheating or pulling away because they don’t want to spend all their time with them. The lack of constant security and risk of loss becomes a fear, this fear creates anxiety and other emotionally charged difficult behaviours.
Eventually the emotionally depended person plans their entire life around their partner, they feel no satisfaction or worthiness without it coming from their partner. They alter their behaviours and actions to make sure they are useful and needed by their partner, they become entirely self-sacrificing in order to meet their partners needs so that they are never alone. This often means, changing behaviours, doing things at any cost –emotional or physical but also tolerating behaviours they know they shouldn’t such as emotional and physical abuse, they feel guilty about doing anything for themselves, ignore their own morals, it can include doing everything for a partner even if they don’t need to. “Within the context of a marriage, emotional dependence is a state where one spouse’s self-worth becomes far too tied into the actions and attention of their partner.” (www.fatherly.com)
Some of the symptoms or behaviours that are exhibited on both sides that may be looked out for in first therapy session or formulation session can be lack of self-respect, manipulation, possessiveness, jealousy, insecurity, abuse, false affection, obsessiveness over the partner, worthless feelings, guilt that they don’t give enough (even though they do everything for the other person), anxiety. Sometimes you may hear what the other partner (the one who isn’t emotionally dependent) feels because they have suggested their partner gets help, these include worn down by the neediness and constant need to be giving love, that they have lack of time alone, that they feel inadequate even though they are giving love, inpatient at the constant demands, frustrated an drained or burnt out. If you recognise these you may be thinking about exploring emotional dependency.
Things that may possibly be causes or reasons emotional dependency may arise to discuss with your clients or be aware may relate to clients behaviours from their childhood or other relationships they have been in. They may have been in past abusive relationships, or had a damaging relationship with their parents or caregivers, they may have been a carer for someone with emotional or physical needs and be unable to adjust to a different type of relationship other than feeling needed when giving or caring. They may have poor attachment issues from childhood, lack of feeling loved, or needed, left out or another sibling is preferred over them, failed to build self-esteem, jealous or needy parents, told they are a failure, only praised when doing something or providing for a parent or loved one, bullied by someone, experienced emotional or physical abuse. This leaves the person emotionally depended on recreating these behaviours as an adult because it is all they know and how they feel needed, they become submissive and accept abuse more easily as they are used to this as normal behaviour that gives love and attention.
Some potential helpful techniques for therapists with clients who are presenting with emotional dependency are: identifying the fear that may cause them to worry their partner will leave, figuring out how and why these fears exist may help the client reduce dependency. Other options are to try to encourage the client to increase their independence through time alone, own hobbies without their partner, increase self-worth, self-identity and encourage love for themselves. Help the client to take responsibility for their own emotions, needs and life goals, create their own schedule and encourage a social circle outside their partner. These would all be reasonably achievable with behavioural experiments common in cognitive behavioural therapy. Inner child work can also help to ease some of the learnt behaviours from childhood, particularly learning to sooth the inner child and rewriting the history. This is only a very brief explanation of emotional dependency and its symptoms in a relationship that may be indicators to a therapist that the client may be struggling with dependency issues. I will now explore how a counsellor working with a client with emotional dependency issues can negate the client becoming dependent on them.
If you’d like some face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07598810304