When one hears the term ‘Emotional Dependency’, the first thought or image that comes to mind is of a person who is dependent on someone else for emotional validation. Everything they do, the decisions they make or even their achievements, need to be acknowledged and validated by others for them to feel important. Emotional support is the basic foundation of every relationship. When one faces challenges in their lives, the support of their loved ones can offer empathy and comfort. However, emotional support is different from emotional dependency. Let’s try to understand ‘What is Emotional Dependency?’ and how does it come about?
Growing up in a society strangulated with mental and emotional distress, many people battle with anxiety, low confidence and depression. As a result, one looks towards their loved and trusted ones for emotional support. It is normal to look towards other people for emotional support and guidance. However, it becomes dependency when it passes the point of support. Emotional dependency is a disposition or frame of mind where an individual is unable to take full responsibility for their own feelings. They feel all the emotions like sorrow, grief, heartbreak, anxiety and depression, however they find it hard to acknowledge or embrace these feelings. Every relationship requires a certain amount of emotional dependency to fulfil emotional needs to some extent. But when these needs are not met, one might find it hard to meet those needs on their own. This absolute reliance or dependency on another individual may eventually take a toll on one’s own overall well-being.
How to become self-sufficient adults is something that is learned as a child, due to the fact that children are inexperienced and vulnerable. The need to be cared for, protected, validated and guided by the parents or caretakers is hardwired in human DNA. This behaviour is naturally present in every child and terminates when they become self reliant, which usually happens when they reach puberty. This is something that they learn from their parents who teach them all the physical aspects of growing up and becoming independent. However, most parents are ignorant or are unaware of the emotional aspect of self-reliance. They are unable to teach their children the skills to provide love, validation, protection and guidance to themselves. This absence self-reliance keeps the Emotional Dependency active even as the child enters adulthood. As a result they carry on compelling emotional needs which, usually, are redirected from parents or guardians to friends, partners, colleagues or other people in general. This lack of support at an early age leaves one with the fear of rejection, judgement, abandonment, low self-confidence, low self-esteem, lack of identity or even make them emotionally numb if the pain is too great for them to handle. All of this in turn leads to anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, addictions, procrastination, social anxiety, isolation, neediness, confusion and poor performance in everyday life, like work or school.
People who are independent may resist all the emotional support and try to deal or cope with their emotional needs alone. Being dependent on others for emotional support is normal, however, if one’s happiness depends on other people’s feelings, that is where it has a chance of becoming unhealthy. As a parent it is important to acknowledge the child’s emotions and teach them how to be emotionally self reliant, and as a partner to someone who requires constant emotional support, it is essential to offer the significant other the right support whenever they need it.
Emotions are a daily part of human life. Everyone experiences both pleasant and unpleasant feelings, and sometimes more than one strong emotion can occur which can overwhelm an individual causing them to engage in self injury. The feeling of being overwhelmed emotionally can be too much sometimes, therefore it is important to regulate them. Emotion Regulation is an expression usually used to describe an individual’s capability or potential to effectively control or regulate and respond to an emotional experience or situation, and individuals, throughout the day, unconsciously use emotion regulation strategies to cope or manage difficult situations. People are able to use different varieties of emotion regulation strategies to different situations in order to adapt to the environment surrounding them. Children, for instance, learn to regulate their emotions by watching their parents or guardians, and if the parent or guardian is unable to teach or provide such strategies, then the child finds it hard to regulate their emotions, even as they enter adolescence or adulthood. Some of these strategies are healthy while some are not. Healthy coping strategies are those that do not cause harm, whereas unhealthy coping strategies are those that leave lasting or unexpected damage, or lead to avoiding dealing with certain situations which require a head strong solution. As an infant/child we depend on our parents to regulate our emotions and if our parents are not skilled enough to provide that for us we don’t learn it
Some of the common emotion regulation strategies are:
- Chatting with a friend
- Maintaining a journal
- Going to therapy
- Getting ample sleep
- Being aware of the negative thoughts that may occur before or after experiencing some strong emotions
- Going for a walk or exercising
- Realizing when you might need a break and actually taking it
When you are unable to acknowledge your own emotions and feelings, you are unable to define your own worth. This makes you dependent on others and being emotionally dependent on others is a terrible state to be in as you are never happy or content or satisfied without the approval of other people. So, how does one know if they are emotionally dependent?
Here are some tell-tale signs of emotional dependence:
- Needing to be close to loved ones constantly
- Constantly doubting yourself
- Feeling insecure all the time
- Harbour an idealized view of your partner or any relationship
- Believing that your life lacks meaning without the involvement of other people
- Constantly fearing that you are not good enough
- Obsessive fear of losing people and/or getting rejected
- Seeking reassurances constantly
- Feeling empty and anxious when spending some alone time
- Feeling guilty if unable to pay total attention to the loved ones
- Frequently looking to other people to build your self-esteem, confidence and self worth
- Having a difficult time trusting their feelings for you
If you are experiencing feelings of constant insecurity and self-doubt, and you keep finding yourself looking for their approval to feel good about yourself, it is time to take action to address this issue. Mastering the control over one’s emotions can be challenging but if you rely on other people too much for emotional support then you are missing out on discovering ways in which you can offer support to yourself. It is unrealistic to rely on other people or to expect them to meet all your emotional needs all the time. While it is absolutely okay and healthy to lean on other people, it is also important to have a few coping mechanisms which you can rely on when they are unable to meet your needs.
Acknowledge and become comfortable with your vulnerable self. It is the first step towards fulfilling your emotional needs. It is essential to feel worthy and lovable. It is important to be aware of and acknowledge your emotions and feelings as you experience them. Pushing away one’s thoughts and feelings will only create a void that is why building a strong emotional connection with yourself is crucial. One can get to know themselves through the practice of self-expression, writing in a journal or meditating are some of the ways one can establish self-connection. This will allow you to show compassion to yourself. It can be a challenging process but it is normal and okay to feel discomfort while dealing with unpleasant emotions. So, instead of hiding from the not-so-pleasant feelings or depending on others to make you feel better about yourself, get in touch with your inner self by spending time on your own and really listening to your mind and body.
Be aware of the factors that trigger your emotional dependence. There are certain factors or certain things that trigger emotionally dependent behaviours in an individual. An adult individual’s neediness, usually, stems from the difficult situations or events that they might have gone through during their childhood or adolescence. So, there might be certain triggers which could be visible in an individual with emotional dependency, such as, when dealing with outside sources or factors such as stress from work or family issues, you might find yourself seeking reassurance from others; when you make a mistake your self-esteem plunges and you depend on others’ approval to make yourself feel better; or, when you find that your friends or loved ones are spending more time with someone else you might feel abandoned or forsaken or that you might be losing their love. Therefore it is important to identify such triggers and look for some coping mechanisms such as talking to a friend about it or exercising positive self-talk to remind yourself that you are strong and that you are enough.
Talk to a professional. Visiting a therapist to help you identify and break the patterns of emotional dependency can have major benefits. While it is okay to follow tips on your own, talking to a professional about it may give you the little push to stand up for yourself. Emotional dependency can be very hard to get out of as it is not a habit that occurs overnight. It relates back to one’s childhood and it won’t be possible to improve yourself rapidly. Unless and until you recognize the trauma and past sufferings, you won’t be able to learn how to become mentally strong and heal from your past injuries. Hence, speaking to a mental health professional who can guide you and show you how to embrace yourself may help you resolve the issues arising from emotional dependence.
At Pause for Perspective we have trained counselors who have experience in working with children and teenagers with an array of conditions and challenges, who experience depression, anxiety or stress in their environment because of the familial or school related issues. They also have experience in working with adults. We offer counselling for individuals, groups and families of all ages and population. Our main goal is to ensure that individuals are able to connect with themselves and with others with mindfulness and compassion.
This article is written by our writer Insha Fatima .