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Are you in an emotionally dependent relationship — and not in love?

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As we mature, we need to move from dependency to relationships of equality.

We are all born physically and psychologically dependent on our parents, but if our formation is successful, we eventually achieve autonomy in a context of empathy and solidarity with others.

What does “dependency” mean?

Dependence can be defined as a situation of subordination to a power that you perceive as greater than yourself. In the case of emotional dependence, for example, the usual situation is that, initially at least, you consider the other person to be superior, special, or ideal. Over time, that opinion might change, but when you try to abandon it, you suffer withdrawal syndrome, as do people with addictions, and over the long term, you also suffer a loss of self-esteem. The other person’s superiority or power is a misperception of the dependent person, who actually gave power to the other person, often without realizing it.

Dependence is the core element of many, many problems and psychological and relational disorders: difficulties in personal relationships, marriage problems (with or without violence), emotional immaturity, inability to take control of one’s own life, difficulty managing one’s weaknesses, or difficulty working with others as a team to achieve shared goals.

Are your relationships “vertical” or “horizontal”?

Being dependent, or acting dependently, forms part of what we could call “vertical” relationships, among which include dependency, obedience, and submission.

“Horizontal” relationships, by contrast, are those that allow you to establish relationships of collaboration and cooperation among equals. This geometry of relationships is variable and can change over time. We learn as children what it means to be autonomous or independent, or always just going along with what other people tell us to do; taking responsibility, or refusing to do so; having our own criteria for judging and making decisions, or always depending on someone else; and having a proactive attitude regarding what happens in our life — and life itself — or being passive.

Some people are more at ease and function better in one kind of relationships than in another, but staying exclusively in vertical relationships as an adult can be dangerous.

It takes two to tango

When you are too dependent, it is difficult for you to relate to others as equals, and you have a very strong inclination towards vertical relationships ranging from admiration to submission. From the point of view of relationships, dependence should be understood as a bond. For this bond to be created, there must be at least two participants, and each one of them must get something out of the relationship.

A common combination is that of a person who needs constant admiration — a narcissist, for example — and a person with a dependent personality. The narcissist’s need is filled by the dependent person’s need to worship someone else. These relationships can also be established on the level of a group, between a leader and his or her followers. A secondary benefit of being in the dependent position is that you only have limited responsibility; you have the privilege of not having to make decisions.

A dependent relationship is usually reciprocal, although with formally different roles. The less visible aspect of the relationship comes to light when, for one reason or another, the dependent person is absent. Then, we can see the social, psychological, and daily needs and deficiencies of the person who occupies the dominant position. Frequently, the dominant person is someone who, in real life, doesn’t know how to take a single step on his own.

Tips for overcoming emotional dependence

  • Recognize that there might be an affective dependence in your life.
  • Learn to say “no” and to avoid toxic relationships: this is indispensable if you are to respect yourself and recover your emotional self-esteem.
  • Review your own beliefs, strengthening your critical thinking regarding your own lifestyle.
  • Love other people healthily through good relationships. If you are isolated, you will not be able to see other, healthier relationships, and this will seem to confirm the impossibility of change.
  • Focus on your expectations and objectives. Avoid other people’s expectations. Live your own life.

To conclude: when your happiness depends on other people, you are an emotionally dependent person. This can make you feel “addicted” to your spouse or to other people. Overcoming these obstacles is a healthy foundation on which to build continual personal growth, and greater serenity in your life.

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