By Valeria Vilar, MA, BEd, LMHC
Undoubtedly, there is no feeling as exciting as the feeling of being in love. Most of us have a beautiful relation in our lives; we love our partners so much, but still face relationship problems every now and then.
In my counseling practice, very often I hear from my patients comments such as:
“I need my other half like the oxygen to breath”, “I can’t live without my partner”, “If something happens to my couple I couldn’t keep on living”, “I need more time with my partner”, “I feel abandoned or not loved enough if he/she doesn’t call or spend more time with me”
Is this love? or, Is it emotional dependence?
In general, people experiencing these feelings can’t clearly distinguish what is happening to them. They think they are in love, but in parallel they suffer pain, fear and rejection. Those feelings are very distant from the joy of being in love. In order to clarify these emotions and overcome dependency, the first step is to recognize the signs of emotional dependency. The following characteristics are the most common signs:
· Lack of Boundaries: When respectful boundaries of privacy, time, fair fighting, or emotional and financial well-being are violated, emotional dependency may be the cause.
· Driving Need: When one or both parties find themselves desperately clinging to each other, it's usually a good indicator that emotional dependency is occurring.
· Loss of Self: If you find yourself frequently unsure of what you want, indecisive when around your partner, or melding into his or her values, desires, hobbies and lifestyle, emotional dependency is at play.
· Isolation: In emotionally dependent relationships, the world shrinks to two people. Relationships with friends and even families tend to grow estranged as time is invested only in the relationship.
· Idealization: Emotional dependent individuals tend to idealize their partner, viewing them without flaw and putting them on a pedestal. Through this process of idealization, a psychic need for approval by a paragon is met.
· Over responsibility: Taking responsibility for the actions of others is another hallmark of emotional dependency. Individuals begin to feel at fault for what they cannot control, placing immense pressure on themselves to prevent others from making mistakes or even being hurtful towards themselves.
· Fear of Abandonment: Fear of abandonment often lies at the core of emotional dependency, making it hard for parties to leave unhealthy relationships. Partners become afraid to assert themselves in case another's anger leads to their abandonment, sacrificing too much self for the sake of the relationship.
· High Levels of Guilt: Guilt can grow thick in emotionally dependent relationships, sometimes expressed aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively with hints and sarcasm. Partners become resentful and afraid to assert their own needs over time, consumed with feelings that “everything they do is wrong,” or that they have no right to expression or to state needs and wants.
· Chronic Anger: With time, self deprivation and loss of autonomy lead to chronic anger. Parties begin to feel taken for granted, neglected and forced to compromise and care for others.
· Rescuing Behavior: Because emotional dependency is often really about the self more than the other person, a “need to be needed” can occur. One party will often react with chronic high-risk behavior and crises, leading the other partner to fulfill his or her role as “the rescuer.” This can lead to establishment of relationships fraught with stressors and volatility, in addition to training the reckless partner that he or she does not need to take responsibility or change.
Healthy relationships need personal boundaries in order to foster safe intimacy where both parties can bond with respect. Positive, healthy relationships seek love as a complement to life, not the satiation of a driving compulsion or need. As a loving adult, you have learned how to fill yourself with love and define your own worth. Instead of needing someone to fill you and make you feel lovable and worthy, you already feel worthy and full of love.