“I could die without you”… Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking this sentence? Do you suffer particularly from breakups in love or friendship, and you have the impression that this pattern is regularly repeated? It is impossible for you to imagine being able to make a decision or even to live without the other person? It is therefore highly possible that you are suffering from an emotional dependence, and that it is eating away at you on a daily basis, in your personal, relational or professional life.
- What is emotional dependence?
- Is emotional dependence a pathology?
- What are the characteristics of an emotionally dependent person?
- What are the consequences of emotional dependence?
- What causes emotional dependence?
- How does emotional dependence manifest itself?
- What treatment is needed to manage emotional dependence?
1. What is emotional dependence?
Emotional dependence is a huge need for affection from others, whether in a family, love, professional or friendship relationship. At the slightest quarrel or disagreement, the dependent person imagines that he or she will be abandoned. If you are an emotional addict, this dependence puts you and those around you to whom you have an important emotional demand in great pain. Indeed, the emotional signs that your entourage sends you seem constantly insufficient. You want to make sure that this person loves you, so you may even go so far as to try to take control of the other person’s life.
Your relationship with others is governed by the idea of being reassured about your ability to be loved, and a strong need to be reassured about the feelings the other person may have for you. You are therefore particularly anxious if you send a message to your partner and he/she does not answer right away. This creates a great imbalance between your relationship with yourself and the other person. The other person is more valuable than you are, and it is impossible to live without them. You put the other person on a pedestal, and you think that this person is indispensable to your life. You consider your loved ones, whether it is your family, your lover or one of your friends, as your God who has control over your life. Therefore, the other is the one who will also have control over our emotional states and will determine them. For example, if you said “no” to someone you love, you will feel sad or angry at yourself. So you avoid feeling that way by accepting requests from people around you very often.
2. Is emotional dependence a pathology?
Although we tend to think that women are more susceptible to this emotional dependency, in reality, it affects both men and women. But emotional dependence is, in fact, considered a pathology like all addictions. Indeed, emotional dependence puts you in a psychological incapacity to imagine being able to live without the other person being present, without them giving you their approval or sharing their judgment with you. You need to know that the other person appreciates you and that you are doing things the way they want you to. All of this causes you great psychological pain, even physical pain.
Emotional dependence and fear of abandonment are often very closely linked. Indeed, a person with a fear of abandonment will have a greater risk of developing an emotional dependence. When you are afraid of being abandoned, you will ask the other person to prove his or her love to you, which tires the other person who is no longer willing to modify all his or her behaviors to meet your needs. You then lose the other, and this reinforces your fear, and thus, your emotional dependence. It is then the entry in this vicious circle.
According to health professionals, and classifications of pathologies such as the DSM-5, emotional dependence is considered a pathology being in the category of personality disorders such as dependent personality. It cannot be diagnosed until adulthood. When the adult person shows an inability to make decisions in his or her daily life, has difficulty assuming responsibility, has difficulty engaging in an activity on his or her own, has a great need for support and recognition, feels unable to live alone, and has a great deal of anxiety about being alone are all signs that there is a risk that he or she is suffering from emotional dependence.
What is a healthy emotional relationship?
In order to better understand what is pathological, it is important to also understand what is healthy.
A healthy relationship is above all a fair and balanced relationship. In your relationships you feel that you give a lot (too much) and that you give much more than you receive. But this is not proof of a healthy relationship. In fact, for a relationship to be healthy, each person must be a 50% player in the relationship and each person must give 100% of themselves. It is important not to try to compensate for the possible lack of the other. You should not offer yourself at 90% and the other at 10%. As we can understand in the Toltec Agreements, it is important to always give 100% of yourself, but limit yourself to 100% of what you are today. But it is also important to leave room for the other to give. Accept to receive and be satisfied with what is offered to you.
Being in a healthy relationship is also knowing how to say no when we feel the need. It is not a good relationship for you and your partner to accept all their requests. If they don’t fit you, your values, or your desires, give yourself the right to say no. It is important to be yourself in a fulfilling relationship.
Finally, a healthy relationship is knowing how to give yourself before going to look for it in the other person. Emotional dependence is going to look for the love in the other person that we do not have for ourselves. The other person is not there to answer all your needs, whereas you could answer them by looking inside yourself. If you expect tenderness or kindness from the other person, give yourself moments of tenderness and kindness that you first seek within yourself.
3. What are the characteristics of an emotionally dependent person?
Everyone experiences emotional dependence in a unique and very personal way. However, we often find similar symptoms.
Difficulty to manage a separation
You live particularly badly in situations of separation (break-up with a lover or friend, death, distance). Indeed, you feel unable to live without the relationship you have known. The other is for you this person who can support you, who can love you, who is a pillar in your life. Seeing this person move away in your life is a heartbreak and can be experienced as a failure, even as an impossibility to continue.
Being alone is an extremely difficult ordeal for you. Whether this loneliness is occasional or on the long term, it impacts you. It quickly leads to major anxieties, stress and difficulty falling asleep or even sleeping. This anxiety can manifest itself through thoughts or physical manifestations. These manifestations can be diverse such as crying fits, a feeling of oppression, trembling, hot flashes, etc. In addition, you may even turn unconsciously, or not, to people who have difficulties in their lives. In this way, you feel able to help them, sometimes even going so far as to have the savior syndrome.
Constantly looking for proof of love
You constantly doubt the love you can receive from the other person. You feel that the other person cannot love you unconditionally and forever. So you are always looking for proof of love that the other person can love you. When the other person shows you proof of love, you find it difficult to see it, you always ask for more, either in quantity or in action. This love that this person has for you, makes you doubt so much that you are particularly jealous, you always suspect this person of infidelity, you watch him (her) a lot, you have the impression to find clues which go against the love that he (she) could have for you everywhere. For that, you ask the other to be completely available for you. That he (she) answers every call, that he (she) answers every message immediately, that he (she) does not do any activity without you, that he (she) can see you whenever you have free time etc. As soon as the other person is not immediately available, you are anxious. You feel bad, you are anxious, you feel like crying, you create many stories about him/her. Maybe he/she is with another girl? Maybe she is kissing a man? Maybe he/she had an accident and you are already imagining the distress of spending the rest of your life without this person? That it is impossible for you?
In order to avoid thinking about all these anxieties and stories that you may have had, and to avoid always waiting for the other person, you keep yourself very busy. You never leave yourself any free time. When you are busy all the time, you don’t think about what the other person might be doing, and so you deal with your anxieties that way. But as soon as you are done with the activity, your first action is to pick up your phone to get in touch with that special person.
Difficulties in making decisions
Since you always need the other person to move forward and since you consider them to be the person to whom you owe everything, you find it hard not to ask their opinion when it comes to making a decision. You find it impossible to make decisions on your own and you always make sure that the decision you make will not disappoint the person you depend on emotionally. The very idea that you might disappoint them makes you feel sick. Sometimes you even tend to lose yourself in your own ideas or preferences to accommodate what the other person thinks or likes.
Always in a relationship
For this reason, it becomes very complicated if not impossible for you not to be in a relationship. Indeed, your self-esteem is so low that it is unbearable to be alone with yourself. You are anxious, and you need to be reassured about your ability to please. Sometimes you are so afraid of losing the person you are in a relationship with that you are subject to emotional blackmail. You can provoke this emotional blackmail, by reminding him/her that you cannot live without this person, by threatening to hurt you or even kill yourself etc. In the same way, you can also be more likely to suffer emotional blackmail from the other person. Indeed, the other thinks you are acquired and he will not hesitate to use it. This can sometimes go so far as to lead you to toxic people, even narcissistic personalities who manipulate you.
Note that it is important to distinguish between love and addiction when you are in a relationship. Whatever the reason, never accept emotional or physical abuse. As a reminder, if you are being hit, call 3919 without delay, available 24 hours a day. The people listening to you will guide you in the steps to take to help you get out of this situation.
You act impulsively and have difficulty being patient. Your emotions, such as your anxiety or sadness linked to loneliness, overwhelm you. You don’t know how to act in these situations, so you act with your emotions in the moment. It is possible that you are hypersensitive, or that your emotional intelligence has had difficulty developing in a functional way. Indeed, if you lacked affection, if your parents’ love was conditional, or if you felt insecure as a young child, this emotional intelligence has difficulty developing properly. It is therefore difficult not to be able to rely on others to help us manage our emotions. It is then possible that you catch yourself having excesses of anger or reactions that you sometimes find exaggerated. However, you are able to put things into perspective when you get out of the situation. But when you are in the middle of these emotions and this situation, you feel so helpless that these reactions you have are normal and consistent. If the other person tells you that this is not an appropriate reaction, then you feel particularly misunderstood, which further accentuates the emotions you are feeling.
A perfectionist’s relationship
No relationship is perfect. Yet, when you see the couples around you, you have the impression that they are. So you are afraid of not being up to par with the person in your life, and are desperate to be the best person you can be for them. You are therefore a perfectionist in this relationship. You do everything you think is expected, even if it means losing who you really are to make sure you don’t displease the person you love. However, you can’t be perfect all your life. You wear yourself out and end up losing yourself to be a person you are not. The person you love does not love you for who you are but for the person you pretend to be. It is therefore difficult if not impossible to maintain these “perfect” behaviors over the long term, but also the feelings associated with them. By being so afraid of losing the relationship, and seeking perfection so hard, you end up favoring short-term relationships.
4. What are the consequences of emotional dependence?
Lack of confidence and self-esteem
When a person is emotionally dependent, he or she often also suffers from a great lack of self-confidence. This impacts all aspects of your life: relational, emotional, professional, personal, etc. This lack of self-confidence pushes you to step aside to make room for others, and to put forward their personality and their ideas rather than yours. You are really willing to lose who you are and what is important to you if it will ensure that you keep the other person in your life. As we discussed above, sometimes you may even accept the unacceptable and attract abusive people (psychologically or physically), people who may humiliate you, harass you, hurt you etc. Remember though that there is one thing you need to be clear with yourself about, automatically say STOP to the relationship when it is harmful and toxic to you. Don’t make excuses for someone who is hurting you.
This emotional dependence can also have the complete opposite effect on the people around you. You try to do everything to avoid losing the person(s) you love, and want to avoid loneliness at all costs. Nevertheless, the people around you always end up being exhausted of having to answer to your requests for affection, to your proofs of love that you know are insatiable. This leads to physical and psychological fatigue in the other person. Therefore, these people end up distancing themselves and leaving. You are thus left by the others, and you are finally isolated. What you dread most happens. You enter a vicious circle, where you are so afraid of losing the other person that you ask for more and more. You even begin to have difficulty trusting and attaching yourself to people for fear that they will leave too.
Seeking constant approval
Whether at work, at home, at school or with your friends, you are always seeking approval from others, especially those who are hierarchically above you, or whom you may consider superior. This may be related to other difficulties you may have: fear of failure, a tendency to procrastinate, excessive perfectionism, impostor syndrome, etc. You may also find that you develop a form of emotional dependence on someone different in all areas, which considerably reduces your autonomy.
The anxiety and stress episodes related to this emotional dependence, and all the intrusive thoughts you have because of them, can cause many other difficulties in your health. You may suffer from sleep disorders, mood disorders, difficulty concentrating, increased heart and breathing rates, etc. This can lead to heart disease such as a stroke for example.
Other mental pathologies
Beyond physical pathologies, emotional dependence can also develop or aggravate other mental pathologies. Indeed, emotional dependence tends to increase the risk of depression. You may also develop numerous anxieties, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and many other anxiety disorders. It may also develop some form of bipolarity. These cognitive distortions and anxieties can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.
When you suffer from emotional dependence, it is also possible that your sensitivity (even your hypersensitivity) makes you more vulnerable to addictions, whatever they may be, behavioral (workaholism, bigorexia, eating disorders, sexual) or with substances (alcohol, drugs, tobacco…). These addictive behaviors can lead to overdoses.
5. What causes emotional dependence?
There is no clear-cut cause for emotional dependence. This disorder can be multifactorial. On the other hand, hypersensitive, shy, introverted people often tend to be prone to this disorder.
In any case, it is noted that people with emotional dependence are affected mainly because they have (had) a vulnerable attachment. Indeed, when you were a child, you may have lacked love, or proof of love. Your emotional needs may not have been met, and the love you received from your parent figure may have been conditional. Around the age of 1, many emotional needs need to take root. These needs may be appreciation, acceptance, listening, opportunity to express themselves, recognition, esteem, consideration, security, stability, trust, sharing etc. At this age, the child needs to see that his mother figure is close to him. If the child does not see a response to this, he or she will become blocked in the development of his or her autonomy, will have difficulties in having a strong self-esteem, and will feel present in an insecure environment. In adulthood, these behaviors become anchored, and these feelings experienced in childhood will resurface and become part of the child’s life.
Since the child will not have felt this within the family, he will try to meet his needs outside himself, rather than within himself. You must then look for these signs of recognition, love, security and consideration elsewhere. Each time, you risk ending up self-sabotaging because you lose confidence in the sincerity of the other, and you enter a vicious circle of devaluation, lack of self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, low emotional intelligence…
Beyond the child that you were, it is also possible that you have undergone a trauma linked to affect (bereavement, painful separation, accident…), which will have led you to have a particularly important need for the other.
6. How does emotional dependence manifest itself?
In relationships, emotional dependence often translates into a great need for exclusivity, even to the point of strong jealousy (monitoring calls, SMS, social networks, friends …). There is always a form of competition between you and the other people who are around the person you love.
From this point of view, you then need constant proofs of friendship and love through attentions, acts, words of this link which unites you. Nevertheless, what these people do for you always seems insufficient. You think that it is either to silence your request, or because you asked for it. But you still doubt the emotional sincerity of the action of the person in front of you.
The other person has a central place for you. You rely heavily on others in everything you do. You don’t trust yourself, and you look for this trust in the other person that you don’t have. The other person’s approval is especially important, as is their judgment. You must always make sure that you are appreciated by the other person, and this is particularly distressing for you. You go out very little if you are not prepared, when you have to speak in public, that anguishes you much because you must be perfect. It even happens that you end up showing glossophobia. Through the other, you seek this recognition and this comfort of the other which you did not always have. So you sometimes forget your own needs, and you live through those of others.
However, you do not start anything by yourself, you always wait for someone to be with you to start an activity (sport, manual activity, professional activity etc.). You don’t feel capable of facing the group alone, and you are afraid that nobody will appreciate you in this activity.
Finally, you want so much to be accepted by the other person that you are ready to accept everything. You therefore seek to always respond favorably to requests made to you, even if it means losing yourself or your values. You avoid at all costs all conflicts, and always try to agree with the others. You sometimes manage to avoid giving your opinion, or bending your opinion to those of others.
7. What treatment is available to deal with emotional dependency?
It is very important not to let this emotional dependence dictate your life even more. To do this, you must be able to discuss it as soon as possible with a health professional (psychiatrist or psychologist…). These health professionals can help you learn to live with yourself without always needing the other person. They can help you to stop waiting for the other person to ease your suffering, but to rely on yourself. Don’t wait for the other person to soothe your suffering. Get help from a health professional.
For this, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies are particularly effective. During these therapies, you will learn to understand your relationship with others, your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and how to manage your emotions (with the ACARA system, for example). You will learn to have a functional behavior in your relationship with others, as well as work on your automatic thoughts related to abandonment and dependence.
In the cognitive-behavioral therapies, the Virtual Reality Exposure Therapies are included. In these therapies, through different in virtuo situations, you will be led to think about concentrating on yourself (through breathing through cardiac coherence for example), or on the activity you are doing. You will be able to refocus on your own emotions, and on your own sensations, and not to absorb those of others.
Furthermore, to go further in this therapy, expose yourself to this solitude. Force yourself to do an activity alone, and take the time to appreciate it and discover its benefits.
In order to move forward on your side, and to work on this disorder, it is important to become aware of this emotional lack, and of this dependence. This is already an essential first step. When you are in a difficult situation for you, evaluate the intensity of your lack, by putting forward the emotions and the needs which are related to it. Be aware that this feeling is linked to an unmet need, and try to put forward and understand this need. Find alternatives that will allow you to meet it. It is important that you can put forward, within yourself, your needs, not those of others.
It is also important to do relaxation exercises. Relaxation allows you to become aware of your body, and to be able to focus on yourself and not on the other person. You can also turn to sophrology, which allows you to consider all the sensations of your body. In addition, mindfulness meditation makes you pay attention to the here and now of your body and your thoughts. When you do this, ask where you are, how you feel, what you can feel, focus on the inner observation of your body, in a calm and objective way.
Also, keep in mind one of the Toltec agreements, which is to learn to do the same of yourself. Don’t try to do too much, and without doing as little as possible. Make a list of the things you know how to do, the things that have made you proud, your talents … You will see that you are capable of doing many more things than you think, and that you are capable of doing it well (and alone).
Finally, you can follow the following little tip, if you feel that it is becoming difficult for you to manage your emotions because of this emotional dependence. You need to find a new relationship with your own emotions and feelings. It is important to put aside the “other person’s fault” and look at your relationship with yourself. To do this, write an “angry letter” to the person who is being blamed. The idea is not to send it at all, quite the contrary, but to leave on paper what you feel at the time. You will then be able to see that what you have written concerns you more than the other person. This awareness will be beneficial to you and will make you less anxious in lonely situations.