How to end your emotional dependency

Being emotionally dependent on your partner is dangerous. Learn how to overcome it before it undoes your relationship.

Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash

by: E.B. Johnson

When we allow our happiness to rely too much on another person, it can have some dangerous consequences for our peace of mind and wellbeing. Emotional dependence is a real challenge and a real difficulty to overcome. It takes a great deal of courage to tap into the strengths that help us get beyond our need for others, but it’s necessary in order for us to reach our true potential.

Having a certain amount of emotional dependency in our partners is normal, but when our happiness comes to rely on them, it becomes an unbalanced and unhealthy. It’s vital for our partners to offer support when it’s needed, but anything outside of that can be crippling.

Learning how stand on your own is painful, and it takes facing some uncomfortable truths and traumas that you might prefer to leave buried. Finding our presence and discovering the strength to stand on our own two feet is a beautiful thing, though, and something that’s required for finding our way to true happiness.

How to tell if you’ve got an emotional dependence problem.

Often, we mistake our feelings of obsession or dependence for feelings of love or attraction. It’s easy to lose yourself in those feelings and, if not properly identified, lose your authenticity in the process.

Dependence is not love and it never can be.

This idea starts as children, when we’re not appropriately loved by the people who mean the most to us, and it’s perpetuated over time as we jump from one loveless coupling to the next. When we miss out on this love as a child, we search for it constantly as an adult; the longing never goes away, it just stronger.

How the dependence wheels start turning.

Having such a lack of love leads to feelings of low self-esteem. This inability to value and trust ourselves creates a negative cycle of need which can feed the disorders that cause us to constantly seek security in others. It’s the result of emotional blackmail that teaches us that in order to have worth, we have to meet impossible and even deplorable expectations. Over and over again, we out ourselves in a submissive role, hoping to reduce the years of damage that’s been done.

It’s not possible to be healed by someone else, though. You have to heal that broken child that lives inside you on your own.

That starts with recognizing when you have a problem with emotional dependence and it ends with taking the steps you need to correct this dependence and increase your confidence.

Recognizing the problem.

Emotionally dependent people aren’t just insecure, they have an obsessive need to be close to and attached to other people. This kind of extreme insecurity also leads to insecurity about the future and an obsessive fear of losing love.

Dependent people have an almost-insane fear of not being good enough, which comes from their deep-rooted childhood traumas and disappointments. They also have a constant feeling of anxiety that makes it hard for them to accept the psychological and physical sufferings that come along with love and loss.

In the right environment, a dependent person can be giving, loving and compassionate to a fault, but trigger the fear and they turn into a different person entirely.

Living in this constant state of flux and fear is destructive to who we are at our core, but recognizing it takes patience. The secret to building relationships that last is not preventing the hurts of the past, it’s developing the best parts of ourselves for the future, but coming to recognize that is difficult to do.

The dangers of emotional dependence.

For those of us with parents and grandparents from the bygone and Baby Boomer ages, we know first hand the dangers of emotional dependence.

Our mothers and grandmothers came from an age when dependence was the only means to survival for women. They were coached to base all of their happiness on the success and happiness of the people around them, rather than themselves, and this led to a whole host of problems later on down the road when they realized their lives had value.

Emotional dependence is dangerous and even more so when we fail to recognize it in time to prevent its nefarious patterns. Depending on others for our happiness is to build a castle on shifting sands. You’re setting yourself up for failure and you’re setting yourself up for danger.

A loss of self-esteem.

Though emotional dependence stems from a lack of self-esteem, it’s also a self-esteem destroyer of its own, undermining our confidence subtly and over time.

When we become too dependent emotionally on our spouse or partner, we run the risk of losing the person that we love by losing ourselves. Our insecurities compact and compound, eating away at our confidence and our relationships as we lose touch with the person we were when the relationship began.

Isolation and loss of social skills.

Finding ourselves in such toxic, all-consuming relationships can cause us to isolate ourselves and lose touch with our friends. When we cut off our connection with the outside world, we quickly lose the social skills that are invaluable to our long-term happiness.

Feeling as though we are trapped and without strength leads us little by little to isolate ourselves more from the things and people that fill our lives with joy. It also encourages us to turn inward, stoking our inner critic and destroying our self-confidence over time.

Physical and psychological abuse.

Isolating ourselves with partners who we rely on for everything from our happiness to our sustenance amplifies the dangers and possibility of physical and psychological abuse in a relationship.

At some point, one partner may misunderstand the other partner’s dependence to be a sign of weakness. This situation can lead to an imbalance of power and one partner assuming the “dominant role”. The longer isolation occurs, the more sinister this dominant role can become, until one or both spouses find themselves in an especially dangerous and destructive situation.

It’s not uncommon to find serious abuse in relationships where emotional dependency is high. When one person feels as though someone is entirely dependent on them for happiness, it becomes easier for them to act out by exerting pressure, lying, being hostile or even contemptuous.

Destruction of wellbeing.

Emotional dependency isn’t just a state of mind. It’s a verifiable psychological disorder that’s manifested in many different ways and in many different stages of our lives.

Being dependent on another person runs deep, and being such a critical part of who we are it plays a big part where our emotions and wellbeing are concerned. Dependent people often suffer from “dysphoric moods” or sudden mood changes that make them unpredictable and difficult to deal with. They can also suffer from degraded mental states and often suffer with depression, stress, anxiety and severe feelings of guilt, emptiness and loneliness (despite their relationship status).

How to stop your emotional dependency.

Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast rulebook when it comes to dealing with emotional dependency. In many cases, getting past the traumas that manifest this disorder take professional help, but there are steps we can take to help get ourselves past our weakest moment.

Note: Emotional dependency is serious. If you think that you might be dealing with problematic dependence issues, reach out to someone you trust or a professional with experience in relevant traumas.

If emotional dependence is something you’ve been struggling with for a long tie, further your understanding by using these simple techniques for getting back in touch with the strong, authentic person you are inside.

1. Practice being there for yourself.

We all want to connect with other people, but it’s our connection to self that has the most transformative powers. It’s important to learn to look after yourself and it’s important to learn that you can depend on you — no matter what.

Your needs won’t go away just because you ignore them or just because someone else dismisses them. You are important and you deserved to be valued for who and what you are simply because you are a human being alive on this planet.

Practice being there for yourself by recognizing your needs and understanding that it is okay to prioritize them over the desires of others. Embrace your passions, interest and curiosities with open arms and don’t hide yourself or your light be dampening it for someone else’s glow.

We can learn to love ourselves but it takes a willing commitment, just like any other relationship. Sure, you may not be able to fulfil all your own needs, but you can fulfil most of them. You just have to roll up your sleeves and give it a try, instead of waiting on someone else to fulfil them for you.

Tips for being there for yourself more often: Recognize your needs and prioritize your wellbeing. Manage your needs regularly and don’t be afraid to stick up for them. Treat yourself every week, but also do something for your future each week (like save). Do some regular physical exercise and refuse to let yourself wallow when you could be doing something productive.

2. Stop giving away your responsibilities to self.

When we aren’t sure how to look after ourselves emotionally, it becomes convenient to pass the responsibility off to someone else, but that’s a definitive way to find yourself in trouble. After all, no one can look after your emotions but you.

In order to become the strongest and most stable version of ourselves, we have to be able to develop our self-reliance. This self-reliance makes us more resilient to the stress that life throws our way and makes it survivable when our loved ones let us down.

Giving away our responsibilities is weak and it encourages more weakness in our lives. Self-reliance is the key to escaping our needier and nastier traits, but it’s a hard tool to master and an even harder one to maintain. Be kind to yourself and have the courage to stand up for the things you need most. No one is going to provide those things but you. The sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.

3. Re-parent yourself.

If you’re someone that came from a broken home or a broken family, learning how to lovingly re-parent yourself can be an invaluable tool to turning things around for the better.

It is often our broken inner child that is responsible for the heartbreaks of our adult lives.

These poorly and broken beings dwell within each of us, and have an uncanny way of rearing their heartbroken faces each time we face stress or adversity in our lives. Dealing with our inner children can be difficult, but it’s necessary to cultivate healing in our lives.

Learning to tap into this inner child also allows you to lovingly reparent yourself, though, and that’s a skill that’s priceless. The art of re-parenting ourselves starts with sensing and genuinely expressing the hurts of injured inner child and ends with resolving them peacefully and rationally through understanding.

When we allow the child inside of us to be vulnerable, we allow ourselves to be as we are. Resolving to help this broken child with loving intention allows you to express yourself honestly and openly. Don’t be afraid to let the little being know that their feelings are scary but harmless. Tell them that they will pass in time, but they have to be brave enough to let them go. You can follow this up with a statement of action, but whatever you do let the pain in and let yourself feel it and embrace it fully.

Develop a process with this child that allows you to handle your emotions in a healthier, more stable way. Honor your thoughts and allow them to come in the moment as they are, but redirect those old fears and hurts that keep you chained to the past.

When we’re going through a hard time, it can seem impossible to find a balanced way to think. By reparenting ourselves we can find a path to happiness and acceptance. It just takes persistence.

4. Recognize your own emotional cruelty.

Dealing with ourselves harshly is a coping mechanism, and it’s one that does more harm than good. When we’re overly harsh on ourselves, we start to shy away from that inner monologue and look to others for reprieve. You can undo this pattern of self-criticism by finding a better way to deal with yourself and your emotions when the going gets tough.

Realize that there is genuine suffering in your life and accept that (sometimes) you are the cause of it. Accept that there’s a better way and recognize that being hard on yourself is doing nothing but compounding your negative emotions. Recognizing our own emotionally cruelty can be a hard thing to do, but take a second look and you’ll often see that you’re your own worst enemy.

5. Identify and let go of self-destructive patterns.

Much of our neediness stems from the hard things that happened to us in our childhood or adolescence. By identifying these events and identifying better ways to respond to them, we can undo the hurts of the past and help stop the self-destructive patterns that do so much damage to our mental and physical wellbeing.

Exploring our past is the key to unlocking the hangups of right now.

There’s no substitute for a good therapist, but you can do a lot of good just by opening up to yourself brutally and acceptingly. The aim is to learn how to let go of the past, rather than letting it define you. There’s no one path to that, but there are a few techniques that can help.

The first is identifying the triggers that keep you linked negatively to the past. These are the behaviors, people or habits that bring up all the bad stuff that leave you feeling funky and unloved. When you know your triggers, you start to see the footfalls of the traps and can avoid them before you find yourself in catastrophe.

Learning how to identify triggers and patterns before they happen also allows us to let go of the illusions that are at the core of our emotional dependency. When you start to pull back the covers and see the reasons for your reactions, you start to see the world for the way it is rather than the way you want it to be. This is the secret to finding ourselves. We have to get on the same plane first, though, and that’s often the hardest part.

6. Detachment as liberation.

The human mind is a master when it comes to convincing us that we need more than we actually do. This is true when it comes to our relationships as well, and that feeling of love that so many of us crave so desperately.

By coming to view detachment as a form of liberation, you can free yourself from the constant need to love and be loved. While desire is a thing that can often point us in the direction of the things that give us joy, it can be a dangerous bedfellow as well, leading us in the direction of things that destroy us rather than build us up.

Just because you have a desire for something does not mean it adds value to your life. When you see your desire as a part of yourself, you have no choice but to act. Seeing it removed from you, however, as an impulse that is basic to all animals — well, that can have some truly transformative powers all on its own.

It is possible to let go of our desires by deliberately shifting our focus away from those things that cause us to obsessively spiral into the “need trap”. If our desires surge upon resistance, then take the time to sit down and address them and their foundations.

Detaching yourself from your desires is an interesting experience in choice; find the lines between what desires must be obeyed and what can be dismissed. The answer might surprise you.

7. Develop some patience.

Part of embracing your emotional independence is improving the skills and elevating the things you can actually do for yourself.

Developing skills takes time and it takes commitment and a resolution never to compromise yourself. Above all, though, it takes patience — because, as they say: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Cultivate patience in your life and try to have a greater patience for the journey of life in general. It’s not always smooth sailing, but there is always a smooth lining to any circumstance. The sooner you come to have this patience, the sooner you’ll be able to get on with developing the skills you need to thrive on your own.

8. Let go of idealistic expectations.

Being emotionally dependent forces us to see the world in a very skewed way. When you’re dependent on another person in this manner, you become more likely to make excuses for their poor behavior (or worse) make excuses for your own.

This naive idealism is required to exist in a world where only the external can make you happy. The biggest danger with this type of wishful thinking is that it forces us to pull the wool over own eyes and detach from reality.

Needing someone to be the right person for you makes it easy for you to disregard evidence to the contrary and can often result in keeping you chained to the things that are counterproductive to your growth or dangerous to mental and physical wellbeing.

While loyalty is a beautiful thing, delusion is not. To break free of your dependence on other people you have to start seeing things — and people — for what and what they really are, rather than what you want them to be.

Tips for letting go of false ideals: Stop confusing friendliness with friendship. Don’t confuse casual friendship with loyalty. Stop doing favors with the assumption that those favours will be returned. Stop confusing romantic curiosity with romantic interest.

9. Stop confusing your needs with someone else’s responsibilities.

No one else in the world is responsible for your happiness but you. While the attitudes of your childhood might have been dependent on your parents or guardians, the attitude you have from this moment forward depends on you.

One of the most important steps on our road in life in coming to accept that our needs are not someone else’s responsibility. It’s tempting to get angry when someone sells us short, but that’s not the solution to getting where we need to go.

The real answers are in learning that there are limitations to every relationship; friendships and romantic entanglements included. You can ask for help all you want, or depend on someone to make you happy, but at the end of the day they can’t give you something that they don’t have.

Imaging that anyone “should” help you to feel better about yourself is a mistake of epic proportions. The longer you go living your life under this belief, the more miserable you will be. The sooner you face reality and face the fact that only you are responsible for your happiness, the more joy you will find in the little moments of your life.

10. Avoid letting your desire get carried away.

Desire is a powerful emotion and whether or not we know to avoid its pull, the temptation it offers can be too strong. We get carried away by our ideas of how life should be, and when we don’t get the things we want the disappointment injures us.

Avoid this injury by refusing to let you desire get carried away.

Observe what it is that makes you go into such longing and develop the techniques you need to resist the temptations that don’t suit your authentic self. Focus on a healthy sense of self-control by detaching yourself from unhealthy desires and the less-than-worthwhile acts they drive you to commit.

A common side effect of desire is fixation, but this obsession causes us to lose touch with the values that make us who we are. Stop the fixation before it starts by knowing your triggers and how to control them.

Tips for keeping your desire in check: Don’t confuse childhood traumas or pain as someone being “right” for you. Don’t confuse the feeling you get about someone with knowing who they actually are. Stop confusing attraction with a “healthy fit”. Stop loving an impression of someone rather than who they really are.

11. Letting go of the need to control others.

Though we often confuse emotional dependent people with passive or submissive people, that isn’t always the case. Those who are emotionally deponent can be just as manipulative and controlling as those who are not. It all comes down to letting go of this need for control.

The less you feel you are able to do for yourself, the more you will come to demand that others do those things for you. This can lead to emotional manipulation and an obsession with control that is damaging not only to ourselves but our loved ones as well.

Even if you have a noble reason for wanting to control someone else, manipulating the feelings and actions of another is wrong. Controlling other people is counterproductive to our happiness and actually pushes our partners away by forcing them to see us as the broken people that we are, unable to control ourselves or the way we feel about the things going on in our lives.

The behavior of others is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Seeking to make it otherwise brings nothing but more unhappiness to our lives. Drop your need to control and influence others by exerting that control and influence over yourself instead. If you can’t control your own emotions and behaviors, after all, how the hell are you going to control it anyone else? (Trick question: you can’t.)

Putting it all together…

Escaping the crutch of emotional dependence isn’t easy, but it’s necessary in order to find the strength we need to survive this crazy roller coaster ride called life.

It’s possible to learn how to overcome our emotional dependency when stop to take a hard, honest look at the traumas and histories that make up who we are. By getting back in touch with our inner child and healing the injuries of the past, we can find who we are again and make some serious strides toward a future we can be proud of.

Letting go of our need for others is hard, and its even hard in a world that tells us we need external love in order to thrive. Drop that lie and have the courage to live bravely in your truth. There’s a path to healing out there for you, but you have to be strong enough to walk it on your own.