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Defining Emotional Dependency and the Top Five Ways to Become More Emotionally Independent

By HERWriter
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Ways to become more emotionally dependent

Love can be exhilarating, especially at the very beginning of a relationship. Everything you experience with your partner feels so new and overall amazing, and you think how nothing can go wrong.

Well some things can go wrong, including complete emotional dependency on your significant other.

Defining dependency

Emotional dependency is when a woman allows others (like a significant other) to affect her feelings and emotions, and depends on them for happiness, etc. This is giving complete control to others over a woman’s own emotions. This is unhealthy and can negatively impact self-esteem, since self-esteem is dependent on others. This is different from having a balanced relationship, where two people have interdependence and allow other to affect them only slightly emotionally. According to one relationship site, it is impossible to love others and not give them some control, but there needs to be a balance. Complete independence does not allow people to form connections with others.

Mental Health America, a nonprofit association, defines co-dependency as “an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.”

Co-dependency as a broad definition is “dependence on the needs of or control by another,” according to Merriam-Webster. However, in the psychological sense, it is “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition.”

One study stated that “seven million American women are depressed, and 40 million Americans, primarily women, have been labeled as codependent.”

Emotional dependency can also be found in people with dependent personality disorder, “a long-term (chronic) condition in which people depend too much on others to meet their emotional and physical needs,” according to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health.

Understanding dependency

Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in California, said in an e-mail that she has dealt with women who are dependent in relationships.

“I've seen very accomplished [women] behaving in a dependent way in their partnerships because they grew up believing they had to give a depressed or narcissistic parent a sense of purpose by "needing" them,” Lamia said.

There are also women who try to be independent but still have problems.

“I've also seen women in treatment who appear very independent in their partnerships, but they have an underlying fear that they will be abandoned if they express their needs,” Lamia said.

Self-esteem, which includes recognizing your value, and a “healthy sense of agency,” which is “the ability to take action, influence your own life and assume responsibility for your actions,” are important for health, she said.

“Optimal self-esteem and a strong sense of agency protect you and contribute to your stability as a separate person,” Latmia said.

She said there has to be a balance between independence and dependence.

“When a woman over values herself and her self-esteem is at the extreme high level, this constitutes narcissism,” Latmia said. “Sometimes it is healthy to be ‘dependent’ and have the ability to rely on another person. Being emotionally independent - at an optimal level - might imply that one's self-esteem is not based solely on the recognition by, and opinions of, one's partner.”

Sudeepta Varma, a psychiatrist, said in a voicemail that emotionally dependency isn’t a disorder and it isn’t always present with a disorder, but some people with mental conditions like depression, anxiety and personality disorders can exhibit emotional dependency.

“If you’re emotionally dependent to the extent that you can’t make decisions or that it’s affecting your life because of it or that you’re making bad decisions because of it, then I would say that it’s a problem,” Varma said.

She said one way to be more emotionally independent is to “take control and start planning and scheduling their lives not around their partners or other people.” People can also recognize their emotional needs and spread them out so they aren’t only depending on one person. This includes having a variety of friends and even a therapist. Women should also be able to accept their decisions and realize they did the best with what they had.

“Of course what we want to strive for is something called interdependence, where not only are you depending on other people, but you’re also reliable and you can be there for them,” Varma said. “You don’t want to be there for [other] people at the expense of your own needs.”

To summarize, here are the top five ways to become more emotionally independent in relationships and life from experts and from my own personal observations:

1) Recognize your self-worth and work on improving your self-esteem, which can be through focusing on positive thoughts about yourself, realizing your limitations and your achievements, working on goals, helping others and doing what makes you feel better. Accept your decisions and realize you are capable of doing what’s best for yourself (and get help if you’re not capable).
2) Realize that you control yourself, including your feelings, emotions and actions. Sometimes there are uncontrollable events in life, but you need to realize what you can control. Don’t let someone else determine how your life will turn out.
3) Spread out and recognize your emotional needs and don’t depend on one person. Work on building a variety of friendships and even talk to a therapist or psychologist.
4) Don’t schedule your life around everyone else. Realize that your needs are important and that you need to take control of your life and be independent. You can compromise and recognize others’ needs, but remember that you have to live with yourself and you don’t want to be miserable.
5) Awareness of all the above issues and about emotional dependency and co-dependency in general can allow you to work toward more independence and healthy relationships.


Add a Comment5 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

“Emotional dependency is when a woman allows others to affect their feelings”
Is this even serious?
When was this written? Last century or what?

June 13, 2019 - 3:50am
EmpowHER Guest

Anonymous please. This definitely applies to men as well. My spouse and I are going through this exact thing, from both sides of our relationship. We have been married 34 years this month, and this has been an issue for a long time. I am the "man" in this relationship speaking, and recognizing this in myself.

February 19, 2019 - 12:43pm
EmpowHER Guest

Agreeing with the previous comments, my personal experience has been that both men and women have this behaviour.
"40 million Americans, primarily women, have been labelled as codependent"
for women to be co-dependent unless the relationship is with another woman there is also a man involved in this interaction. While taking the emotional temperature of the room and adjusting actions accordingly is taught traditionally as part of the women role in a household as the emotional caretakers of a household with the dynamics of families today often young men take on this role as well.

so putting this as a women's issue doesn't seem to do it justice, perhaps women talk about it more because it's more socially acceptable to do so, but I feel like we need to make room and relinquish the stoic crap that society including women push onto men, and allow men to own their emotional vulnerability for they can do the emotional work to move forward.
Which in turn by releasing them from their side of the dynamic will allow women to move forward as well without feeling the need to do the emotional work for both people.

October 12, 2017 - 7:06pm
EmpowHER Guest

Do men not experience this as well? It's important to mention how this is not specifically unique to women.

February 22, 2016 - 6:11pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I'm sure some men struggle with this as well, but this article was intended for women. Men are free to peruse the article if they feel that it speaks to their experience as well, but I don't think it's reasonable to demand the author to cater to you.

May 9, 2016 - 1:15pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.