Emotional dependency is at the heart of many unhealthy relationships. What exactly is emotional dependency? In short, it’s predicating your worth on someone else’s approval. Now, looking outward for validation is inherently problematic. In fact, it’s problematic on many levels and for many reasons. Perhaps the main reason is that looking outward for validation prevents you from knowing your true worth or where it really comes from.
Depending too much on another’s approval puts you at risk for coming unduly under their influence and control. You tend to want to please them too much. And you tend to feel badly about yourself when you experience their disapproval. Unfortunately, there are plenty of potential relationship partners out there who like that sort of arrangement. And they’re quite likely to take advantage of what they sense to be your need.
Emotional dependency is not the same thing as codependency. But it’s almost always involved in codependent relationships. What’s the difference? Codependency refers to a particular phenomenon common to families and relationships where genuine addiction is present. The substance the chemically dependent individual is addicted to virtually governs their life. But in many ways the substance similarly governs the lives of those around the addict left to pick up the pieces (inadvertently enabling the addict to remain dysfunctional) in many ways also have their lives governed by the substance. So, one could say that in a sense both the addict and his or her enablers are equally dependent on the substance, or “co-dependent.”
Abusive Relationships and Emotional Dependence
Some relationships are characterized by mutual dependence. That is, two people can get together because they both need another’s approval. And provided they each provide it, all may be good for awhile. But this is never really healthy. And it’s unhealthy primarily because, once again, it keeps a person from getting to know their true worth and where it really comes from. Many folks confuse mutual emotional dependence with codependency.
Disturbed characters have a sort of “radar” for emotional dependency. And they know well how to exploit a person’s need for approval. This dynamic lies at the heart of many abusive relationships. (See: pp. 88-93 in In Sheep’s Clothing and pp. 63-65 in Character Disturbance.)
A Case Example
I’m reminded of a case where a woman we’ll call “Emily” was swept off her feet by a man who showed her more attention and gave her more approving messages than she’d ever experienced in her life before. This man simply made her feel great. And she quickly fell into a pattern of doing anything to please him or gain his favor. But before long she began to recognize a disturbing pattern. So long as she was doing as expected, things seemed fine. But when she dared to assert her own needs, she only felt ridiculed, belittled, and chastised.
Gradually Emily lost any sense of personal identity and worth. Her only value seemed to be measuring up to the ideal image her partner expected her to project. What little warmth that ever existed in their relationship had long left. And there was no genuine emotional connection, only unfulfilled expectation. All the joy and exuberance she once felt had left. It seemed the life had simply been drained out of her.
Emily’s situation is sadly too familiar to a lot of folks. And that’s especially true for folks who struggle with emotional dependency. So, next week we’ll continue discussing emotional dependency and its roots. We’ll also revisit the issue of how to know one’s true worth and where it really comes from. Healthy relationships are based on mutual positive regard. But a person has to know their worth and from where it truly derives to forge such a relationship. (For more on the discovering one’s own worth see: Cultivating Healthy Self-Worth.)
And you can find other thoughts on both abusive relationships and healthy self worth in The Judas Syndrome and How Did We End Up Here?
30 thoughts on “Emotional Dependency Versus Mutual Regard”
So… I’d like to ask a sincere question. Do people need love? I ask this for a couple of reasons. First, because I’ve been told (and read in books) at a Christian counseling ministry, that we don’t actually /need/ love, we just want it a lot. Second, assuming we /do/ need love, I’m left wondering how to distinguish a healthy need for love from an unhealthy dependency. Even more, I’d like to know how a person who has been deprived of love would/should approach relationships, since they are starving, and inexperienced in recognizing healthy love.
More than anything, we need to be able to love. But if we’re not ourselves loved well in our necessarily early dependent phases of life, our capacity to love is often impaired, and we’e often stuck in stages of unhealthy neediness.
I recognize this and have been working on it for many years. Reading this blog and the accompanying books as well as others have helped me to learn to spot those who will take advantage of it, and how to respond, as I learn to overcome it.
Meditation and prayer have really helped. Also, learning to practice emotional distance – detachment has been key for me. Stepping back and thinking about what I want and need before taking any actions. Asking is this good fo me? Is this in my best interest?
So much quicker at spotting and getting away from the selfish/exploitative folks and holding firm with the ones that I have to deal with on a regular basis. Not taking their disapproval as a sign that I’m necessarily wrong or a bad person, we just disagree.
Still, I recognize that when I’m stressed or in crisis, that that conditioning is likley to want to take control. I also unfortunaltely have a freeze response to some abuse. It’s slowly getting better. Although, I have been holding my own with the doctors who want to overtreat/overtest me for financial gain/fear of a lawsuit/?. The overtreatment has very negative health consequences, including death. It’s getting easier. They’ve tried threatening, harrassing, guilt, withholding…sound familiar?! Good practice for me and my very life does depend on me asserting my needs and rights. It feels very scary at the time, but great.
Looking forward to the next article. Thank you! Exactly what I need to continue working on.
“So much quicker at spotting and getting away from the selfish/exploitative folks and holding firm with the ones that I have to deal with on a regular basis. Not taking their disapproval as a sign that I’m necessarily wrong or a bad person, we just disagree.”
This is such difficult work for so many decent, caring people. It’s a big accomplishment, especially for some who are repeatedly beaten down into nothing.
“my very life does depend on me asserting my needs and rights. ”
Very much so! And it’s a tremendous step to recognize and honor and put into practice and safeguard, for those of us who have been abused, preyed on, controlled, coerced, manipulated, deceived, exploited, and made to feel worthless, deserving of nothing, owing everyone else everything.
The predations and damage and evil of psychopaths, sadists, abusers, and other criminals never seem to stop amazing me in who utterly evil and wicked they are. Their victims suffer so, so much!
I’m glad you posted, Mindful, as your things are goals for me.
Thank you, Anonymous One.
I agree with all that you wrote and very well put! You sound like you have a good handle on this. I believe the awareness of what is happening and why is a huge step. Otherwise we blindly stumble from dealing with one to another without knowing how to protect ourselves. They are everywhere!
I’m just now fully realizing the costs of the abuse. So much suffering and loss.
If I can help you with your goals, I’d be happy to. I think in sharing our stories and what has worked for us, we can help each other heal and grow.
I have so much trouble. I have either a freeze or a fawn response to abuse. As though pretending it away actually does something! Or that staying very still helps! As though attempting the impossible — placating an abuser/criminal/predator — is feasible! But that’s why predators make sure to traumatize their prey, over and over and over again, until there is an ingrained, helpless, overwhelmed, trauma response that can be readily activated. I’ve also seen that predators do look for pretraumatized individuals to further victimize, as the freeze or fawn response is likely already habituated.
It’s one thing to have an intellectual grasp of things when reading others’ stories, but it’s another to protect myself or apply it and put it into practice. But I get ideas and help from reading others talking about their lives and what does and does not work for them and how they, too, struggle.
I just try to get through the day, Mindful, but someday, I hope to be able to do more, and if that comes about, I need to be better at protecting myself because I have so many enemies. Abusers and their smear campaigns. And flying monkeys/fellow criminals.
We are humans. And we deserve to exist. And knowing our needs and rights, and then asserting such, too.
In the Bible, I think it’s Proverbs, it talks about the wicked/evildoers who target the good. They cannot rest until they cause someone to stumble. Plus, elsewhere, is a verse that says something like, darkness hates light. And evil people hate the upright. We are sheep among ravenous wolves.
Thanks for your offer, Mindful. I think sharing what we know and/or what works for us is most helpful. I really love this forum allows for this sharing/contact with other victims. A person has to have lived it to know it.
Anonymous One, I like what you said about pre-traumatized individuals. I came from a substance abuse family and had no knowledge about codependency, which made me emotionally dependent. I was the perfect victim for a narc – my ex. Now after learning what had happened and why, I wish I had known these things earlier in life and so would have saved myself a lot of pain. But to go forward I am learning what my triggers are.
Yes, I understand, sounds like we have similar responses and it’s not as though we can easily consciously control it! (I just learned a new term – fawn. Wasn’t aware of it, but I certainly have the behavior down pat! ) That’s the crux of it, from my perspective, and it’s a very powerless, helpless and frustrating place to be. Especially when we, as you say, have an intellectual grasp of it, but are struggling to protect ourselves in real time and often fall back into the habituated/conditioned reaction.
I’ve noticed that too. Predators do scope out their victims and can easily spot and go for pretraumitized individuals. They, of course, also groom them.
I understand just trying to get through the day. Do you currently have a relationship with or for some reason have to have contact with an abuser (work, etc.)?
If so, as you likely know it makes healing, empowering yourself, moving forward very difficult, if not impossible, depending on the abuser and it sounds like yours have been the malignant type. Mine were. They tear you down to the point that you feel completely helpless and worthless. It’s a very isolating experience, especially as they are so good at smearing and attracting supporters/flying monkeys and most people do not understand what’s happening.
I have learned to just leave. I quit my job as I worked for a group of very disordered individuals. They were sadistic. Of course now they have made a point of trying to keep me unemployed. I cannot control what they choose to do. I’ve come to the point where I am willing to risk losing everything to protect myself.
Have you ever read the book Drama of The Gifted Child by Alice Miller?
Yes, we are humans, and we deserve not only to exist, but also to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a process, knowing our needs and rights, and then asserting them and it sounds like you’re well into it.
So true that there are those who despise the good and want to destroy it or those who envy the good and want to destroy them. And there are others who just want what you have and do not care what it costs you.
What helped me tremendously is connecting my feelings/triggers to events in the past. As in, what does this situation remind me of? Who does this person remind me of? It helps me to face the fear. And process the grief and feelings around those memories. As in, oh, so and so triggers me because he reminds me of my aggressive father who would hit me if I spoke up to him. That’s why my fear is triggered. (then I feel the feelings associated with that revelation – there was lots of grief to be processed) Lots of grief.
Next, I note that he’s not my father and I’m an adult now and have more options than I did as a child, I can…then I would think of all my options (stick up for myself, leave, etc).
Then, when I’m around the person that I’ve done that with, I can remember this is not that person (my father), this situation is different and most importantly, I am an adult now and have more options than I did as a child.
It was a bit clunky at first, but I’ve found that as I’ve practiced this it has gotten progressively easier to stay present with the fear and to try a different response to it and to expand my ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries in a variety of situations. I was often terrified in the beginning, but did it anyway was startled how effective it was. It does require facing and processing a lot of old hurts.
I was punished and retaliated against for asserting wants and needs pretty early on, If I protested abuse, they retaliated even further, so it’s understandable that my fear (terror really) was easily triggered and my fight response obliterated. Really, the others didn’t work well either, so giving them up and accommodating was the safest option.
The only thing I have found that works with the monsters is no contact (except in business situations…documentation (allies if possible) and persistence, they want their image intact). For the monsters in training that I need to be around for some reason, grey rock/limited contact. I’ve lost a lot of faux friends because they were not fans of the new boundaries. Oh well, they were not true friends then.
I’m so glad you’ve found this site, Anonymous One. You deserve to be safe and secure. It’s such a life-saver and we do learn from and support one another.
For sure. And even if a person isn’t pretraumatized, they can still be particularly vulnerable at some point, due to something like a major car accident, a death, a move across the country, some dramatic stressor, and in swoops the predator.
Society also grooms women to be victims. Rampant sexism and misogyny keep women in tentative, easily victimized positions.
Your name is great. Mindful. And your advice is good, too. And the great thing about forums like this is any number of other victims can be helped, too, just by reading the comments as survivors share what works for them, what happened to them, etc.
I can’t tell too much about the details, but yeah, psychopaths, predators, etc. Malignant? Absolutely. Not right now, but I’m already destroyed, so the past does pollute my present.
FAWN — People think it’s only flight, flee, or freeze, but there’s a 4th, which is fawn. Batterers condition fawning into their victims, same with freezing. Learning about the involuntary fawn trauma response was helpful for me to wade through why I did various things that I’d never have done otherwise, had I not been threatened or terrorized and forced into doing it.
I’m struggling to comment more, so I’ll just say thanks, Mindful.
I, too, freeze when confronted with abuse. But, it’s because I do not understand what is happening or why. I need time to discern what is going on and how I can respond rightfully to this abuse (verbal abuse).
I would also be interested in learning steps that two emotionally dependent people can take to help their relationship to become a healthier relationship.
Mindful, Anonymous, Kat and All,
In the past we have discussed PTSD at length. After going through emotional trauma as you posters are describing most of us have PTSD which in itself is difficult to understand let alone trying to put into words for others to understand. PTSD is not easy to overcome for the fact being we not only have psychological memories but our physical body also has endured trauma and has memories of its own that respond separate from the psychological trauma.
Separating all the intricacies of psychological abuse is very difficult if one has never been in a loving relationship or even experienced their worth from another. Therefore a recognition of self can be difficult or even nonexsitant let alone the ability to understand a concept of love.
I admire the works of Alice Miller but would warn others from my own experience in reading these authors works we are still looking for answers to the “Whys” of the Character Disordered Personalities instead of focusing on oneself. I say this because I have been down that rabbit hole and the beginning of healing oneself is focusing on oneself only.
What truly matters here is you and the innocent people (children) affected by the CD. At this juncture I would suggest one to never waste their precious time trying to figure the CD out as we are then giving our life resources to an entity that has no use for us or the desire to change. Many times I have had to restrain my Empathetic self from this. I know we can only change ourselves.
For newcomers I would encourage you to read Dr. Simons series on the Ten Commandments of Character. I know this internal work helped me immensely. Also, my faith and relationship with Jesus along with prayer was the sustaining sustenance that keep me sane.
On this journey I have met some of the worst people in life but more importantly I have met several of the most decent caring people I have ever known. All of you have encouraged my growth by sharing your stories and I am grateful, especially, to Dr. Simon who has truly offered a solution to overcome.
Peace to All
PTSD is HUGE. It’s brain damage. Depending on the severity, it’s crippling and enough to end your life as you once knew it. People say, ‘but there is treatment!’, but it’s not 100 percent and if severely damaged from a psychopath and his flying monkeys, there is no going back.
I no longer give a darn, or at least at this very moment I don’t, as to why the psychopaths do as they do (or are as they are), beyond knowing they are evil and wanting to protect myself to any extent possible. I think they are opportunists and some people are more vulnerable than others and they make prey out of whomever they target. The responsibility lies in them not being criminals, predators, and abusers. Anything else is pretty much victim-blaming.
I just want to protect myself however possible because I know I cannot endure another predator, another psychopath in my life, as I don’t really function at all as it is.
It seems to be that I attract psychopaths and criminals. I’m really interested in knowing how to not be targeted anymore because I feel like I’m knocking on death’s door enough as it is.
Any healing treatments for PTSD would be great, too. The nightmares are so intense, so real, it’s like I’m in it again, in vivid, super realistic detail. EMDR is what I’ve heard, but some say it doesn’t work so great on those with prolonged, chronic, abuse, domestic violence, captivity-like setups and for that kind of PTSD there doesn’t seem to be so much hope or healing available. Same thing with brain injuries. Once the damage is done, the injury is permanent. Acceleration/deceleration injuries especially — repeated, severe, prolonged violent shaking leaves no external bruising. Great for batterers.
Have you tried tapping or Acupuncture? I know the tapping may seem a little too woo woo for many, and I was skeptical….but also desperate, it worked very well for me. Later, a M.D. at a well-known/respected university hospital recommended it for my Complex PTSD. At a cancer retreat I went to recently they had an acupuncturist there and I received a treatment. It was amazing! I was so relaxed and calm it was like I was drugged! I was shocked. She said that she does treatment for vets with PTSD at the VA. I’m definitely going to do it again.
This is the tapping video I use:
My PTSD is manageable now.
Oops! This is the video:
I just read your response, I apologize I missed it. I have PTSD from an assault. I do understand and in no way mean disrespect at all to your experiences. I would like to comment further on your response. If I may, can I ask how many years the PTSD goes back and your age.
I only ask for it may help in my healing and also the more about you I understand I then can offer what I have done thus far to heal. You can disregard my questions to you if you choose to and I will understand. If you have questions I am at liberty to share, I will.
Blessings, Good Will and Hugs
I can’t reply directly to your comments above, but I wanted to let you know how helpful they were. I, too, recently left some situations with malignant abusers, and my life is now becoming different. It’s still a struggle, but I can see the fog clearing. I appreciate your explanation of the strategy/example of connecting present events with past experiences, processing them as an adult and then taking adult action steps. That’s something concrete to remember and apply in times of need.
I’ve never really seen anyone write about protesting abuse and then receiving more retaliation. That was so difficult when it happened to me in my early years. I knew I was being abused, and I was mocked and it escalated when I dared to mention it. I think it’s a very cruel tactic. It causes such self-doubt in a child and absolutely denies any rights the child may have for self-defense.
I agree that no contact is the only option with monsters. They won’t stop until you are dead. When I had to, I used the grey rock method and it did get some of them off my back until I could get away. It’s so sad to lose “friends” when you set a boundary. My experience was that if a so-called friend didn’t accept a reasonable boundary or an attempt to resolve an issue only resulted in manipulation tactics, that it was not a real friendship. Still, it was sad to let some of those long-term relationships go.
Thanks again for your supportive words.
So glad it was helpful for you and that you are seeing the fog clearing!
I think having a strategy helps us to feel empowered and a much needed sense of self control, when it often feels so out of control.
It is a very cruel tactic and I’m sorry you had to endure it too. That’s a great point about it creating self-doubt and thus denying the rights for self defense. It effectively shuts you down and as a child, the parents are god, so of course, you blame yourself. Now when someone tries to get me to doubt myself, it’s a big red flag and I get away from them so I can sort through what I need to do to take care of myself.
I understand that sadness about letting some of the long-term relationships go. I don’t know about you, but for me once I started firming up my boundaries, I pretty much ended up alone! I had allowed a lot of users and abusers in my life. Now I have more energy for healing and reaching my goals and more room for healthy people.
You’re welcome and Glad it helped.
You’re so right about what you said: “they won’t stop until you are dead.”
And I find that protesting abuse does indeed lead to more abuse, escalated abuse, and lots of retaliation.
Many people say “stand up for yourself” and “you teach people how to treat you” but if the victim does try and enforce boundaries, demand respect, and protest the abuse, she is even worse for wear because the abuser dramatically escalates the abuse.
I’m sorry to hear you have cancer, Mindful, I shall say a prayer for you. I’m going to do the tapping. I had tried that a time or two and while doing it, it worked, but I forgot about it. Maybe I’ll become a tapping queen and tap on the regular. 🙂
Thank you, Noname. Don’t have cancer anymore! 🙂 It was a huge wake-up call.
Just to say. I have Just got another pay rise. Only a small one. But a rise
Look how far you’ve come since leaving the home with the mother. You do fine on your own. You should be proud.
I have the feeling there are more raises in your future.
Freedom by George William Russell
I WILL not follow you, my bird,
I will not follow you.
I would not breathe a word, my bird,
To bring thee here anew.
I love the free in thee, my bird,
The lure of freedom drew;
The light you fly toward, my bird,
I fly with thee unto.
And there we yet will meet, my bird,
Though far I go from you
Where in the light outpoured, my bird,
For love of freedom too.
You have been on my heart and are always in my thoughts and prayers.
Thank you for thinking of me, as I have been rather blue of late.
Little Brother, you have no idea what a Blessing you are to me and then you send me the beautiful world to lift me up.
Trustfully, I should had compiled all these beautiful poems, poems no one has ever shared with me. Hugs and thank you, you dear one have a special place in my heart too…
I am so glad when I see your post. I miss Andy too, maybe, you can coax him out of retirement. So many of you have made and impact on my life, above all, it is you, Joey. Thank your for keeping me in your thoughts.
I knew you would get a raise, just like I know you will get another.
God Bless You and All
Off topic. Yesterday I hit a peak. I paid off my last debt that resulted from divorcing the CDN I married to for 25+ years.
I managed to dodge the home being foreclosed on and saved my credit score. I bought a home, on my own. I sold/gave away or kept items two storage units full of household items from two homes. I’ve managed my finances on my own, going from being buried to now debt-free (of course besides cars and home) and am ready to build the savings.
I’ve managed to keep my relationships with my adult daughter and son intact while helping her raise her son.
I’ve recently lost 20 pounds and am now focused on exercising to get this body back in the shape it should be in.
So this isn’t just bragging (although I’m really proud of myself 🙂 ) to show that one can recover from the damage done from a bad marriage/relationship.
My mind is not focused on the bad and the trauma inflicted, but to looking ahead and sorting my life out. It’s taken a couple years, but I did it. Seems like the last step in all of this was to get my health back. I’d gained weight and felt awful. What I did, though, was focus on one issue at a time and try my best to deal with it, resolve it, then moved onto the next biggie.
I feel like I’ve found my old self again. And it’s great.
20 pounds is 70,000 calories you have lost
Congratulations, Lucy! Well done. You’re an inspiration. It can be easy to fall in the trap of thinking we can’t get passed what happened to us. I think what you said about keeping your mind focused ahead and sorting out your life is key. I liken it to recovering from an illness or surgery. Even seemingly small goals and propel us forward, like getting out of bed, or taking a shower and getting dressed. Figure out what would make your life better and break it into small steps. If that gets to be too much, break it into even smaller steps. It gives us a much needed sense of control, when much seems (and is) out of our control.
My mantra is nevertheless, she persisted. They chose the wrong person.
Please if you wish.
Read Fat Chance By Dr Robert Lustig, it helped me.
As the saying goes. ” A Healthy mind, lives in a Healthy Body”
“Disturbed characters have a sort of “radar” for emotional dependency. And they know well how to exploit a person’s need for approval.”
When I became aware of this dynamic and worked on looking first at what I wanted/needed before engaging in a conversation with people, I found it interesting and often amusing to see the look on their face and their response when their attempts to exploit me did not work.
I had a Dr. come into the room after she heard I had denied a duplicate test. When she came in the room and looked at me, she had a smug smirk on her face that struck me as she thought I was going to be an easy target. After all, I was sitting their in my flimsy gown and had recently been diagnosed with cancer. I probably looked beaten down, I certainly was feeling alone and vulnerable. What she didn’t know was that I had made up mind before I went there that I wasn’t submitting to a duplicate test and that no matter what she said, I would spot it for what it was, a manipulation/control. (Thanks, Dr. Simon!) She tried many coercive tactics (VERY common in medicine), I calmly responded to each with facts and a definitive no. Finally when she realized I wasn’t going to do it, she had a stunned look on her face, then resignation and admitted she couldn’t give me an opinion if I didn’t submit. The hospital policy was that they HAD to do duplicate tests (profits over people) to provide an opinion. Thankfully, I didn’t need her opinion. I said okay then you won’t give me an opinion and I got up and left.
We give away so much power when we need their approval and give into them and in the process, we betray ourselves. Now, I do my best to get some mental and physical distance and decide for myself what I want, need, think before engaging. If I’m confused, I take more time. If the person is pushy, aggressive, won’t give me time to think, won’t take no for an answer, or tries to coerce me, that usually tells me everything I need to know about them.
After watching this weeks impeachment hearings and seeing all the tactics in play and hearing Ms. Hill describe their tactics and motives, I accept that my daughter views me as the enemy and she has chosen and still chooses to use those tactics on me. It’s painful, but facing a harsh reality is better (and healthier) than living in a fantasy of false hope. It’s only in facing and responding to reality that we can move forward and protect ourselves…even if it is our child trying to destroy us.
As you have learned, once you know the tactics they use, it become easy to dodge their efforts. They go from one tactic to the next, trying to achieve the result.
Good for you to stand up to a doctor. That’s no easy task. Once you realize though you do have power, it’s a game changer. Shame on the doc for doing what she did to you.
I had an encounter with a doc once when I challenged his being late for my appointment. After waiting X number of minutes later than my appointment time, I asked the receptionist when the doc would see me, that my appointment was now X minutes late and I had another engagement to attend.
Out comes the doctor to get a look at me. Then she calls me in. And to my amazement he asks me what other engagement I had. Not having time to think much about his brazenness, I told him my son had an appointment with the college counselor to set up his classes. He says oh, ok. I said I’ve got X number of minutes to get there on time now. They’re just used to patients sitting, waiting and putting up with it.
My daughter also uses tactics to try to get her way or distort situations. They seem so childish. Blame shifting. It’s nonsense. I don’t even argue. I just tell her to grow up and take responsibility for herself and quit the wining.
I’m happy to see you’re doing so well and you’ve got a lot to teach us here on this site.