When we talk about emotional dependence we refer to those people who show a lot of fear and anxiety at the idea of being abandoned and who, because of this fear, tolerate and do anything as long as their partner or also other people of affection do not leave them.
Such is the fear that a person is considered dependent if they are willing to do or endure almost anything as long as the relationship they are having is not terminated. However, this is much more complex. Emotional dependence encompasses different types (submissive, avoidant and dominant), which at first glance do not even appear to be dependent people but rather the opposite.
Let’s see how we bond in a healthy and unhealthy way , and the consequences of the latter.
Pathological bonding vs. healthy bonding
Human beings inevitably depend on each other; in fact, we are the most social species of all. In fact, we are the most social of all species. In reality, people who have no ties with anyone are considered to be rare or may even have serious personal problems.
Therefore, first we have to distinguish a healthy linkage from a pathological one . One cannot be absolutely independent but neither absolutely dependent on another person or persons. Either end would be far from a healthy bond.
To link and relate in a healthy way we use two psychological methods: regulation and security.
1. Regulation of the Self
There are two ways to regulate it: with self-regulation and with co-regulation .
We use it when, faced with a situation that upsets us, we pull our resources, hobbies, capacities, to return to a state of calm (e.g.: going for a run, meditating, painting, reading, listening to music, relaxing by breathing, etc.).
We use it when, in those adverse situations and to return to that state of calm, we pull someone we trust (example: talking to someone, calling a friend on the phone, going to your partner to tell them). It is frequent and normal that when we feel low, we want to tell someone to let off steam.
Some people feel safer or more secure when they are alone or in company. We know people who do not feel safe when they are alone, such as those who feel “empty” if they do not have a partner, while others fear relationships. Both extremes are examples of unhealthy relationships, since some will not trust to regulate themselves alone and the other will distrust others .
3 ways to link ourselves in an unhealthy way generating dependency
Taking into account the above, we deduce that with a self-regulation and the feeling of security in solitude it is more likely that our bonds are healthy, and vice versa : depending on others to be at ease with oneself or distrusting them will lead to toxic relationships.
After all, autonomy and intimacy are what allow us to have “horizontal relationships” with others : I use the rest but I also know how to regulate myself, that is, I don’t need yes or no from anyone to regulate myself, but I don’t get out of the way either. Managing them badly can lead us to establish unhealthy links in different ways or patterns of behaviour that occur in relationships with significant people. Let’s talk about them.
1. Submissive pattern
It is the one that is most easily and quickly recognized as emotional dependence. The most frequent emotion of the submissive person is anxiety , precisely because of his fear of being abandoned. His most frequent form of regulation is through others (i.e. co-regulation) possessing very few capacities for self-regulation. They always need someone to help them cope with their problems.
Deep down, they feel that they don’t deserve to be loved because they think they are not worth it, which is why they try so hard to do whatever it takes so that the other person doesn’t abandon them. Precisely, they behave in a submissive way because of this fear that they will stop being loved. They find it difficult to recognize their own needs because they are too aware of the needs of others.
They find it hard to say no to others, to tolerate criticism or to receive from others. This is why they often feel that others do not care enough about them , that they do not reciprocate for all the efforts they make and may even feel that they are “in the way”.
2. Dominant pattern
The predominant emotion in a dominant person is fear, which they express through anger and rage. Their fear is just that, being dominated or rejected. They consider themselves bad people and, like the submissive, unworthy of being loved.
They regulate themselves through others but in a very subtle way , exercising that role of control over the other person. Nevertheless, many times they may show themselves to be very independent (e.g.: threatening to leave the relationship), but this is only to hide a feeling of loss (e.g.: asking for forgiveness and begging when they are left).
Dominant people can also be caregivers, but by making the person they are caring for dependent on them, creating that need in the other person or doing emotional blackmail. The difference with submissive caregivers is that they care to be loved while dominant caregivers care as a way of subduing and controlling .
3. Avoidance pattern
Avoidant people make them withdraw, physically and emotionally, from the people around them.
The most frequent emotion in this case is sadness , which in reality expresses a great feeling of loneliness, and which they try to show as disinterest. In reality, they are not aware of this sadness, as they also distance themselves from their own emotions, ignoring them.
In addition, they are very distrustful of others; what they fear most is losing independence or freedom or being controlled if they become too emotionally involved with another person. Therefore, their form of regulation is self-regulation, by that ignoring their emotions and feelings . This can lead them to appear very non-dependent.
However, what actually happens is that they get very little involved in relationships with others (since we all need each other to some extent). They tend to experience relationships as an obligation full of responsibilities, so they rarely become fully engaged and really feel uncomfortable in contact with others.
- Hair, F. (2018). Emotional dependence in young people: the new slavery of the 21st century. In: F. Cabello, M. Cabello and F. del Río Olovera, ed., Avances en Sexología Clinica. pp.207 – 214.
- Mansukhani, A. (2018). Pathological bonding patterns: beyond emotional dependence. In: F. Cabello, M. Cabello and F. del Río Olovera, ed., Avances en Sexología Clinica. pp.191-200.
- López, F. (2009). Loves and dislikes. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.