What to do with emotional dependence on the family?

The emotional dependence that an adult feels and experiences on his family or some of its members is not a minor behavior problem . The characteristics of emotional dependence are more or less similar in all cases, whether we talk about dependence on the partner, friends or family.

The concept has been approached timidly from psychology . Emotional dependence is not registered in the specific categorizations of mental and behavioral disorders. There is not enough scientific literature to support the concept in detail and there is no agreement on its specificity.

In any case, the problem exists and has been classified as a dependent personality disorder. Described in these terms, it is added to schizotypal, schizoid, paranoid and antisocial disorders, among others.

Generally conceptualized, personality disorder is a continuous pattern of psychic and behavioral deviation , contrary to what is expected in the subject’s social and cultural context. It originates in adolescence or early adulthood and develops, if it does not receive timely treatment, more or less continuously and chronically.

How to deal with emotional dependence and the importance of doing so

Without going into the depths of the therapies that are being used to face and treat emotional dependence, the efforts are in the hands of psychology professionals, when the dependence fundamentally limits the normal life of the person.

Understood as a personality disorder , the psychodynamic, interpersonal and affective therapeutic aspects should be treated especially, without forgetting, although to a lesser extent, the biological, cognitive and behavioral spheres.

For example, cognitive therapy deals with the cognitive dimension of the person. Promoting the subject to acquire a positive self-concept results, in turn, in the affective dimension. The conquest of personal motivation redirects, in turn, the interpersonal and psychodynamic dimension.

Getting that young adult out of dependence on his or her mother or father, to mention a typical example of emotional dependence, involves a multidimensional effort on the part of the psychotherapist. The gain in self-esteem would have effective consequences in the behavioral field, through a more active social exposure.

The emotional dependent of the family is a subject fearful of facing the streets (said in abstract terms); social mediation produces anxiety . A fortification of self-esteem makes anxiety, in theory, more manageable.

The awareness of self – worth and individuality and cognitive self – recognition , influences a more objective perception of emotions, by providing tools for the management of castrating emotions, such as anxiety.

Of course, the treatments are not linear and must be adapted to each case; However, the previous explanation tries to give an idea of ​​how the multidimensional logic of the treatments or therapeutic confrontations develops .

The importance of facing emotional dependence is an issue that, although it may be accompanied by other mental pathologies, is not questioned in the field of behavioral psychology. Under the psychodynamic dimension , the therapist explores the psychic processes that lead the person to behave, think and feel in a specific way.

Psychodynamic therapy addresses the structural dimension of the subject; that is to say, that which in the abstract implies the mental movement externalized by reflections, attachments and behaviors. Recognizing and rebuilding this structure is the essential goal of psychodynamic interventions.

Then, it is of capital importance to know the internal motivations of the atypical behavior, where the psychoanalytic school influences, but from a less dogmatic perspective.

Behind the emotional dependent, there is a family whose role structure is dysfunctional. The psychologist seeks to detect those emotional deficiencies that gave rise to dependency. In addition, it explores the pathological distortions that have led the subject to fix their self-esteem based on the appreciation of third parties.

It is possible to find subjects dependent on their family even when there is a relationship of rejection by the same, in a similar way to what happened in a couple relationship.

It is a systematic task and by no means easy, but these examinations serve to form a basic idea of ​​the etiology and reasons for the preservation of the dysfunctional features that comprise emotional dependence.

Consequences of the persistence of emotional dependence

It should be taken into account that personality attributes are only conceived as personality disorders when they are rigid, maladaptive and constant, and produce a functional decline or an obvious subjective indisposition 

Emotional dependence is due to a submissive and excessively loving behavior pattern , linked to a pathological need to receive care and approval from another person, which goes beyond what is reasonable, according to the age and possibilities of the person.

This disorder must be faced because it constitutes an obstacle to the multidimensional growth of individuals . From a cognitive perspective, judgment is one of the most complex psychic qualities, which involve deciding, choosing, understanding and evaluating.

In dependency disorder the judgment of the individual is compromised. The judgment integrates the formal operations that appear and are reinforced throughout the psychic process, which, in turn, are due to intelligence and emotional-affective experiences.

The emotional dependents of father, mother, brother, etc., arise from dysfunctional models in family roles and conflicting parenting systems. It is not by chance that this disorder develops from adolescence, when certain processes of internal breakdown and assumption of psychic autonomy must take place , at various levels.

The crisis that this period implies, between 13-16 years of age, approximately, can be resolved satisfactorily or become pathological disorders . The dependent subject suffers an interruption in the process of emotional, cognitive, social and moral maturity.

Maturity implies the assumption of one’s own and autonomous capacities , adaptation to a particular reality and the admission of commitments, in parallel with the recognition of one’s own limitations and the ability to creatively use one’s qualities.

The fact that adults manifest anxious and fearful behaviors in front of their environment and depend on anything from their parents or relatives, constitutes an obstacle for their emotional-existential and social development.

Examples of emotional dependence on family

Dependent personality disorder is characterized by fear of abandonment ; If the object of dependence (father or mother, brother, etc.) expresses his willingness to separate from him or dies, the patient responds, in the first case, by increasing his obedience and submission or, in the second, by seeking immediately another object of dependency to replace it.

The young adult who experiences dependent behavior believes that he is unable to function properly without the assistance of others, who, as has been said, may be the mother or father or any other member of the family.

In this context, it is typical for the individual to depend on a parent to decide where to live, what kind of work activity to carry out, who they can meet with, and what their friends should be like, among many other everyday decisions. Dependency even includes decisions about how to dress, how to use your free time, what and where to study.

Such is the level of dependency that the person (adolescent and young adult) requires the advice of their family member (regularly from a person) to determine all the regular and extraordinary aspects of their lives.

Although it is normal for an adolescent to still be financially dependent on their parents , individuals with this disorder often show serious difficulties in counteracting their object of dependency in any circumstance and level of existence, because they fear losing their support or approval.

It is possible that individuals may disagree with their object of dependency; However, as they feel useless to act under their own criteria and fear losing the shelter that makes them feel safe, they will always show themselves in accordance with what they decide.

This lack of self-confidence manifests itself in the tasks assigned to them. For example, if the young adult is entrusted with the task of taking care of his father’s business – the object of his dependence – he will never make a decision without his help. As a general rule, they consider that the father is the one who has the knowledge and he is only an instrument.

To this end, they only perform tasks properly if they are supervised and approved by the parent. Although it is paradoxical, the fear of being abandoned or left to their free will, prevents them from acting on their own initiative. Dependence prevents the subject from acquiring their own skills to solve their problems, which perpetuates the disorder.

In conclusion

The conclusions should revolve around the need to get out of emotional dependence under the timely assistance of a therapist . But, this intervention must have the explicit acceptance of the patient and the support of the family.

Overprotective mothers or fathers are largely responsible for the fact that the maturation process (cognitive-emotional-social) is not completed expeditiously in adolescents. Dysfunction must then be seen beyond the subjectivity of the patient.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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