Know in depth what the emotional dependence

Written by: Lluís Maestre Funtané
Published: | Updated: 20/02/2020
Edited by: Top Doctors®

emotional dependence Being, as we are social animals, it is natural that there is some emotional dependency in our relationships, what makes us need each other. The problem occurs when a person is controlled by that necesidad1, because that translates into fear of loss, loneliness or abandonment, which corrupts bonding and make it vulnerable to disease from the point of view psychological .

The myth of romantic love (deeply rooted in our culture) leads many people to expect the arrival of a blue prince or princess to convert them turn into princesses or princes, equating infatuation with love. These passionate yearnings lead to forget some of the really basic conditions in every relationship: meeting the rights and duties of each and mutual respect.

Love is not to be control or compassion, or unreserved, much less subjection. However, through the emotional dependency, the person is prey to their romantic fantasies and may even behave like a child trying to possess her parents exclusively to overcome the fear of loneliness and abandonment.

The main factors of protection to avoid the emotional dependency go through a critical review before the idealization of relationships and to foster emocional2 strength.


Emotional dependency: what it is and what causes

Although emotional dependency is not really a psychological disorder, yes that is the source of many psychological problems and stress in personal relationships, especially in the field of affective relationships: family, friendship and especially relationships. In many cases people establish relationships based on emotional dependence are not aware of it, despite the many disorders that can develop, including depression, psychosomatic disorders, panic attacks and other anxiety disorders.

Before adolescence is not usually considered a problem, except in extreme cases, but adults can enjoy autonomy, emotional dependency is an unhealthy link where they just predominating negative feelings such as pain, anger and fear within an abusive environment, possessive and inaccessible based on the imbalance and the desigualdad3. Emotional dependence leads a person to submit to the other, not only when it provides affection and security, but even in cases where the rejection and contempt are common. The argument they use is that in any case the most important thing is not to lose other.4 company.

It is important to differentiate between instrumental and emotional dependence dependency. The first is characterized by the lack of autonomy in daily life, insecurity, poor ability to make decisions, take responsibility and function effectively. Emotional dependence, however, is determined, above all, emotional and motivational to the person who is dependent elements as a source of satisfaction and personal safety, ie, to meet emotional needs. It is for this reason that the emotional dependency does not imply incapacity or need for assistance or protection in other aspects of life.

According to some authors, emotional dependency could be defined as a pattern of unmet emotional demands that lead a person to seek desperately to satisfy relationships estrechas5.


Emotionally dependent persons

The person does not usually establish a unique relationship of emotional dependence, but l ost personal relationships are based on a strong emotional dependence: with parents, friends and partners. In these cases we can talk about emotionally dependent people.

Psychological maturity involves, among others, the knowledge and acceptance of one's own abilities and limitations, autonomy in decision making and competence in managing emotions and interpersonal relationships.

The emotionally dependent person leaves his self - esteem in the hands of others, of the person / s who depends. Instead of basing your self-assessment on the criteria themselves, it does in others, which gives enormous power to people who depend on (and, unfortunately, human beings tend to abuse power). Valuations and reactions of others generate intense emotional reactions and determine, in the dependent person sitting acceptable.

This causes emotional ups and downs that, in turn, cause problems at the individual level and changes in the family, so the depression becomes one of the main expressions of intense tristeza6.


Emotional dependence on the couple and complications

Relationships in emotional dependence has also been called obsessive love, for love becomes an addiction and a strong dependence of the person is established that one loves. Out of the relationship generates fear, uneasiness and idealization of the happy moments of the past, due to an inability to manage negative emotions. Pathological love develops an obsession, which makes the person feel dependent obligation to continuously attract the attention of the couple and control their libertad7. Several studies have found that emotional deprivation, low self-esteem and emotional stress can be important psychological factors in the development of emotional dependency and family factors of physical or emotional neglect in childhood.

As a result, these people lose their identity and assume positions of subordination in order to keep the affection and approval of its pareja8.

The more effort makes the dependent to receive affection and approval, or retain the pair, plus the overstates person (people give so much importance to our success, including our relationships, in proportion to the time and effort you have allocated them ), the more intense the fear of losing, more needs your affection, conferred greater power and less valued itself. And the more turns in this vicious circle will be greater suffering and loss of self-esteem.

Importantly, although this process is normally given in emotionally dependent people they can also suffer people who usually are not. It is only necessary that the circumstances conducive. It sometimes happens that a person, not realizing it is giving your partner an increasingly central role in his life and neglects other relationships and activities that also contribute to personal fulfillment. If under these circumstances the couple begins to show less interest is easy for this person feel insecure and start acting to regain the affection and interest of your partner. It does not take much more to get into the vicious cycle of emotional dependence.

On the other hand, in most cases relationships based on emotional dependency, we should talk about co-dependency, and on the other side of the relationship there is also dependence, although different. For example, it is common that the couple of the dependent person also need of it to have someone to take care of, control or subject, thinking that while it depends not lose. In these relationships the discussions and disagreements are common: can not live together, but still less separate.

A complication of emotional dependency and co-dependency are ill treatment. As we have seen, the person who is emotionally dependent receives a power on self-esteem and behavior of the dependent. Sometimes the abuse of this power can lead to an attitude of superiority and domination, especially when the power is in the hands of a self-centered and insensitive person, and cancel the other, who lives pending approval and affection of his couple. Growing inequality in the relationship fosters psychological or physical ill-treatment. Paradoxically, when the abused person depends heavily on the abuser it tends to minimize aggression and forgive the aggressor, attributing guilt to provoke the wrath of her partner, because nothing is worse than losing.


Characteristics of dependency relationships

It is shown that the emotional dependency produces physical and psychological harm, and that dependent people believe that love is to possess or offer it all, justifying the behavior of the person who is emotionally dependent idealized way and presenting intense anguish at the prospect of losing. Low self esteem and fear of abandonment and rejection prevent the person ending a relationship even when clearly unsatisfactory and source of suffering.

It has been found that cognitive distortions and irrational beliefs are common among people with emotional dependence. Of the many distortions that reinforce patterns of emotional dependence, two of them were shown to be especially common: the shoulds and the fallacy of control.

1) should. A cognitive distortion (erroneous thinking or irrational belief) to the extent that generates an information processing with too high, rigid and inflexible expectations of the situations or how about have to happen things considered where any deviation from these standards considered unbearable.

People with emotional dependency have specific characteristics in personal relationships to obtain exclusivity or control of the other, demanding constant attention, under the fantasy of controlling other's lives and their relationships, which results in frequent excessive and irrational emotional demands they would not be in a relationship madura5. This can also result in the need for constant expressions of affection for your partner to reaffirm love and soothe the feeling of inseguridad9.

2) Control Fallacy. Emotionally dependent people have thoughts like: "if others change their attitude I feel better," "I am responsible for the suffering of those around me" or "I am a victim of my circumstances". This leads them to take victimizing positions, obviating the resources themselves to change and focus all attention on achieving behavioral change your partner, eager to find a security that counteracts the insecurity of the first affective emotional relationships, perhaps you set up an anxious attachment resistente10 (with parents, for example).

Excessive attachment to the couple and the fact believe it's for the good of the relationship lead to a poor idea of ​​self and an inability to accept the other as is. As a result, the pair of the dependent person is saturated by the whims that must consent and ongoing calls, messages and behaviors seeking love and aceptación5. This also allows us to understand the emotional ups and downs of the dependent person, failing to control the entire life of your partner, what causes anxiety.


Diagnosis of emotional dependency

For a good diagnosis of the problem it is necessary to know the own early maladaptive schemes who have developed emotional dependence. These would be linked to their childhood experiences and allow understand its history of relationships and bonding. Only from this knowledge can guide the intervention in clinical psychology, which should be directed to:

  • Change their way of interpreting interpersonal situations.
  • Manage doubt and fear of rejection.
  • Position in relationships, to be able to build healthy relationships and dating.


Treatment of emotional dependency


Fortunately, with proper psychological treatment, anyone willing to change can overcome their emotional dependency, start taking charge of your life, your relationships and regain a positive mood.

The goals of therapy should be directed at strengthening the resources of the dependent person in relation to their self-esteem, assertiveness and ability to self-fulfillment outside the scope of the relationship.

Before establishing the treatment plan it is necessary to explore the history of relationships and the style of linking the person to understand how well developed these strategies basis either to develop and overcome traumatic experiences, if any.

To improve self - esteem is oriented to the person to improve the internal dialogue and replace the negative bias in their self - assessment, begin to adequately meet their needs and assess their achievements.

On the other hand, Assertiveness is the ability to defend their own rights while respecting those of others, express opinions, feelings, reject inappropriate demands, clearly, directly and in a timely manner. Assertiveness would be in the middle of the two negative extremes of passivity or submission, on the one hand, and aggression on the other. For the person emotionally dependent, begin to behave-is assertively to your partner will trigger the fear of losing and can generate, at first, irrational feelings of fear or guilt, which must be treated and led back in therapy sessions.

Encourage and guide the dependent person to revive the family and before the start of the relationship friendship relations (isolation makes the person more dependent), to recover or find hobbies and progress professionally are also important goals of psychological therapy. This expands the opportunities for r staff ealización, social support and security and, consequently, reduce the relative weight of the couple (or the parent or other person who depends emotionally) in the life of the person caught in a relationship emotional dependence.



1. Moral, M. & Sirvent, C. (2009): affective and gender Unit: Symptomatic profile affective dependent differential in Spanish. Interamerican Journal of Psychology, vol.43 no.2.

2. Yela, C. (2003). The other side of love: myths, paradoxes and problems. Meetings in Social Psychology, 1, 2, 263-267.

3. May, D. (2000). Codependency: the controller unit; submissive dependence. Bilbao: Descle Brouwer SA.

4. Sannuti, A. (2006). Emotional dependence. Criterion magazine. April pag.2.

5. Castelló, J. (2005): Emotional characteristics and Treatment Unit. Madrid: Alliance.

6. Cano, A. (2006): Depression and marriage. Web site http: //

7. Tavares, H. and Zilberman, M. (2008). therapeutic group for pathological love. Revista Brasileira de Psychiatry, 30.

8. Schaeffer, B. (1998): Is it love or addiction? Spain: Apostrophe.

9. Lemos, M. & cols. (2007): Cognitive Distortions in people with emotional dependence. Psychological Reports, Vol. 9 No.. 9.

10. Norwood, R. (1985). Women who love too. Buenos Aires: Javier Vergara.

*Translated with Google translator. We apologize for any imperfection
 Lluís Maestre Funtané

By Lluís Maestre Funtané

*Translated with Google translator. We apologize for any imperfection

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