Emotional addiction takes on different images. Most often we cannot imagine life without a partner, but there are times when another person is the centre of our attention. We want to spend every free moment with a child, a friend, a mother, a sister or a spiritual guide. We also sometimes visit the hairdresser, beautician or doctor too often because these professionals give us the attention we lack. The healthiest relationships are formed by those of us who observe in ourselves a balance between the need for connection and autonomy. At times, independence scares us, so we prefer to cling to others. We treat them as a guarantee of our security. This is due to the misconception that we cannot cope with the simplest activities by ourselves and that we will die as a result. We have an inadequate image of ourselves and reality. It is worth understanding that we are no longer small children dependent on caregivers. We can take care of ourselves. When we suffer from dependence on a partner, we treat him like a drug. We want to spend every free moment with him or her. We get angry when he spends time with other people or even animals. We don’t like it when he stays longer at a board meeting or goes on a business trip. We feel tremendous anxiety when a partner goes into hospital or becomes seriously ill. However, this does not stem from a real concern for his or her health, but from the fear that we will not be able to cope on our own. The other person is the one who provides us with support, but we do not know how to do the same ourselves. We behave like a small child who has been deprived of a parent’s care and may die. Emotional dependence on the other person results in an imbalance of symmetry and balance in the relationship. It is often accompanied by a need for excessive control and inadequate jealousy. We assume that because he has a password on his phone, he is probably hiding something from us. She has gone full make-up, so she is looking for an opportunity to cheat. The break-up appears to us as a major life-threatening drama. We are constantly feeling strongly aroused because we remain in standby mode. The aforementioned situation drains us heavily of energy. It is not uncommon for us to surround our partner, showing excessive concern for his health. Our attitude overwhelms him or her and gives rise to a desire to run away. We do not realise that we are acting to our own detriment and increasing the risk of the worst-case scenario coming true.
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How do you recognise an addiction to another person?
Addiction to another person is most easily recognised by the fact that the need for connection dominates our need for autonomy. We want to spend every moment together. We are panicky about losing our partner. We are frightened by the prospect of a break-up, because we assume that we cannot cope alone. We prioritise our partner’s needs. If we have to prepare dinner for them or relax, we choose the former, even if we are weak at the knees. We give up our own passions and social gatherings because we subordinate everything to the need to be together. We believe that by fulfilling our partner’s expectations, including unspoken ones, we provide stability to our relationship. Sometimes emotional dependence on a partner manifests itself in the fact that we put up with mistreatment without a word of complaint. We allow our partner to blame us for his or her misbehaviour. He or she shifts responsibility to us for his or her infidelities, alcohol abuse or problems at work. If we are suffering from an addiction to the other person, the symptoms are often difficult to pick up. Society promotes excessive care and overprotectiveness as a virtue. As a result, others praise us for cooking a two-course dinner after work and baking a cake for our partner to please them.
Types of addiction to a partner
Emotional dependence on a partner takes many forms. Sometimes it occurs in a relationship with someone who represents a secure type of relationship and then there is the best chance of breaking the vicious circle. Sometimes people pair up because they are attracted to each other by their own deficits. She/he wants nurturing and he/she wants a submissive and completely subservient person.
Discussing the types of dependency on a partner, we can distinguish:
-Emotional dependence on a well-intentioned partner – one party tries to entrap and control the other. Her excessive care and interest overwhelms her in the long run. The partner is fed up with resentment for not spending every free moment together. He or she lacks autonomy;
-Dependence on a toxic partner – the party who is consumed by caring for the other person may not have previously shown such tendencies. The unhealthy relationship they find themselves in has triggered certain actions in them. The toxic partner, using manipulative techniques, has made her dependent and taken away her sovereignty;
-economic dependency – some people feel obliged to meet their partner’s needs before they are spoken for. They devote all their attention to him or her, at the expense of their own expectations, passions and personal development paths. They do this because the partner is exploiting their financial advantage. They are afraid that without his money they cannot cope.
Love versus emotional addiction – where does it come from?
When I discuss the issue of emotional addiction versus love, many people are surprised to find that their obsessive thoughts about their partner have nothing to do with this feeling. When we love someone, we give them freedom, we do not entrap them. We enter into a relationship to support each other. To take, but also to give something from each other. A romantic relationship enriches our lives, but we can do without it because we have a well-developed sense of agency. Emotional dependency is often the legacy of a difficult childhood. An overprotective parent who suppressed our independence because they wanted to feel needed did not allow healthy autonomy to develop. An anxious-ambivalent attachment style causes us to try to tune into our partner so that we can count on their support and love. If we play the role of mascot for years in a dysfunctional family, we do not mature emotionally. We expect others, including our partner, to take care of us, make decisions for us and bear the consequences. Emotional dependency is a problem we often experience when our need for security has not been met by our parents. It also arises as a result of a lack of attention from caregivers and a great hunger for unconditional love that a partner is unable to offer. At the same time, what he or she gives flies out through the hole in the basket of needs.
Where does emotional addiction come from?
The causes of emotional addiction often go back to childhood and previous failed relationships. These include:
-a fear of responsibility and of bearing the consequences of our own choices – feeling this, we prefer others to decide. We may then blame them for unforeseen outcomes;
-parental overprotection – this hinders the development of healthy autonomy and makes us believe that we can’t manage anything on our own;
-the role of the mascot – growing up in a dysfunctional family, we take on different roles in order to survive. The mascot is adorable, parents often indulge it and treat it better than the other children. If we are the one playing her, we are looking for a partner who will take care of us;
-low self-esteem – when this manifests itself, we fear that without a partner by our side, we won’t be able to earn our own keep and deal with our problems. We fail to see our own resources and potential;
-a pattern of subordination from the family home – as children, we remain dependent on the care of our parents. Sometimes we can only count on their care if we act according to their expectations. We therefore learn to be submissive and attuned to others;
– a gaping basket of needs – no matter how hard a partner tries, we are still not enough. We think we could spend more time together. When we go away for a weekend together, we still resent the other person for staying an hour longer at work on Monday. Our basket of needs is a hole, so everything the partner puts into it flies out the bottom;
-an uncut umbilical cord with our parents – if carers gobble us up for themselves, rather than supporting our autonomy, we learn that love is about merging with the other person. When a partner resists because they have struck a balance between the need for connection and autonomy, we assume they don’t love us;
-emotional dependence on a toxic partner – sometimes when we enter a relationship, we are autonomous. The other person uses manipulative techniques through which we become dependent on them. He or she knows that we will not object to his or her ideas and will remain submissive when he or she threatens to do something to us. Camouflaged psychological violence makes us start to doubt ourselves and our self-esteem plummets;
-a failed relationship – if our ex has abandoned us overnight or kept an emotional distance, in the next relationship we try to ingratiate ourselves with our partner. We believe that by acting in this way, we reduce the risk of rejection.
Symptoms of partner addiction
When we suffer from partner addiction, symptoms most often include:
-over-fitting in with your partner;
-trying to second-guess your partner’s needs;
-blaming oneself for one’s partner’s emotional state, decisions and health condition;
-supporting your partner’s harmful attitudes, e.g. buying beer for your alcohol-addicted husband;
-striving to spend every free moment together. When the partner goes out with friends once a month, we complain about loneliness in the relationship;
-negative beliefs about the partner’s motivations – on his/her part, it’s just a relationship out of habit, if he/she finds someone better, he/she will leave me;
-the inability to live alone, entering into a new relationship just after the old one has ended;
-not being able to make their own decisions;
-taking on the role of a child to be looked after by the partner.
Is addiction to another person dangerous?
For many of us, emotional dependence on another person seems hardly dangerous. This is because the common perception is that because he or she cares so much, he or she loves you very much. As we struggle with our dependence on our partner, we fail to see that we are doing something for ourselves, not for the other person. We want to earn their love and ensure the stability of the relationship through our efforts. We are driven by a fear of independence.
Emotional dependence on a partner causes a lot of damage.
-It destroys the relationship because it creates a sense of entrapment, the other party does not satisfy his or her healthy need for autonomy.
-It contributes to neglecting one’s own needs because we prioritise our partner’s expectations.
– It hinders self-fulfilment because we devote all resources to ‘strengthening’ the relationship.
-Takes attention away from shared children, as we show all our interest in our partner and expect them to do the same.
-Produces withdrawal symptoms, including excessive irritability and aggression, which we feel when our partner is away on business.
-Promotes toxic relationships that we enter with people who take advantage of our vulnerability. We give our partner the last of our money for alcohol or drugs, tolerate numerous infidelities and even justify violence. Emotionally dependent people often gravitate towards narcissists and individuals with psychopathic traits.
– It increases the risk of depression; it has been shown that 80% of addicts face a drop in mood.
How do you recover from emotional addiction?
Do you notice symptoms in yourself that indicate an addiction to your partner? How do you successfully break free from this toxic relationship and make it healthier? Very often we want to work on ourselves and our deficits. We are ashamed to confide our secrets to another person. We are subconsciously afraid of confronting uncomfortable truths. Our parents’ defence mechanism gets activated. We prefer to deny dysfunctions in the family home because we were once completely dependent on caregivers as children. We are driven by misunderstood loyalty. We can overcome emotional dependence with the help of an experienced psychotherapist. The problem usually goes deeper and cannot be solved in a few consultations. Jeffrey Young talked about schemas, or strategies for coping with certain situations. Emotional dependency used to help us survive, but today it harms us because it is maladaptive. Psychotherapy plays a key role in its treatment.
How do we treat dependence on our partner?
If we suffer from emotional addiction, it is worth starting treatment with a psychological consultation. During this, the therapist will assess whether they are able to help us. Different specialists work in different streams and excel in different issues. We also have the opportunity to find out whether the psychotherapist is suitable for us. If we come to an agreement with him, we conclude a therapy contract. It is important that the specialist inspires our trust, because treatment requires sincerity. Emotional addiction to your partner – how to treat it? This is an addiction with a behavioural basis, which is dealt with by attending psychotherapy. It allows us to see destructive beliefs and replace them with more realistic ones. Our thoughts influence our emotions, actions and physiological reactions. When we stop seeing ourselves as vulnerable and incapable, we open up to autonomy. Treatment for emotional addiction usually takes a little longer, sometimes even several years. When the behavioural addiction is deeply rooted, schema therapy will prove to be a good solution. This was developed by Jeffrey Young. It draws on the achievements of cognitive behavioural therapy as well as psychodynamic, Gestalt and Bowlby’s attachment theory.
Test for addiction to another person
How do you recognise emotional addiction in a relationship? It is best to seek professional psychological consultation. An experienced professional will assess the reported difficulties and recommend therapy if necessary. You may find it helpful to answer the following questions honestly. Try to avoid self-censorship and justifying your choices.
-Do you feel guilty about your partner’s mistakes? E.g. do you hold yourself responsible for him forgetting to go to the doctor?
-Do you tend to make excuses for your partner, even if he or she acts inappropriately by being violent or getting into fights with you?
-Do you support your partner in his/her bad habits, e.g. buying a beer for an alcoholic person?
-Do you take responsibility for your partner’s anger and his numerous infidelities?
-Do you refuse to visit your mum/friend because you ‘have’ to cook him dinner when he comes home from work?
-Have you cut off contact with others in order to give your partner your full attention?
-Have you given up work/study to care for your partner?
-Do you see your partner’s needs as more important than your own?
-Do you make your decisions dependent on your partner?
-Do you remain financially dependent on your partner?
– Does your partner’s mood shape your mood?
-Do you control your partner by checking their phone and computer?
-Do you try to guess your partner’s needs in order to automatically satisfy them?
-Do you forbid your partner from meeting other people?
-Do you feel jealousy because of your partner’s work and at times when he/she takes care of your child/dog?
– Do you think that true love is about spending every moment together?
-Do you want to leave a toxic relationship but are held back by the thought that you can’t cope?
– Do you let your partner make all the important decisions that affect both of you?
The more yes answers you get to the above questions, the more likely it is that you are struggling with an emotional addiction. It is worth consulting a psychotherapist so that a firm diagnosis can be made and the optimum form of treatment indicated.
Emotional dependence on a person seems to many of us a harmless affliction. Very often we do not even notice it, because we confuse it with devotion and care. In a healthy relationship, there is room for both bonding and autonomy. Ideally, both components are in dynamic balance. Those of us with emotional dependency have difficulty experiencing our autonomy. They fear that they cannot manage on their own, so they do everything to avoid losing their partner. They give up their own needs and plans for him. Sometimes they do this under pressure, but they also do it of their own free will. If you notice symptoms in yourself that indicate an emotional addiction, you should seek professional psychological support. Treatment for this condition is often necessary. It has been shown to lead to an improved quality of life and often saves a relationship. The partner feels cornered by our excessive preoccupation. He or she wishes to gain space to undertake independent activities. Because of the overwhelm, he or she sometimes considers breaking up. Psychotherapy in the treatment of emotional addiction plays a key role. It helps to get to the wrong beliefs about relationships and replace them with more supportive counterparts. This entails changing emotions, physiological reactions and behaviour. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on this premise. Sometimes the causes of emotional dependence on another person go much deeper, in which case it is worth considering schema psychotherapy. This is long-term in nature, whereas CBT is short-term (several sessions). Given that the partner also suffers from our emotional addiction, couples therapy is very often recommended. It allows both parties to openly express their needs and to understand that a healthy romantic relationship is based on a balance between the need for connection and autonomy.