Emotional Dependency

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Emotional Dependency

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Strong, independent and confident are just a few words that come to mind when I think of her--and for a long time I was thinking of her way too much. I wish I had those qualities, and at times I wish I could be like her in every way. Being five years my senior, and a bit of a tomboy, I see her as the epitome of cool. From exotic destinations she has traveled in service to the Church, to her carefree strength of character, she is unlike any young woman I know.

The times I have spent with her, in person, on the phone and through e-mail, have left me with a wide spectrum of emotions, from absolute elation and a sense of being special to hollowness and rejection. I have come to realize I am emotionally dependent on her.

At age 22, when most young women are looking for "Mr. Right," I am in search of a best girlfriend--a friendship that I imagine to be similar to David and Jonathan's, filled with mental, emotional and spiritual intimacy.

But while the mature friendship of David and Jonathan was harmless and healthy, my feelings toward my friend are not altogether healthy. In my attempts to find such a connection, I have found myself struggling with emotional dependency and idolization.

Emotional dependency is a common issue found in same-sex attraction, especially in female homosexuality, where generally speaking, "…emotional attraction plays a more critical role than does sexual attraction" (Andria L. Sigler-Smalz, clinical pastoral counselor, Understanding the Lesbian Client, www.narth.com). At the same time it is also a common problem for individuals outside the homosexual struggle.

So what exactly is emotional dependency? It can be described as a consuming, unhealthy attachment to one person. It can also be stated as depending on getting good feelings from outside oneself; relying on an outside source to fill what feels like an empty well on the inside.

The following are a few traits commonly found in emotional dependency:

Meghan spends time with Jen every chance she gets.

When she is not with her, she is talking or thinking about her.

Meghan e-mails or calls Jen several times a week.

Meghan is always giving Jen gifts.

Meghan feels rejected or becomes jealous when Jen spends time with others or when a lack of attention is shown to her.

She can become extremely hurt by little things Jen does or does not do. At the same time, Meghan can become extremely happy over little things, such as receiving a phone call from Jen or sitting with her at church.

Meghan finds herself becoming physically attracted to Jen.

The list above is only an example. Not all characteristics of emotional dependency are listed, neither do all listed characteristics apply to every single case of emotional dependency. This list can apply to both same-gender as well as opposite-gender relationships. (Information provided by Exodus International).

As you can see, Meghan is emotionally dependent on Jen. The way in which Jen interacts with her greatly affects how she feels about herself and about life in general. As long as there is regular contact and positive interactions between the two, Meghan feels a sense of self-worth, security, acceptance and love from Jen. For a time Meghan's emotional "cravings" are filled.

But her emotional equilibrium requires continual "feeding" from Jen through such things as phone calls, e-mails, gift giving and time together. If this does not occur (Jen spends time with others, fails to return calls and e-mails or acts in ways that seem distant or cold), Meghan experiences huge plunge in her emotions from "highs" of self-worth and love, to "lows" of worthlessness, abandonment and deep sadness and depression. This drastic change in emotion can occur over an extended period of time or in just a matter of minutes.

As with same-sex attraction, there are legitimate needs behind the harmful behavior of emotional dependency. Meghan has a genuine need for love, friendship, affirmation and leadership. However, she has a number of false beliefs when it comes to who she is and the way to fill her emotional needs:

I have no innate self-worth.

I never fit in with other people.

When someone tells me "no" or asks me to stop, that equals rejection.

Physical affection equals love.

I need to be someone's "favorite."

Someday I will find "the one" who will meet all of my needs.

If I share my friend, I will lose her (information from Exodus Youth).

Let me share some of the lessons I have learned and am still learning. As Christians, we must always remember that through God and a relationship with Him, we have infinite worth! He created all of mankind for a purpose--to be His children. No human can ever provide us with greater self-worth than our loving Father and Creator. He offers a healthy dependency on Him by which we can attain lasting fulfillment: emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Depending on people more than God is misplaced dependency! "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God" (Psalm 146:3-5).

As someone who struggled with emotional dependency and worked hard to overcome, I know the process of change is not only difficult but also painful. But I am learning and growing. If you have a similar struggle, you, too, can rely on God to help you learn and grow so that eventually you will have a wide circle of healthy relationships.

I take solace from the following passages: "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid…for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:6). And, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7).