We live in a society that values independence. Certainly, going about
our lives with a sense of independence—a feeling we are in charge of
our lives and working toward goals—is one sign of maturity. But,
sometimes it seems as though we go so far in the direction of valuing
independence that we overlook the true importance of our very real
dependency needs and even at times consider them a “weakness.”
I believe there is confusion about healthy dependence in adults. In
fact, we have coined the terms “enabling” or “codependent” to refer
specifically to someone who promotes inappropriate dependence in someone
else. I find that some people think true, important dependency needs,
that we all have throughout our lives, are the same as the insecure
attempts of an “enabler” or “codependent person” who is trying to ensure
that someone won’t ever leave them.
Enabling and codependency are about fear and personal insecurity.
I’d like to speak up for the often misunderstood urges we have to feel
and act upon our normal dependence needs with others. For some there is
a sense that once we have passed through adolescence we shouldn’t have
these needs anymore. They find the idea of “needing” or “depending” on
someone embarrassing or frightening.
We all need other people. In any relationship, there are times when
we have a physical or emotional need that can only be met by someone
else. The need for comfort, the need for partnership, guidance and
support in life projects, the simple need for companionship and
closeness, the need for knowing one is not alone in facing life. It is
not the dependency needs that are problematic, it is how we attempt to
disguise them or the guilt some people feel for even having such needs.
We need things from each other. For some it is relatively easy to ask
that these needs be met. These people do not hesitate to ask for help
in changing a flat tire, for help with childcare, with a desire to talk
about important things, and especially, to seek affection. Others feel
very conflicted about these kinds of things—believing that asking is the
same as revealing a weakness, or that one should not “have to” ask.
Others should just “know” what they need. Anxiety, depression,
addictions, low self-esteem, long-simmering anger, resentment and
jealousy—often have their roots in mixed up feelings about how one gets
personal needs met, or the pain of not having had them appropriately met
in the past.
Often in psychotherapy, there is a focus on sorting out what a
person’s basic needs are, and helping them arrive at positive ways of
getting them met. Sometimes this is best achieved working in individual
sessions; at other times- it works more effectively to meet with a
couple or an entire family. If you believe that your true needs are not
being met in a healthy way, perhaps psychotherapy would be helpful to
Copyright Kathi Whitten 2008