Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy

We live in a society that values independence. Certainly, going about our lives with a sense of autonomy—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.”

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.  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.  There are 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 you.

Copyright Kathi Whitten 2008