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Emotional Dependency or Emotional Responsibility

By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006

Are you dependent upon something external to you for your good feelings, such as food, drugs, alcohol, money, people, approval, attention, sex?

Emotional ResponsibilityEmotional dependency means getting one's good feelings from outside oneself. It means needing to get filled from outside rather than from within. Who or what do you believe is responsible for your emotional wellbeing?

There are numerous forms of emotional dependency:

  • Dependence on substances, such as food, drugs or alcohol, to fill emptiness and take away pain
  • Dependence on processes, such as spending, gambling or TV, also to fill emptiness and take away pain
  • Dependence on money to define one's worth and adequacy
  • Dependence on getting someone's love, approval or attention to feel worthy, adequate, lovable and safe
  • Dependence on sex to fill emptiness and feel adequate

When you do not take responsibility for defining your own adequacy and worth or for creating your own inner sense of safety, you will seek to feel adequate, worthy and safe externally. Whatever you do not give to yourself, you may seek from others, or from substances or processes. Emotional dependency is the opposite of taking personal responsibility for your emotional wellbeing. Yet many people have no idea that this is their responsibility, nor do they have any idea how to take this responsibility.


What does it mean to take emotional responsibility, rather than be emotionally dependent?

Primarily, it means recognizing that your feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, aloneness, jealousy, irritation and so on (what we call in Inner Bonding 'wounded feelings') come from your own thoughts, beliefs and behavior, rather than from others or from circumstances. Once you understand and accept that you create many of your own feelings, rather than your feelings coming from outside yourself, then you can begin to move beyond emotional dependency and start to take emotional responsibility.

For example, let's say someone you care about gets angry at you.

If you are emotionally dependent, you may feel rejected and believe that your feelings of rejection are coming from the other's anger. You might also feel hurt, scared, anxious, inadequate, shamed, angry, blaming or many other difficult feelings, in response to the other's anger. You might try many ways of getting the other person to not be angry in an effort to feel better.

However, if you are emotionally responsible, you will feel and respond entirely differently. The first thing you might do is to tell yourself that another person's anger has nothing to do with you. Perhaps that person is having a bad day and is taking it out on you. Perhaps that person is feeling hurt or inadequate and is trying to be one-up by putting you one-down. Whatever the reason for the other's anger, it is about them rather than about you. An emotionally responsible person does not take others' behavior personally, knowing that we have no control over others' feelings and behavior, and that we do not cause others to behave the way they do - that others are responsible for their feelings and behavior just as we are for ours.



The next thing an emotionally responsible person might do is move into compassion for the angry person, and open to learning about what is going on with them. For example, you might say, "I don't like your anger, but I am willing to understand what is upsetting you. Would you like to talk about it?" If the person refuses to stop being angry, or if you know ahead of time that this person is not going to open up, then, as an emotionally responsible person, you would take loving action in your own behalf. For example, you might say, "I'm unwilling to be at the other end of your anger. When you are ready to be open with me, let me know. Meanwhile, I'm going to take a walk (or hang up the phone, or leave the restaurant, or go into the other room). An emotionally responsible person gets out of range of attack, rather than trying to change the other person.

Once out of range, the emotionally responsible person goes inside and explores any core painful feelings (feelings that result from others and circumstances rather than from your own thoughts and actions) that might have resulted from the attack. For example, perhaps you are feeling lonely as a result of being attacked, and helpless over the other person. An emotionally responsible person embraces the feelings of loneliness and helplessness with understanding and compassion, holding them just as you would hold a sad child. When you acknowledge and embrace the core feelings of loneliness, heartache, heartbreak, and helplessness over others, you allow them to move through you quickly, so you can move back into peace.


No Longer a Victim...

Rather than being a victim of the other's behavior, you have taken emotional responsibility for yourself. Instead of staying stuck in feeling angry, hurt, blaming, afraid, anxious or inadequate, or in the core painful feelings of loneliness, helplessness or heartache, you have moved yourself back into feeling safe and peaceful.

When you realize that your feelings are your responsibility, you can move out of emotional dependency. This will make a huge difference within you and with all of your relationships. Relationships thrive when each person moves out of emotional dependency and into emotional responsibility, and Inner Bonding is a powerful process for doing this.

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."

Join IBVillage to connect with others and receive compassionate help and support for learning to love yourself.

Photo by Allef Vinicius


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