01 Apr Dependency | Part A’
I define dependency as the inability to experience wholeness or to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another. Dependency in physical healthy adults is pathological-it is sick, always a manifestation of a mental illness or defect. It is to be distinguished from what are commonly referred to as dependency needs or feelings. We all-each and every one of us-even if we try to pretend to others and to ourselves that we don’t-have dependency needs and feelings. All of us have desires to be babied, to be nurtured without effort on our parts, to be cared for by persons stronger than us who have our interests truly at heart. No matter how strong we are, no matter how caring and responsible and adult, if we look clearly into ourselves we will find the wish to be taken care of for a change. Each one of us, no matter how old and mature, looks for and would like to have in his or her life a satisfying mother figure and father figure. But for most of us these desires or feelings do not rule our lives; they are not the predominant theme of our existence. When they do rule our lives and dictate the quality of our existence, then we have something more than just dependency needs or feelings; we are dependent. Specifically, one whose life is ruled and dictated by dependency needs suffers from a psychiatric disorder to which we ascribe the diagnostic name “passive dependent personality disorder.” It is perhaps the most common of all psychiatric disorders.
People with this disorder, passive dependent people, are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to love. They are like starving people, scrounging wherever they can for food, and with no food of their own to give to others. It is as if within them they have an inner emptiness, a bottomless pit crying out to be filled but which can never be completely filled. They never feel “full-filled” or have a sense of completeness. They always feel “a part of me is missing.” They tolerate loneliness very poorly. Because of their lack of wholeness they have no real sense of identity, and they define themselves solely by their relationships.
A thirty-year-old punch press operator, extremely depressed, came to see me three days after his wife had left him, taking their two children. She had threatened to leave him three times before, complaining of his total lack of attention to her and the children. Each time he had pleaded with her to remain and had promised to change, but his change had never lasted more than a day, and this time she had carried out her threat. He had not slept for two nights, was trembling with anxiety, had tears streaming down his face and was seriously contemplating suicide. “I can’t live without my family,” he said, weeping, “I love them so.”
“I’m puzzled,” I said to him. “You’ve told me that your wife’s complaints were valid, that you never did anything for her, that you came home only when you pleased, that you weren’t interested in her sexually or emotionally, that you wouldn’t even talk to the children for months on end, that you never played with them or took them anywhere. You have no relationship with any of your family, so I don’t understand why you’re so depressed over the loss of a relation-ship that never existed.”
“Don’t you see?” he replied. “I’m nothing now. Nothing. I have no wife. I have no children. I don’t know who I am. I may not care for them, but I must love them. I am nothing without them.” Because he was so seriously depressed-having lost the identity that his family gave him-I made an appointment to see him again two days later. I expected little improvement. But when he returned he bounced into the office grinning cheerfully and announced, “Everything’s OK now.” “Did you get back together with your family?” I asked. “Oh, no,” he replied happily, “I haven’t heard from them since I saw you. But I did meet a girl last night down at my bar. She said she really likes me. She’s separated, just like me. We’ve got a date again tonight. I feel like I’m human once more. I guess I don’t have to see you again.”
This rapid changeability is characteristic of passive dependent individuals. It is as if it does not matter whom they are dependent upon as long as there is just someone. It does not matter what their identity is as long as there is someone to give it to them. Consequently their relationships, although seemingly dramatic in their intensity, are actually extremely shallow. Because of the strength of their sense of inner emptiness and the hunger to fill it, passive dependent people will brook no delay in gratifying their need for others.
The inner feeling of emptiness from which passive dependent people suffer is the direct result of their parents’ failure to fulfill their needs for affection, attention and care during their child-hood. As also indicated in the previous section, love and discipline go hand in hand, so that unloving, uncaring parents are people lacking in discipline, and when they fail to provide their children with a sense of being loved, they also fail to provide them with the capacity for selfdiscipline.Thus the excessive dependency of the passive dependent individuals is only the principal manifestation of their personality disorder. Passive dependent people lack self-discipline. They are unwilling or unable to delay gratification of their hunger for attention. In their desperation to form and preserve attachments they throw honesty to the winds. They cling to outworn relationships when they should give them up.Most important, they lack a sense of responsibility for themselves. They passively look to others, frequently even their own children, as the source of their happiness and fulfillment, and therefore when they are not happy or fulfilled they basically feel that others are responsible. Consequently they are endlessly angry, because they endlessly feel let down by others who can never in reality fulfill all their needs or “make” them happy.
The road less traveled