I grew up with a mom who served her family tirelessly. She was devoted to my dad despite his growing problem with alcohol. Emotional dependency. When she had fallen in love with him, he was a young man full of life, but over the years, a dark cloud of depression overtook him. She met him when she was 16, married him when she was 19, had her first child at 20, and she didn’t know what else to do but just to hang on.
As a little girl, I watched her adore a man who became more and more emotionally and verbally abusive. I couldn’t understand why she would tolerate his behavior. Little did I know that what I was watching in my family would impact me in dramatic ways. Over the years, my dad sought out help and lived out the rest of his life sober, and in peace and joy. He and my mom both drew close to God and recovery brought renewal to both of their lives and to their marriage.
When I was 20, I met a charming man who swept me off my feet. It wasn’t long before he began to cheat and lie and I tolerated it over and over again. In subtle and not so subtle ways, he would communicate that I was not enough. And I believed him. It took five years for me to finally end that relationship, but the spiritual, psychological, and emotional damage had taken a toll on me.
For many years after that, I continued to seek security and validation from men. I lost myself with each hookup. I acted as though I had it all together, but inside I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I had learned by watching my mom that finding and pleasing a man was the way to self-worth. And of course, that was a lie.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was dealing with emotional dependency. Many women and men do.
Emotional dependency is when you allow others to define your inner worth and your identity. When you’re emotionally dependent, you’re compulsively seeking other people’s approval and attention in an attempt to secure your own sense of self-worth. It doesn’t work but you keep trying.
When you’re emotionally dependent, you’re so compelled to meet other people‘s needs that you neglect your own in detrimental ways. Eventually, you can get completely out of touch with who you are and what you feel. It becomes like you’re on automatic pilot trying to do the next good thing for someone so they’ll like you and think highly of you.
Even though I had wandered far from God, somehow God began leading me out of the cycle I was in. I began to make some different choices. I stopped compulsively seeking validation from men. I began attending a support group for women dealing with emotional dependency. I began to live in more healthy ways, like exercising and spending time in nature.
The man who eventually became my husband was very different from anyone I’d dated before. He was kind and honest and he would say to me, “You don’t need me as much as you think you do.“ Those were powerful words that I needed to hear.
I continued to struggle with tendencies toward emotional dependency, but through the years, God has shown me that He’s the only one who has the power and responsibility to tell me who I am or how I should live my life. And so I continue, day to day, to seek affirmation and my identity in my relationship with Jesus, and God is continuing to heal me through his faithfulness and love.
If you struggle with emotional dependency, there is great hope. Through my work at Regeneration, I watch in awe as He brings healing and redemption to the lives of so many who struggle with this. His love is truly powerful. It is changing their lives, changing mine, and it can change yours.
Please leave a comment: If you’re a man or woman who has struggled with emotional dependency, what has helped or is helping you? Leave a comment below.