Since mindfulness assists us in better self awareness, it can help with issues of unhealthy dependency on others. In fact, I believe it is crucial to overcoming this destructive habit. Using mindfulness for unhealthy dependency helps your reactive behavior improve. People with unhealthy dependency issues, react compulsively, unaware of their surroundings. Their emotions are so wrapped up in someone’s else’s, they can’t distinguish which emotions belong to them.
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday where we learn each week to increase self-awareness, presence in the current moment and responsiveness over reaction. This week we’ll look briefly at unhealthy dependency; recognizing and addressing core symptoms. Unhealthy dependency is prevalent in today’s culture, but rarely recognized for its destructive behavior. Often characterized by anxiety, it may lead to attempts to control others. Using mindfulness for unhealthy dependency, helps quiet racing thoughts and promotes calmness.
what is Unhealthy dependency?
Unhealthy dependency occurs when you develop an extreme need for approval and recognition from others. This problem closely relates to Codependency, a learned behavior where the individual enables another’s addiction, irresponsibility or immaturity. Neglecting their own needs to meet another’s needs. They do this because of their excessive reliance on other people’s approval for their identity. Unhealthy dependency can occur without complete codependency. A dysfunctional dependency becomes manipulative and controlling, but with seemingly “good” intentions. This means they gain their identity and value from “rescuing” their partner. They fear abandonment, so often stay in abusive or destructive relationships. Instead of “fixing” their partner they end up enabling irresponsible or destructive behavior in an unchanged partner. Resulting in a type of “addiction”, because they think they will gain their partner’s love through their rescue efforts.
The other side to this destructive coin manifests itself in unhealthy expectations of others to meet needs. This person relies completely on their partner, parent, sibling or friend to meet all of their emotional needs. Not only is this expectation unrealistic, but often the dependent person fails to express the needs. All of these symptoms are rooted in a lack of self awareness and proper self image. Using mindfulness for unhealthy dependency offers a building block, but first we need a foundation based on truth.
signs of unhealthy dependency
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- Tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
- A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Chronic anger
- Poor communications
- Expectation of others to meet their unspoken needs
who am i?
As I struggled with unhealthy dependency issues for years, I didn’t realize I was asking this question. Who Am I? Every time I answered that question it related to someone else. I was Tom’s wife, my child’s mother, or a Bible Study group’s teacher. Defining my identity by what I accomplished or who I cared for. If my husband or children failed to acknowledge or appreciate me, I felt rejected. If my husband or children made poor choices I viewed myself as the failure. I also put incredible pressure on them and others to meet my needs while often failing to express what exactly I needed. I couldn’t be myself because I didn’t know who that was apart from others or a “position”.
Though a Christian for many years, I failed to fully understand my identity, hope and worth were in Christ. Only He fully knew me and my needs. When ultimately coming to the place where I felt completely alone, hopeless and a complete failure, I finally understood the truth of who I was. I was not defined by my past, my family, my relationships, my abilities, my accomplishments, or my appearance. The approval of others or lack of approval did not define me.
Speaking Truth in the Midst of Lies
Recognizing the lies I believed for so long got me nowhere, these truths spoken to my soul brought life, renewal, hope and freedom.
- I am created in the Image of God. As an image bearer, I have worth. Genesis 1:27
- My birth and existence are not a mistake. God knew me in my mother’s womb Psalm 139:13-16
- My life has purpose. God has an intentional plan for me. Ephesians 2:10
- I am loved, chosen and accepted. God loved me first, and gave His life to redeem me. Jeremiah 31:3, John 3:16.
Getting clear on who I am in Christ freed me from a performance mentality, seeking the approval of others, and expecting others to meet needs that only God can meet. My anxiety of trying to control outcomes, people and their behavior lessened. I saw how hard I worked at ensuring everyone in my life did “the right thing”. And I knew why I did it; because that meant I succeeded, I was “good”. Learning to trust the God who loved me so much to meet my needs, helped me stop pressuring others to meet unspoken needs. And finally using mindfulness for unhealthy dependency issues in my life.
how mindfulness helps unhealthy dependency
Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining complete awareness of your thoughts, emotions and experiences moment by moment without judgement. Apart from basic needs, people with unhealthy dependency have little awareness of their real needs. They suffer from racing minds dominated by anxiety fueled by their efforts to control outcomes. Mindfulness promotes a mind body connection bringing recognition to reactive or compulsive behavior.
Practicing mindfulness also brings attention back to your own thoughts and feelings. This allows you to tune into your own needs as a priority. It also allows you to view your thoughts without judgement. Viewing thoughts without judgement allows you to notice unhealthy thought patterns before you act on them. This greatly helped me notice when I slipped back into manipulating people and situations to gain approval and reinforce identity.
using mindfulness for unhealthy dependency
Trying these two mindfulness techniques will bring awareness to unhealthy dependency thought patterns. Resulting in less reactivity, promoting awareness and healthy responses.
I discussed this in more detail in a previous post. Please review that post for full details. But this is a short, 5-7 minute exercise to tune into what you are feeling. Sitting quietly, eyes closed, with your focus on your breath, gently inhaling and exhaling. After a moment or two of breathing, focus on physical sensations and any feelings or thoughts that come up. Acknowledge them, but don’t judge or latch onto them. Notice how your body feels, and try to identify an emotion you may be feeling in connection with the physical sensation. Simply note it; “that’s what fear, anger, sadness, etc. feels like in my body.” Acknowledge any thoughts that come up without following them. Notice the thoughts connected to the emotions. End in a moment of gratitude, slowly resume your day. This can be done as often as you wish.
Letting Go of Thoughts
Again, sitting quietly, eyes closed with your focus on the breath, gently inhaling and exhaling. For this mindfulness exercise it helps to use a specific breathing technique. You can choose one from my FREE “Calming Techniques Guide”, offered at the end of this post. After completing the breathing exercise, focus on any thoughts that come up. Acknowledge them without judgement, noticing what emotions they create. After noticing each thought, visualize yourself placing that thought inside a balloon and releasing it. End your time with a moment of gratitude, slowly resume your day. This can be done as often as you feel the need.
creating healthy dependency
Healthy dependency involves mutual give and take; both people give and receive support, encouragement and practical help. This type of dependency increases self-esteem, mastery, and confidence, and it promotes loving feelings, mutual respect, and a sense of emotional safety in relationships. Most importantly, healthy dependence doesn’t compromise your identity. Learning to recognize unhealthy thought patterns and behavior is the first step to healing. If however, in exploring unhealthy dependency issues in your life you realize deeper issues may exist, please seek professional help. The mindfulness techniques offered here are meant to support healing, but are not a cure in themselves. Sometimes more intensive counseling offers the necessary avenue to recovery.
Also, these mindfulness techniques are not a once and done miracle pill. Learning correct self awareness and addressing unhealthy thought patterns requires ongoing effort. I still struggle with unhealthy dependency issues, but recognize them more quickly now and employ healthy responses. Reminding myself of Biblical truth regarding my identity in Christ and relying on God to meet my needs encourages a healthy view of myself and others. Finding my security and worth in God freed me to be who He created me to be, grow personally and enjoy healthy, mutual relationships.