Dependence on other people is a kind of addiction and, therefore, fulfills important mental health functions.
First, it is an organizing principle: it serves to explain behaviors and events within a coherent “narrative” (fictional story) or frame of reference (“I acted this way because …”).
Second, it gives meaning to life.
Third, the constant ups and downs satisfy your need for excitement and thrills.
Fourth, and most crucially, your addiction and emotional lability place you at the center of attention and allow you to manipulate people around you to do your bidding.
So, while you can surely survive without your intimate partner, you believe (erroneously) that you cannot go on living without your addiction to him or her. You experience your dependence as a warm and familiar comfort zone. You are addicted to and dependent on your dependence, but you attribute its source to boyfriends, mates, spouses, children, parents – anyone who happens to fit the bill and the plot of your narrative. They come and go – your addiction remains intact; they are interchangeable – your dependence is immutable.
So, what can you do about it?
Extreme cases of codependence (known as Dependent or Borderline Personality Disorders) require professional help. Luckily, most people with dependent traits and behaviors are clustered somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of dependence.
1. Help yourself by realizing that the world never comes to an end when relationships do: it is your dependence which reacts with desperation, not you.
2. Next, analyze your addiction: what are the stories and narratives that underlie it? Do you tend to idealize your intimate partner? If so, can you see him or her in a more realistic light? Are you anxious about being abandoned? Why? Have you been traumatically abandoned in the past, as a child, perhaps?
3. Write down the worst possible scenario: the relationship is over and s/he leaves you. Is your physical survival at stake? Of course not.
4. Make a list of the consequences of the breakup and write next to each one what you can and intend to do about it. Armed with this plan of action, you are bound to feel safer and more confident.
5. Finally, make sure to share your thoughts, fears, and emotions with friends and family. Social support is indispensable. One good friend is worth a hundred therapy sessions.
(First published in the blog “So What I Really Meant”)