Exercises to Work on Emotional Dependence

People with emotional dependency experience a constant fear of abandonment in their day to day life. We suggest five exercises to break the chains of this type of link.
Exercises to Work on Emotional Dependence

Last update: 21 July, 2022

Emotional dependence involves a series of chain reactions. The main characteristic is the struggle to feel emotionally close to another person for fear of abandonment. In fact, the efforts to be close to the other, avoiding the discomfort caused by the non-reciprocity of feelings, can be the main source of suffering.

Symptoms caused by emotional dependency range from obsessive reactions to depressive symptoms. As a consequence, the sufferer narrows their focus to increase their efforts to be close to the other, losing focus on other areas that are important in their life.

Emotional dependency

Emotional dependence is an extreme and affective need that a person feels toward their partner. Its characteristics can be summed up in a certain submission toward the loved one, obsessive thoughts, and a great fear of being abandoned by them.

In emotional dependence, the partner is often idealized. That said, the fear the sufferer experiences in the face of abandonment or rejection by their partner decreases if they find another person in whom to deposit their emotional need.

Here are the most common characteristics of emotionally dependent people:

  • They tend to be afraid of change and the unknown.
  • They seek out partners from early adolescence.
  • The characteristics of their partners tend to follow a pattern. In fact, partners are usually more authoritarian than themselves.
  • They lack social skills.
  • They desire exclusivity in their relationship.
  • They’ll prioritize their partner over anything or anyone else
  • They take on the beliefs of their partner.
  • They turn to other people to build their confidence and self-esteem.
  • They’re afraid of loneliness.
Crying woman hugging her partner
Emotional dependence prevents people from having freedom and being autonomous.

Insecure attachment and emotional dependence

Bowlby was one of the pioneers in the study of attachment figures in childhood (1980). For this author, attachment consisted of the emotional bond between the child and their parents as a vehicle of security and correct emotional development.

Additionally, Bowlby studied the separation anxiety that some children presented after the withdrawal of their attachment figures. According to his observations, children who presented an insecure attachment style displayed reactions of fear and crying when their parents left the room.

He concluded that the interactions with the first attachment figures organize the system of affective needs in adulthood. In other words, as they mature, the person shows the interactions that they learned and were reinforced in their childhood.

However, early experiences don’t definitively dictate the way in which emotional dependence is developed. In fact, the experiences of the individual in adulthood are another factor that must be considered.

Exercises to work on emotional dependence

The exercises we detail below don’t detract from the importance of seeing a specialist. Indeed, an exhaustive exploration of the individual history of each sufferer is always essential. In that way, the correct treatment can be prescribed. However, here are some exercises that can help if you feel you’re suffering from emotional dependency:

1. Emotional biography

Have you ever stopped to think about all the emotions you’ve experienced over the years and under what circumstances? Journaling helps you reflect on past relationships and can help you recognize how you’ve overcome your past.

For instance, it may help you recognize how quickly you’ve formed a new relationship after a recent breakup. Consequently, you might also be able to identify how many other times you’ve used a relationship to avoid unpleasant feelings.

2. Who are you?

If you don’t have a partner who are you? Sometimes, long relationships drag on interminably and you forget who you once were, who you are now, and what you’ve learned along the way.

If this is the case, your partner’s preferences may have influenced you so much that you’ve forgotten your own. For instance, what you enjoy doing, what you like and don’t like, what you’re willing to tolerate, where your boundaries are etc.

3. Symbolic walks

There are countless activities that can be done alone, one of which is walking. Going for a walk can give you the opportunity to reflect. We suggest the following exercise:

  • Before the walk, look for stones of different weights.
  • On the heaviest stones, with a permanent marker, write the names of those to whom you devote most of your time. On the lighter stones, write the names of people you dedicate less time to. Put those stones in your pocket, and go for a walk.

Has it been difficult for you to walk with the heaviest stones? What did you feel like doing with them while you were walking?

4. Self-care

One of the consequences of emotional dependence is that you give all your attention to other people, forgetting about your own needs. Self-care, such as making plans alone, being independent, and all the feelings they generate are extremely important.

Some examples of these activities could be preparing your favorite meal, having a relaxing bath, taking a trip to a nearby town alone, going to psychotherapy, etc. Another helpful activity might be making a calendar where you write down what tasks you’re going to carry out throughout the coming week.

Woman taking a bath
Practicing self-care activities is essential to begin to break chains of emotional dependence.

5. Write letters addressed to yourself

If you people enjoy writing, this is an activity that’ll be really beneficial. Write a letter addressed to yourself, telling your story as if you were the protagonist in a movie about your life.

Alternatively, write down your boundaries and the behaviors that you’re willing to allow in the future, noting if you cross your own barriers of self-respect.

Writing can also be replaced by other types of creative activities. For example, you might like to create an album with music tracks that reflect your emotions. Or, you could take photos or paint your emotions in watercolors.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hoyos, M. L., Arredondo, N. H. L., & Echavarría, J. A. Z. (2007). Distorsiones cognitivas en personas con dependencia emocional. Informes psicológicos9, 55-69.
  • Izquierdo, S.A & Gómez-Acosta, A. (2013). Dependencia afectiva: abordaje desde una perspectiva contextual. Psychol.av.discip, 7(1),81-91
  • Rodríguez de Medina Quevedo, I. (2013). La dependencia emocional en las relaciones interpersonales.
  • Santamaría, J. J., Merino, L., Montero, E., Cano, M., Fernández, T., Cubero, P., … & Bueso, V. G. (2015). Perfil psicopatológico de pacientes con Dependencia Emocional. Cuadernos de medicina psicosomática y psiquiatria de enlace, (116), 36-46.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.