You are Whole: Educating to Avoid Emotional Dependence

· September 24, 2018

We notice that dependence is a problem when we experience it or when we’re involved and relate it to potential suffering. But is it possible to educate to avoid emotional dependence? Can we prevent toxic relationships through education?

Human beings are naturally dependent. We’re born dependent. However, emotional dependence is a psychological state that involves a great source of distress to the one living with it.
As social beings, we need each other. We seek contact, cooperation, and exchange. We join forces and build things. Nevertheless, this isn’t always the case. There are times when we become close to someone and, even though we understand that the relationship is destroying us, we feel the need to stay in it.

Who said you weren’t whole?

Media, games, inaccurate questions, fairy tales, tradition, poorly thought advice… All these things tell us we need to establish a romantic relationship to feel whole. If not, then how?

It’s not a secret that we live in a society that encourages dependent relationships. It twists the ultimate point of being in a romantic relationship: being with each other out of love and not out of need. 

Unfortunately, we tend to avoid emotional dependence when we’re suffering, have suffered, or see those we love suffer.

Woman with emotional dependence.


The role of education in avoiding emotional dependence

The experiences we have during our childhood are a good reference when it comes to avoiding relationships. A child that hasn’t learned to receive love in a way that feels appropriate to them and those around them will be more likely to feel lost as an adult and will continue to get love by the wrong means.

It’s likely that children who grow up with parents who can manage their own emotions will end up being more skilled in doing the same. In this sense, educating to avoid emotional dependence, apart from being healthy, is actually possible. 

Expecting kids to become independent adults is a bit unrealistic if it’s not encouraged from early childhood. When a baby is born, dependence is total. However, the progressive autonomy that they get will depend on their education.

How to educate to avoid emotional dependence?

Psychoanalyst John Bowlby formulated the attachment theory in order to explain the emotional link that is generated between the baby and their parents. This author claimed that the style of attachment starts to form during childhood, but said formation continues throughout our entire lives.

The type of attachment that children establish with their parental figures will constitute the foundation of their emotional development.

Therefore, encouraging a secure attachment during the first years of childhood will be key to avoiding toxic relationships that form through dependence. This bond will be the place where the little ones will learn that exploring the world and its intricacies by themselves is compatible with feeling their parent’s love, trust, and security.

Mother and daughter smiling.

Guidelines for avoiding emotional dependence in children

  • Show affection. Expressing love with words and actions will make children feel loved. This is the only way they will become capable of exploring and knowing that they have a refuge if they need protection.
  • Express your emotions. Expressing what we feel and why we feel that way allows children to develop empathy. Besides, this way they understand that emotions are human and that there’s nothing wrong with feeling sad or angry. Identifying what one is feeling will allow a better knowledge of ourselves and will allow us to control our behavior. Contrary to old beliefs, success in children is due to their emotional intelligence and not only due to their intellect.
  • Be available. It’s no use spending so much time with our kids if we don’t play with them or pay attention to their needs. Kids need their parents to be there for them and be aware of their needs.

Guidelines for raising resilient children

  • Encourage autonomy and decision-making. Stimulating kids to make their own decisions helps them trust their own judgment. Encouraging their curiosity and problem solving will make them feel more capable and secure.
  • Provide security and trust. When we reward their progress and support them in new projects, they create a positive image of themselves. This is the way we allow our children to feel competent. Plus, if we’re with them while they’re down, we give them the confidence to try again while encouraging perseverance.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t neglect yourself to take care of others. It’s convenient to find and convey this balance, showing them that the first thing to worry about is their own needs. It’s not odd to see parents give up activities they enjoy. In many occasions there’s even guilt, as if leisure moments weren’t compatible with being good parents. It’s fundamental to be aware of this. Different studies have confirmed that emotional dependence from parents to their kids produces negative effects in the latter that are hard to reverse later on.
Parents hugging their daughter in a field.

If we understand that those who educate children are a direct example for them, the importance of having good role models becomes obvious. If we’re looking to educate children who aren’t emotionally dependent, we must teach them to know, love, and value themselves. Maybe we’ll have to know, love, and also value ourselves more (or better). And this helps us remember that we’re capable and that we aren’t incomplete. Then, from there, we can teach our children the difference between need and love.