Monday, October 01, 2007

Dependency and Sabatage

So we talk all about independence, and how behaving independently, making our own decisions, doing things all on our own, all by ourselves, the younger the better, makes us unique, confident, powerful people.

And how parents, when they deny children opportunities, simple decisions, complex peer relationships, and alternative voyages out of the nest, undermine that process, generally in the name of protection.

One thing to talk about that with kids. Quite another to see how it plays out in marriage, years later.

Someone like me will see a patient who had been programed as "overly" dependent by parents transition into someone "overly" dependent upon a spouse. This might feel sexy in the beginning (she/he NEEDS me) but it gets boring in time.

The two will come into couples therapy for any number of reasons, but the dependency tends to manifest itself as angry, childish, jealous, unlikeable behavioral traits, traits you see in people with personality disorders.

And our white knight is generally not a white knight, really, but someone who likes the idea of a romantic, traditional marriage, one that values family relationships and "white knight-ness." If he marries her because she's close to her family, he is often very close to his-- or wishes to be close to a family.

That's not bad. I'm not saying that's bad. But it enters into the conflict as soon as the sparks fly. It falls in the unresolved matter of relationships. His/her family of origin fills the need to be needed, admired.

See, it's more than dependency. This is about applause, too.

So at some point dependency can become terrifically dysfunctional and the couple might even separate, often following a violent interaction. They'll go back to their own families of origin. And I'll be working with both of them, building that sense of self, those unique wonderful individuals who really wants to operate independently, deep down inside.

And wouldn't you know? The seemingly more independent partner will inevitably undermine the process, telling the more dependent partner (not in my presence, usually) that he/she is making poor decisions as an independent soul, shouldn't be spending money this way, shouldn't have said this or that to one of their parents, shouldn't have decided to go, all alone, on a vacation.

And that always happens, by the way, as soon as the "more" independent, functional partner skips out of therapy, misses appointments, supposedly glad that the "less" independent, functional partner is getting better, separating from family, growing.

The two of them were never more or less. They were always on the same level, the same page when it came to at least that one very important dynamic.

That's what we mean by an emotional system.

Things are rarely as they seem. You know?


therapydoc

20 comments:

not fainthearted said...

What about the child programmed to be "overly" independent?

And how do you tell the level of "overly" before the marriage?

And how does the individual ever reach a middle ground between independence and dependence (because really, we're not made to be completely independent.)

therapydoc said...

I thought you'd never ask. While writing this post I thought I'd address these very issues (and more)but said to myself, nah, focus for now and see what people want by their comments.

This is a big topic and for sure, deserves much more elaboration. You'll get it in the next few weeks. (I know, I always say that, but you really will, blee neder, which is to say, I can't promise but will try).

Matthew said...

I have always been influenced by the concepts of Bowen family systems. You describe the underfunctioning/overfunctioning dynamic very well - one cannot live without the other.

The other side, of course, is that being balanced and whole - just as you are - is possible. Most people do not see that in themselves, and so seek to become whole through their partner.

therapydoc said...

So interesting, MATTHEW, the idea that people choose partners to become whole. I've always thought there was something to choosing a partner who is complementary (not as in flattering).

Lin said...

A follow-up to Not Faint's questions...not so much programming a child to be overly independent, but circumstances or events that necessitate a child become remarkably independent bearing adult responsibilities and knowledge too soon. Are all such children likely to become ridiculously self-reliant?

Thanks for the post...got me thinking.

therapydoc said...

How I wish. Give the little tyke a little time.

Lin said...

Oh...bummer. The little tyke turned 44 in July.

therapydoc said...

Oh, there's still time.

caroline said...

So Doc, how to those of use who are overly dependent due to family of origin circumstances change that behavior and become a more independent person?

therapydoc said...

Caroline, It starts with rethinking EVERYTHING. Every move you make has to be reexamined.

Yes, I'll post on this, too. Gimme a few days (weeks) to get to it.

So, what IS in a heart? said...

"The two of them were never more or less. They were always on the same level, the same page when it came to at least that one very important dynamic."

Yea, Co-dependence. Barfs. A truly independent person wouldn't be threatened by someone else's independence and they wouldn't even be attracted to a dependent person.

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Linzi Rich said...

(Sorry to go off course but...)

What about when two people become TOO independant... drifting into appearing like they're not considering the other because doing so could be misconstrude?

What do you do then?

therapydoc said...

LINZ, I'm not sure I get exactly what you mean, but the optimal relationship does not sacrifice intimacy for independence. Intimacy is valued more highly.

Linzi Rich said...

Intimacy. That makes sense :)

(sorry to confuse)
...I meant when efforts to be independant go too far, when it borders on the other half hearing "I don't need you"

I'm starting to wonder if that's where the 'Seven Year Itch' comes from... the focus leaves the wonder that is US and the self needs some oiling and dusting off... before you know it the good bits of US are getting unravelled routing out the good bits of the old self.

?

therapydoc said...

Linz, you're on the right track. It's never simple.

nick said...

good ole' larry david one of my favorite actors.....

Anonymous said...

Something you said here is what i foresee for my cousin and his potential marriage. My cousin's parents are getting separated/divorced and he has moved in with his fiance's family and is trying to replace the arguing and screaming of his family - with her supposedly more perfect family. I don't know how well this will work out in the long run once him and his fiance have an argument. He does seem to be searching for love and approval from his "new" family.

- JustMe

therapydoc said...

Hey, maybe he'll find it. I hope so.

hailey said...

That's the beauty of it, it's like a paradox. You can never truly love someone unless you can live without her.