How to become less emotionally dependent?
August 20, 2006 10:36 PM   Subscribe

How can I learn to become less emotionally dependent on others and generally learn to love myself? (details..)

It's recently occured to me that I have some serious emotional dependency issues. I believe they have a lot to do with some sort of hidden self-esteem problems and a general sense of inferiority. I've been trying to work these things out for quite some time, but am missing a large piece of the puzzle.

I was heavily involved with a friend, emotionally, at the beginning of this year. We spent a lot of time together on the weekends, talked constantly throughout the week, and generally cared greatly for each other. I got very dependent on her emotionally, and when our brief fling ended, I flew into a self-destructive rage, followed by a heavy depression.

This was almost six months ago, and I'm still not "over" it, to which I attribute to the dependency. My self-esteem took a hit and for the longest time all I could do was wait for a friend to call/IM/email me to make me feel better.

What I'm looking for are some ideas on how to get past the emotional dependency and genuinely learn to love myself. Therapy's not helping much (I think there's a lot I've got to discover on my own), the only literature I've been able to find on the issue of dependency has to do with substance abuse (not what I need), and I haven't figured out how to be happy with and by myself.

I'd like to reach the point where I can be happy without constant social interaction - where I can just enjoy being with myself. Self-love, in the non-sexual sense, would be ideal.

Maybe there's some literature I haven't discovered or some healthy habits I can get into that the hive mind could suggest. Really, anything you can suggest on the subject would be greatly appreciated.
posted by thewhitenoise to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Webster defines love as the “unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another; an affection based on admiration, benevolence or common interests”

Based on this definition of what love is, I suggest you actively go out and ease the suffering of people around you, in whatever capacity you feel comfortable. Lose yourself in the service of others and you will discover how valuable a person you are.
posted by rinkjustice at 11:23 PM on August 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

One thing you could do is volunteer.
posted by owhydididoit at 11:25 PM on August 20, 2006

Dude, I totally know how you feel. I'm going through a bad period right now myself and I feel like an emotional vampire on all my friends' resources.

That said, IMHO, I vote for camping or something that leaves you completely self-reliant. Take a new class, make something..accomplishing something always make me a little more at ease in my own skin...
posted by Eudaimonia at 11:52 PM on August 20, 2006

...also, I agree muchly with the above...volunteering (especially when you can see the tangible outcome..something like Habitat for Humanity) does loads for self love also
posted by Eudaimonia at 11:53 PM on August 20, 2006

I went through a very similar thing just a few months ago. A book that helped me tremendously, which I stumbled across in a used bookstore, is this old self-help book called "I'm OK You're OK" by Thomas A. Harris. It talks about how everything we see and experience as a child is "recorded"; we then spend the rest of our lives playing back those recordings, and they color everything we see and do.

The implications are pretty big, and once you can see how that works, you can see beyond it and realize your value.
posted by jbickers at 1:59 AM on August 21, 2006

Here's another strong vote for volunteering. I can vouched that it worked for me.
posted by forforf at 6:23 AM on August 21, 2006

I think you're missing on a more overreaching problem of relying on emotion excessively, because your solution is to still use the same problematic method in a different way. Examine your same question in comparison to:

My hand hurts when I grip my favorite baseball bat. Teach me how to grip it properly.

The problem may actually be with a past injury to your hand or with the actual bat's faulty handle, rather than the way you're holding it. Likewise, the action of "loving" as you assume is the correct ilk of love, may not actually be what you think it is, thereby making loving yourself in your current perception of love as a really bad choice.

Work on placing greater trust on reason and fact, rather than feelings and perhapses, and both troubles will cancel themselves out.
posted by vanoakenfold at 8:06 AM on August 21, 2006

Best answer: I like vanoakenfold's analogy a lot, but I'm not sure the conclusion that you rule out feelings is necessarily true.

A more moderate approach might be to recognize that your feelings are all welcome and valid, but they don't define you. You miss your friend (a valid, expected, and *fleeting* emotion), but you've taken that feeling and turned it into a (negative) description of who you are forever -- you're dependent, you're needy. We pretty much all make those sorts of leaps, but see if you stop doing it for a while. Feel what you're feeling, even if that's loneliness or restlessness or anxiety, and just let yourself feel it. Know that it's not going to take you over; know that it doesn't define who you are as a person. You're a perfectly fine person who's temporarily having feelings of loneliness, NOT a lonely awful person forever and ever.

What I think (hope) you'll find is that if you just let those feelings happen without acting on them -- that is, without rushing to judgment about what kind of person they make you -- you'll start feeling stronger about who you really are, about the core that's in the midst of all these fleeting emotions.

And that core is not really your "reason" or "intellect," it's just who you are regardless of what's going on around you.

As for the more practical thoughts about how to be comfortable doing things on your own, I think it's just doing them. And again, you'll feel lonely and awkward and weird at first, and you just feel that and acknowledge it and don't judge it, and carry on anyway. And the more your recognize that feeling awkward or lonely is not the end of the world, and that you can still carry on doing interesting things when you're feeling lonely and awkward, the less lonely and awkward you'll feel. (And "interesting things" might be worth noting -- it's easier, I find, to get over those difficult feelings if I'm doing something that I find worthwhile; so museums and long walks are good for that, sitting around watching TV not so much.)
posted by occhiblu at 8:32 AM on August 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

Learn how to deal with stuff by yourself. Don't constantly call people up when you're lonely- learn to deal with the loneliness on your own. That's what TV is for. Don't call your friends and family with every little problem or when you feel down. Find a way to cope with it without a crutch. Find yourself some hobbies and things to do that make you feel good and that don't require another person to do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:48 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Whenever I used to hear people say things like, "you have to love yourself," I thought the only way it could be put into practice was as some kind of ephemeral attitude shift. I gradually developed a very practical way to love myself more, and while I'm not sure you're looking for anything as concrete as this, I thought I'd let you know about it, because it's had a very powerful impact on me.

First, get yourself somewhere comfortable and quiet, and close your eyes.

Focus on what you're physically feeling and sensing. (I find this a necessary first step, I think because I can't fully accept love from someone who I think doesn't really see me, even if that someone is myself.) When your mind wanders, keep bringing your attention back to feeling and sensing, for at least as long as it takes to be pretty aware of what you're feeling. For me, that's generally a few minutes, but if you're practiced in meditation and can sustain it longer, great.

Next, gather up as much loving feeling inside as you can. I do this by concentrating on my best, even if positively biased, feelings about people I love. I imagine them or idealized versions of them, and generate loving feelings for them, and let those swell as much as I can.

Now, instead of pointing that feeling out at these other people, point it in, towards yourself. Sustain it for as long as you can. When it drops off, you can gather it up again as above, and repeat. I also find I can sustain it more with verbal messages in my head. I use the format, "I love you when you're (x), I love you when you're (-x)," e.g., "I love you when you're adult, I love you when you're a child," or "I love you when you're strong, I love you when you're weak." That's sounding really corny to me as I type it, but when I'm doing it, I keep directing love to myself as I say that in my head, and the feeling shifts in quality with the different phrases, which works for me.

That's it. Repeat daily or every few days. When I first did this for a few weeks, I felt like a different person. I'd be on the subway, and I'd feel all this unaccustomed compassion for the strangers that I'd usually feel neutral or negative about. I felt serene where usually I was a constant worrier. I think I actually did learn to love myself more. Even so, I've found it takes more willpower than I have to keep this up, which has been true when I've tried meditation, too. I don't know why, since there's nothing unpleasant about it, and it has such huge benefits. Typing this has actually inspired me to try to pick the habit back up. I hope that if you try it, it works for you.
posted by daisyace at 6:01 AM on August 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

I didn't mean to completely rely on logic and totally scrap emotion, but have it a bit more into reason than reaction -- hence "put greater trust", not "put complete trust" ;-/

Recognizing "I am an emotional person" is one such fact, and in pursuit of such processes of reasoning it out, as is determining, "I am loney because" rather than "I am lonely," but continuing further with reasoned steps of, "why is this a proper reaction" or "could I have reacted differently?"
posted by vanoakenfold at 5:09 AM on August 26, 2006

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