Helping you become all that you are capable of becoming!




Chapter 10 Eliminating Overdependence

Tools for Handling Control Issues

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

What is overdependency?

Overdependency is the:

  • Holding on desperately to other people, places, or things to give your life meaning and direction.
  • Allowing others to do for you so much so that you haven't developed a sense of personal autonomy, independence, and personal responsibility for your own actions.
  • Unwillingness to let go of others so that you can get on with your own life.
  • Unwillingness to set out your own goals, aspirations, and dreams for your life for fear that they won't coincide with those of the people, places, and things on which you have become dependent.
  • Need to be needed and the need to be loved gone out of control where you need the dependency of another on you in order to believe that your life has meaning and value.
  • Result of feeling sorry and compassionate for others so much that you have smothered and coddled them until they cannot do for themselves and have become completely dependent on you.
  • Inability to take self-initiated steps to get your life into control, order, and direction because you have overly identified and submitted yourself to the will, power, and control of another person even if that person did not intentionally set you up to be so dependent.
  • Need for approval, fear of rejection, and feeling of insecurity gone so out of control that you become immobilized without the direction, support, and nurturing of the person, place, or thing on whose approval you have become dependent.
  • Result of the lack of belief in your own competency, skills, or abilities to handle things on your own and the fear to set out on a course of self-direction and independence.
  • Lack of training in knowing what normal personal responsibility taking is and the resultant handing over to other persons, places, and things the responsibility to take care of you.
  • Fear of failure, fear of making a bad decision, and the fear of success gone out of control until you have become immobilized and incapable of taking care of your own life.
  • Fear of abandonment and fear of loss of value to other people, places, and things gone out of control so much so that you become over-clingy and grasp on to any last straw to ensure your dependent relationship is not changed or ended.
  • Fear of loss of identity, making you frantic in pursuit of maintaining a relationship with a person, place, or thing, which is in reality unhealthy for you.
  • Fear of loneliness, being alone, or isolation making you desperate to hold onto a dying relationship with a person, place, or thing, well beyond the time that it is reasonable to do so.
  • Fear of the negative consequences of becoming independent keeping you weak and frail, thus needing the support and nurturance of those people, places, and things, on which you are dependent.
What are the negative effects of overdependency?
If you continue to be overdependent in your relationships with people, places or things, then you could:
  • Lose a sense of personal identity, uniqueness or independence.
  • Never gain personal mastery or control over your own life.
  • Not allow those who are dependent on you to become fully functional and independent.
  • Lack the social, emotional, or physical skills to enable you to be a fully functional human being.
  • Begin to become resentful of those upon whom you are dependent for keeping you back from becoming all that you are capable of being.
  • Become so smothered and coddled that you drown in this sea of love, concern, and support losing focus on yourself as the creation which is in your own hands to shape and mold.
  • Fear the possibility of separation, abandonment, or individuation from those upon whom you are dependent and thus sabotage all efforts to grow and heal as a fully independent and self-confident person.
  • Become disabled, handicapped and incapable of caring for yourself in a mature, healthy way.
  • Become sick from the toxic effects of the overdependency especially if the dependency is on substances which have harmful effects such as alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, relationships, crises, etc.
  • Run the risk of being left by people who get healthy and no longer are willing to be caretakers or fixers in your life.
  • Not only give the appearance of being helpless but begin to believe that you are helpless and incapable of taking care of yourself and resist all efforts to help you break the overbondedness you have with others.
  • Increase your manipulation to keep those whom you are hooked on to remain hooked in the relationship with you.
  • Suffer from worsened low self-esteem because you are convinced of your lack of competence to be a fully independent individual or conversely incapable of helping others to become independent.
  • Run the risk of dying from negative health aspects of the overdependency on things which are deadly.


How is overdependency a control issue?
Overdependency is a control issue because:
  • It is an act of transferring the locus of control out of your hands into the hands of others.
  • When you become too dependent on a person, place, or thing, you give it power to control you.
  • It is an act of controlling others to take care of you so you don't have to do it yourself.
  • By use of manipulation, conning, and other subversive control techniques, you hook people into allowing you to be dependent on them so that they can fix, save, rescue, or be a caretaker for you.
  • You use your hooks to prevent others from detaching from you so that you can continue to be dependent on their resources, energy, knowledge, care, concern, and support.
  • You use intimidation, coercion, and threats oftentimes when you become disgruntled because others no longer want to allow you to be dependent on them.
  • You have learned to use the mask of helplessness to get others to allow you to be dependent on them and they likewise get hooked on being depended on.
  • Your style is to seek out people whom you can control to do for you what you need to do for yourself, so you succeed in finding fixers, caretakers, and rescuers ready to take over your responsibility for you.
  • It blinds you to your own inner strength, resources, and power to take care of yourself and lessens your belief in your own ability to maintain self-control of your life.
  • It hands power and control of your life over to others whom you are willing to rely on in order to avoid taking personal responsibility for your own life.
  • When it is an act of dependency on such things as alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, gambling, or shopping, it gives these things the power to control you even to the point of willingness to risk your physical life to have them.
  • When it is a compulsive dependency on a person, place, or thing, you have become powerless to control it.
  • When it takes on an addictive quality, you appear to lose power and control over it.


What is some unhealthy or irrational thinking that leads to overdependency?
  • I could never survive without them.
  • I need them as much as they need me.
  • They would never survive without me.
  • I should be taking care of them since it is my responsibility, obligation and duty.
  • I could never envision my life without it (thing you are dependent on).
  • What would I do if no one needed me?
  • I am afraid to let go of them since I'd be so lonely.
  • I'd rather be used than ignored by people.
  • The only meaning I have in life is to do for others.
  • I would have no idea what to do if I were on my own.
  • I am happiest when I am serving others.
  • They are crazy if they think I'd give up my warm, comfortable, safe state of being cared for by others.
  • As long as they are offering to help me out, I'll continue to accept their help.
  • I am entitled to what they do for me.
  • They owe it to me. After all, I am their child.
  • They made my life as a child so miserable it is OK that they take care of me now as an adult.
  • I am afraid that I won't do or say it right so I need help to keep me correct.
  • I am not dependent on anybody. I am only accepting their gifts, offers of help, and support because it makes them feel good.
  • I can take care of my own life as long as I don't have to pay for food, shelter, school, and transportation.
  • Accepting gifts of money and other physical support is not being overly dependent on others.
  • I am not dependent on anything but I do enjoy these things a lot (e.g., alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.).
  • Being dependent is not a bad thing if it gives meaning to the lives of the people you live with.
  • I'd rather be dependent on a person than on myself because I am so afraid of being by myself.
  • Telling me that the person who needs to love me is me doesn't quite make it. I don't feel complete unless someone else needs, wants, and loves me.

What is the way to help someone who is overly dependent on you to become more independent of you?

In order to help a person become independent of you, you need to follow these steps.


Step 1: You first need to determine if the person is in reality overdependent on you and then identify for what the dependency is:

  • Financial support
  • Physical support
  • Companionship/friendship
  • Emotional support
  • Problem solving/decision making
  • Knowledge and insight
  • Skills and abilities
  • Sexual outlet
  • Affirmation, recognition, and approvalAdvice, direction and information on how to live life
  • Something else:name it _________________


Step 2: Once you have identified for what a person is overly dependent on you, you then need to determine if you are dependent on this person needing you.

You need to identify if you are a person who:

  • Needs to be needed.
  • Needs to be the source of financial stability in the family or workplace.
  • Needs to be recognized for your generosity.
  • Needs to get approval for your good deeds.
  • Has a martyr's role in your family, workplace, or relationship.
  • Loves others too much to your own detriment.
  • Likes to fix, correct, and make things right.
  • Is a compulsive caretaker.
  • Has a hard time letting go of people in your life.
  • Finds it difficult to be emotionally detached when you see someone you love getting into trouble.
  • Any other reason why you are a person who allows others to become overly dependent on you: name it _______________


Step 3: Once you have identified why you allow this person to become overdependent on you, then you need to identify a healthier way to think about the other people in your life and your relationships with them, such as:

  • It is OK for people to fail.
  • It is better for people to become responsible for all aspects of their own lives.
  • People need to be independent if they are to experience a full productive life.
  • People won't initially like being cut off from their dependency on you but they will benefit from it in the long run.
  • It is healthier for a person to refuse your offer of help if it means they are overcoming their dependency on you.
  • I am a good person and it is OK if people don't need me.
  • I don't have to fix, rescue or make correct anybody else but me.
  • I am a better person by freeing people from being dependent on me.
  • I don't need to buy my relationships with people by all of the ways they can become dependent on me.
  • I can love someone and still set them free to become who they really are.
  • Any other rational, reality-based, healthy ideas can be added here:


Step 4: Once you have identified new ways of thinking about the overdependent people in your life, you then need to establish a new set of guidelines to help them to become more personally responsible for their own lives.

Some new strategies to help you set the guidelines are:


16 Strategies which Encourage Others to Take Responsibility for Self


1. Natural Consequences

Letting people accept the natural consequences for their own actions so that they can learn what is good or bad in their own actions, decisions, and behaviors.


2. Freedom to Fail

Letting people have the freedom to fail, make mistakes, or experience personal disasters so that they can learn from their mistakes and recognize new strategies to prevent them on their own in the future.


3. Shared Responsibility

Letting people share with you the responsibility to do the things which in the past you were totally responsible for. This approximates or shapes them into the ability to be self caretakers and independent beings.


4. Win-Win Solution of Problem Solving

Rather than solving problems between two people where you are the winner and the other is the loser or where the other wins and you lose or where you both lose, this solution allows you both a chance to win. Over-dependence is often a result of the win-lose solution where you get your way and the other becomes dependent on you to follow through on a solution which is not fully self-owned or self-generated. In the long run, if you always win in solving problems, you probably lose more since the other people choose to be dependent on your decisions and direction rather than think and act for themselves so as not to cause any conflict or problem with you.


5. Compromise

In relationships the way to ensure the independence of the other person is to reach compromises between your wants and needs and the other's wants and needs. This ensures you both are winners in your interactions with one another and there is less chance of dependence on one another.


6. Mutual Respect

This involves you and the other person respecting one another's competency, skills, and abilities without undermining either's independence of thinking, emotions, or actions. Respecting each other as deserving people creates an atmosphere which encourages individuality.


7. Acceptance of Uniqueness

This allows the other person to be unique and different from you as a free standing and independent being so that there is no need for the other to be just like you and vice versa. Free to be who you are is a healthy consequence of acceptance of uniqueness by one another.


8. Limit Setting

This is setting a line over which other people cannot step so as to allow you to be free of their over-dependence on you and allows them to remain free and independent from you. Once the limits are set the other person then has the freedom to think, feel and act uniquely with your unconditional acceptance and/or love.


9. Logical Consequences

When allowing another to be free to fail and experience the natural consequences of an action is life threatening or too damaging, you can establish a consequence of your own which approximates or simulates the more disastrous consequence. This is a form of setting limits for the other's behaviors which you will or will not tolerate from them.


10. Mutual Protection of Rights

This involves the encouragement of open, honest, and assertive communication between you and the other person to give feedback when either of you feels your rights to be independent and free are being violated. This type of communication is encouraged by giving the other person permission to call you on it if you are ignoring their rights.


11. Enmeshment Elimination

When you recognize that you and the other person have become enmeshed in a mutually dependent relationship, it is important to openly communicate your recognition of the lack of health in this. You then need to admit openly that it is better for you both to be independent, unique individuals who are neither clones or enmeshed in a symbiotic, unhealthy relationship.


12. Fantasy and Myth Debunking

Often when you hold on too tightly to a dream, fantasy, or myth of the way things are supposed to be, you control relationships too tightly and force the other into an overly dependent relationship with you. It is important to keep your focus in the relationship rational, realistic, and based on what is rather than on what I want or wish it to be.


13. Elimination of Entitlement

Entitlement is the belief that you are owed something because of circumstances of birth, rank, position, title, tradition, or status. By depowering the concept of entitlement, people then need to earn on their own merits what they are getting out of life. This eliminates the dependency which makes the entitled person lack ambition, motivation, or drive to be independent, successful, or accomplished.


14. Individuation

Individuation is the encouragement of people dependent on you to become unique individuals with an accent on their own interests, values, attitudes, skills, abilities, knowledge and competencies. This encourages each person to become a free-standing, independent, self-sufficient, self-confident and self-responsible individual.


15. Establishing Emotional Boundaries

Oftentimes there is a need to establish emotional boundaries between you and other people in your life so that you can identify where you begin and end in comparison to where they begin and end emotionally. This breaks emotional ties which link you into overly enmeshed and overdependent emotional relationships.


16. Disarming the Hooks

It is imperative to be on the watch for the hooks that keep you dependent on dependent people, such as manipulation, helplessness, threats of suicide, self-destruction, intimidation, or con jobs. Also the people who are dependent on you need to be encouraged to unhook the bait of money, physical help, companionship, wisdom, and experience, knowledge, help, aid, fixing, rescuing, and enabling you offer them.


Step 5:  Once you set guidelines for your relationships with people to help them to become independent from you, then you need to put the new non-controlling, independence-encouraging beliefs and behaviors into practice.


Step 6:  Monitor your progress. If you find others becoming overdependent on you or you overdependent on them, then return to Step 1 and being again.

What are the steps to eliminating overdependency?


Step 1: In order to eliminate overdependency in your relationship, you first need to identify where over-dependency exists in your relationship. Use the guidelines given in this chapter to help you with this process. In your journal do the following:

List all of the people you have significant relationships with in:

  • Marriage.
  • Family.
  • Family of origin.
  • Friendship.
  • Work or school.
  • Community.

Identify which people:

  • Are overdependent on you.
  • You are overdependent on.
  • Are independently unique from you and you are independently unique from them.
  • For all overdependent relationships, identify for what they are overdependent on you.
  • For all relationships in which you are overdependent, identify for what you are overdependent.
  • What are the reasons you allow these people to become overdependent on you?
  • What are the reasons you allow yourself to become overdependent on others?


Step 2: Once you identify the scope of your overdependency, you then need to identify healthy scripts for each person with whom you desire to change the relationship's level of overdependency. In your journal for each person listed as overdependent on you or you are over-dependent on them, identify new behavioral strategies to use to establish guidelines to encourage independent thinking, emotions, and actions between you and them. Use the guidelines offered in the preceding section of this chapter.


Step 3: Once you have written out guidelines for how you intend to relate to each relationship listed in Step 1, then share your proposed guidelines and work with each person to come up with a mutually agreed upon plan of action to eliminate overdependency in your relationship.


Step 4:  Implement the plan of action which could be recorded as a contract with each person.


Step 5:  Monitor your progress. If you have problems with over­dependency, then return to Step 1 and begin again.