How does an abuser take advantage of emotional dependency?

“I never thought this would happen to me. At first everything was perfect, but as the relationship with Bruno progressed I realized that she needed him more and more. I needed to be with him and for him to show me his love constantly.

There were days when I noticed he was more serious, it took him longer than usual to answer my messages or return my calls and that made me desperate. However, I couldn’t blame him for anything because the fear that he would get angry or break up with me was present day after day.

I had the firm conviction that if we didn’t argue, if I made things easy for him and did everything he told me, he would never leave me. When the relationship was going well I felt full. But when the relationship went wrong I would find myself submerged in a deep sadness.

Bruno soon realized the power he had over me and began psychologically abusing me. He thought that love was just that, sacrifice, and that one day things would get better if he fought and showed him my love.

I was not able to break the relationship because the sadness I felt was much greater than the one I felt staying by his side.

Emotional dependency and violent relationships

Emotional dependence is defined as an extreme need for love, attention and continuous contact from the partner, which are never enough to calm anxiety or relieve discomfort.

People with emotional dependency establish relationships from adolescence and try to always be with someone, linking one relationship to another in the event of a breakup. They express intense terror and constant worries about possible abandonment.

The couple is usually idealized and placed at the center of their existence, around which everything revolves and is what gives meaning to their lives.

They are unable to imagine their own existence without their partner and do not feel complete without her. Thus, social isolation gradually takes place and they leave aside other friendships, desires and needs to focus completely on satisfying those of their partner. Soon they find themselves immersed in suffocating, stormy and destructive relationships.

In addition, to avoid any minimal estrangement, they implement a wide range of retention strategies: they avoid arguments, they gradually transform into what they believe their partner expects of them, and they assume a subordinate and submissive role in the relationship. This gives them security by feeling that they can control the continuity of the relationship. But it is a mirage.

The asymmetry in the relationship intensifies over time: the aggressor takes advantage of the submission and increases the dominance, causing the victim to be more submissive and, therefore, more dominant. It goes without saying that the fault of the situation does not lie with the victims.

Is it common to have emotional dependency?

In this scenario, a study carried out with people between the ages of 16 and 40 found that around 31.4% reported emotional dependence. Another study found a prevalence of 23.3% in young people, of whom 10.2% manifested intense emotional dependence.

Likewise, a more recent study in Spain referred to this dependency as “the new slavery of the 21st century”, since 49.3% of the population declares itself emotionally dependent. Of these, 8.6% suffer from severe emotional dependence.

In general, studies tend to find that women show greater emotional dependence and suffer more violence from their partner. Psychological violence is the most common form of violence, followed by physical and sexual violence.

Childhood affective deficiencies increase emotional dependence

It is important to understand emotional dependency, as it makes it difficult to leave violent relationships by hindering the breakup of the relationship.

In this line, a greater emotional dependence has been found in women who suffer intimate partner violence. In fact, it is not strange that they say they are still in love with the aggressor couple despite the severity of the violence received.

The experiences lived with parents or primary caregivers during childhood are internalized and will determine the way we behave in relationships in adulthood. In fact, several studies locate the origin of emotional dependence in affective deficiencies in childhood.

It is these deficiencies that drive unsatisfied emotional needs to be covered through the partner, such as lack of support, lack of self-acceptance and low self-esteem. “If he’s with me, that means I’m worth it,” these people often think.

Idealization of love through culture

Other times its development is related to the great weight that cultural transmission of the way of understanding love and relationship unconsciously has.

From a young age, women idealize love and their own love experience. These ideals generate frustration, since no human being can compete with perfection. But how many times have we heard phrases like “love is forever if it’s true love”, “love involves struggle and sacrifice” or “my love will change you”?

All of these messages set the framework from which we understand what a relationship should be like. What happens then if it ends? The woman who experiences it will understand that she has not fought hard enough, that she has given up, that she has failed, that she will have to abandon her dream and that all her efforts will have been for nothing. It happens because the emotional dependency is towards the partner, but also towards our own expectations or convictions about love and relationships.

a vicious circle

We understand emotional dependence as an addiction towards a person. That is why after the rupture appears the withdrawal syndrome. Despite the fact that the relationship is unsatisfactory or involves violence, the breakup does not bring with it the expected relief or well-being. Paradoxically, even more suffering is experienced than was felt by remaining in the relationship.

That is why dependent people try to resume the relationship over and over again. Sometimes they may frantically need a partner to provide a safe word that all is well. It could be said that the consolation is provided by the torturer himself. It has even been proven that, in the event of a definitive break, this problem leads them to new relationships following the same patterns of violence.

Upon resuming the relationship, they feel very intense positive emotions, such as a great emotional connection with the partner, relief and overflowing happiness, but this lasts for a very short time. Thus, they find themselves immersed in a vicious circle from which it is very difficult for them to get out and they are trapped in a feeling of loss of freedom and even of identity.

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