Do you find yourself isolated and longing for emotional intimacy? Are you afraid to be vulnerable? Do you have a hard time opening up? Do you have an exclusive or, even, a secretive relationship in which there is jealousy and distrust and constant highs and lows?
If you’ve answered yes to some or all of these questions, you may be prone to emotionally dependent relationships (See “Codependency” in Counseling through your Bible Handbook by June Hunt). In brief, emotional dependency is marked by your emotional life depending far too much on another person. As soon as you meet the one person with whom you are able to open up, your heart quickly jumps out of you and spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally enters into this person. This person becomes your emotional home and, each day, your emotions are shaped by how you are either pleasing or being pleased by this person. It is easy to imagine the volatility of this kind of relationship as emotions are constantly changing. This human, i.e. fallen, broken, and in- need-of-a-Redeemer, emotional home will never provide your heart the stability and security for which it longs. Never. No matter how amazing this person is.
Saying things like “I could never live without this person,” might seem an expression of love, but it isn’t; it’s a sign of emotional dependency. In an emotionally dependent relationship, the real goal is satisfying the need for security, and this is expressed as a desire for attachment. Often, emotionally dependent relationships are birthed so quickly that the other person is barely even known. The other is not sought of for his or her unique individuality, but, rather, for the (false) security they offer through (unhealthy) attachment.
Emotional dependency is a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. The more I depend on another person to make me feel complete, the more likely I will be disappointed. This failure creates even more of a need in me, pushing me to grasp and demand even more. This grasping suffocates and drains the other, causing them to distance themselves emotionally and even physically leave the volatile and painful situation. In my desperation and devastation, what feels like being on the verge of an emotional death, I desperately grasp more and more intensely. My fear of being abandoned, deprived, unwanted, neglected, and separated feed my feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and emptiness as I desperately seek safety, security, and affirmation. And so instead of finding myself in my new emotional home, I lose myself in this other person.
Since my entire well being depends on my connection with this person, I feel okay when the relationship is constant, loving, secure, and warm. When everything is “perfect.” I’m not okay when, in any way, the relationship is threatened. I’m in crisis. In my desperation, I become defensive. I try to force, manipulate, coerce, and, in romantic relationships, even seduce the other person to rid myself of this separation anxiety. If I truly analyze my situation, I’m not desperate for this person, but for the attachment.
Why am I so desperate for this attachment? This desperate need to be attached to another is likely fueled by childhood brokenness during which I did not receive emotional intimacy, acceptance, security, or stability. Were “I love you” three rare words? Were tears catalysts for “toughen up.” Or were there too many tears already on others’ faces that I had no room to express my own brokenness? Was I afraid to share my deepest struggles for fear of being misunderstood, rejected, made fun of, or bullied? Did I develop emotional insecurity at a young age? Have I been looking for emotional security all of my life? Have I gone from relationship to relationship, from broken home to broken home, finding myself even more emotionally insecure? I’m not in a hopeless situation.
God wants to heal my unhealthy attachments. God is merciful and compassionate. I trust in God that He wants to give me what my heart longs for. I have faith. I have hope. I have love. And I pray for an increase in all of them. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches (John 15:5). The branches need to be attached to the vine. For our overall (spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional) health, no one but Christ can be our vine. We cannot make someone, a mere branch, our vine.
God tells me that I don’t need to look outside of myself for a secure and loving emotional home. When Jesus told Mary to stop clinging to Him, He was not telling her to stop loving Him. Rather, He was telling her to stop clinging to flesh. Christ did not want her joy or her sadness to depend on sensing something outside of herself. Christ wanted her emotional life to finds its home inside of herself. The Resurrected Lord gives us peace of mind and peace of heart, a gift the world cannot give, no matter how “perfect” someone seems to be (John 14:27). Our emotionally dependent relationships can be healed, but neither person can be its redeemer.
Christ needed to ascend to the Father so that the Holy Spirit could descend into our hearts (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit comforts and heals us. Only the Holy Spirit can offers us the security and intimacy that our hearts long for. Christ’s wants to set our hearts free from our emotional bondage. The Holy Spirit will teach us how to relearn to love. Enslaving dependence is a cheap counterfeit for freeing love. We cannot make an idol out of a broken vessel, but we can be each others’ companions as we seek healing from the Redeemer.
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, the Treasury of blessing and the Giver of Life, come and dwell within us and cleanse us from every blemish and save our souls O Blessed One.
“In order to become a healing presence for others, we must first be healed ourselves–through an active relationship with the great Healer, Christ.”
– Dr. Albert S. Rossi, author of Becoming a Healing Presence
Listen to “Broken Together” by Casting Crowns