7 Steps To Stop Being Emotionally Dependent In Your Relationship

Registered Yoga Teacher By Georgina Berbari
Registered Yoga Teacher
Georgina Berbari is a Brooklyn-based health and wellness writer who reports for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, Bustle, and elsewhere. She's also a certified yoga teacher through the Yoga Alliance and teaches both yoga and meditation.
Expert review by Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling services throughout the United States.
Couple Leaning On One Another

Image by Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines / Stocksy

Emotional dependency happens when an individual believes they need another person to be happy and feel complete. There's a big difference between being in love and emotional dependency. When you're in an emotionally dependent relationship, you feel that you need another person to survive, and not in a healthy way. You constantly crave their attention, support, and approval because you're not providing yourself with these things. Below, we go through seven steps to stop being emotionally dependent in your relationship and cultivate wholeness from within:

1. Learn to take care of yourself. 

"Emotional dependency begins when we don't know how to be there for ourselves emotionally," says mental health consultant Adina Mahalli, MSW. "The reliance on others to make you feel connected and fulfill your emotional needs completely disregards your ability to self-validate." 

If you want to stop being emotionally dependent, Mahalli says that you need to start showing up for yourself. What is it that you feel you need from your partner or the person you're emotionally dependent on? How could you begin to satisfy those emotional needs yourself, without relying on another person?

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2. Embrace solitude.

All of us need alone time, as psychologist Danielle Dowling, Psy.D., tells mbg.

"It's healthy to spend time alone, whether you're self-reflecting or simply taking part in a favorite solo activity," she writes. "While it can be scary to feel like you need and want time away from your partner, it's important to communicate what you need when you know you need it. Remember that spending time in solitude is not self-indulgent."

If you worry that you might be emotionally dependent, you likely need to relearn your independence—and Mahalli says that this starts by finding a space that is yours. "Take up hobbies that you enjoy on your own," she tells mbg. "Whether that's yoga, painting, learning a new language, or anything else that you've been wanting to do—now is the time to start." 

Do these activities by yourself. Teach yourself that you can find joy, peace, and comfort on your own. As you relearn how to be by yourself, emotional independence will follow suit.

3. Make a list of your strengths. 

What are you good at? No matter how small the strength may be, identify it. According to psychologist Tony Ortega, Psy.D., making a list of your strengths is a great way to become more emotionally independent because you start to see what you have to offer independent of any relationship.

"See how you can build upon one strength and make it bigger," Ortega says. "Focus on that one strength every day and remind yourself of it. You will be less reliant on other people telling you what's fabulous about yourself."

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4. Look at the people in your life. 

Begin observing the people in your life in order to shed emotional dependency. "What are the things you admire about them? Now, turn the mirror toward you and see how you have very similar traits," suggests Ortega. These people would not be in your life if you didn't have admirable strengths, he reminds. Remember: Like attracts like.

5. When the negative chatter comes up, don't worry about eliminating it. 

If you feel that you're craving emotional dependency and validation, that's OK. Don't let negative chatter discourage you from your path to being more independent. Ortega suggests instead of trying to eliminate negative self-talk, just pair it with a neutral or positive thought—one that's realistic. 

"I add the disclaimer of 'realistic' as positive affirmation folks can get a little too carried away and make things so unrealistic that it turns recipients off," Ortega says. "When the inner saboteur strikes, bring in the compassionate witness. Let them walk hand-in-hand without giving more strength to one over the other."

The negative chatter eventually dies down, and you can walk around feeling more confident each day. 

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6. Recognize patterns so you can break them.

Emotional dependency is often the result of previous experiences and relationships that we've had, according to dating coach Claire Barber. These experiences train us to behave in a codependent way, seeking another person to validate your sense of worth. 

"The key to becoming more emotionally independent is to first recognize where your current pattern of behavior stems from," says Barber. "Once you have identified the root, you can better assess where you're at and how to change your state of mind in order to be more emotionally independent."

Where did you first learn to behave the way you do in your relationships? How could you take small steps to break free from your patterns?

7. Know your worth. 

"Emotional dependency stems from a whole bunch of issues, but one of them is a lack of self-confidence," Barber tells mbg. "In order to be emotionally independent, you need to have self-assurance, which will allow you to acknowledge your worth." 

Here are some steps for developing self-confidence. Once you appreciate yourself for who you are, you won't need others for approval, and you'll feel more comfortable shifting out of unhealthy relationship dynamics. You won't be emotionally dependent forever—and committing to change is the first step to getting yourself to a healthier place.

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