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Methods for Decreasing Dependency: Change Your Identity

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 26th 2016

Change your Identity. If you've been in a dependent position for a long time, chances are that dependency has become ingrained into your identity; your vision of yourself; your self-concept. You may even engage in labeling yourself, "I'm a dependent sort of person" (labeling being a cognitive bias you might want to look into correcting).

To the extent that you see yourself as a fundamentally dependent person, you might profitably spend some time exploring how this identity came to be, and whether it fits who you want to become. The effort you put into exploring the reasons and ways you have come to think of yourself as fundamentally dependent will pay off by increasing your awareness and insight, which will, in turn, help you recognize and correct your dependent beliefs and behaviors.

Attend to the Past. List out the events and occurrences in your personal and/or family history that have led you to a place where you feel that you are a dependent person. Is there a legitimate alternative way to reinterpret (reappraise) these events that casts you in a better light? Can you allow for the possibility that your situation can change over time as you mature and new events occur? Examining how you came to believe you are (or must be) a dependent person may help you understand the motivations you have for continuing to believe this to be true.

As an illustration, imagine that your spent your young adulthood with a depressive mother who leaned on you heavily (perhaps too heavily) for support. In the emotion of that time, you may have formed a belief that you must defend and support your mother at all costs. Another belief may exist as well to the effect that your mother cannot survive emotionally without your support. Such beliefs create a strong sense of duty and responsibility inside you, and a strong sense that you must never be selfish with regards to your mother, even if what she asks is out of line. These forces could be expected to sustain within you a strong dependence on your mother. In order to start taking that dependence apart, it will be helpful for you to examine whether or not it was fair of your mother to have asked you to support her in such a manner, and whether your early assumption that you are responsible for your mother's happiness is in fact reasonable. If you can see that it is, in fact, unreasonable for you to think that you can or should be responsible for your mother's happiness, then you are less likely to act dependent upon her.

In the process of breaking free of overgeneralized duties and responsibilities from your past, you may have to deal with feeling guilty for asserting your own needs over the needs of others. Such guilt is a product of a misunderstanding, on your part, and perhaps on the part of your relationship partner; a product of broken or misconfigured boundaries that you would do well to repair and rebuild. It is perfectly okay to assert your own needs, so long as you do not go too far in the selfish direction and lose all empathy for others.

Attend to the Present, and to the Future. When you are done looking towards the past to see where your dependent identity came from, consider examining your values to see what your dependent identity might transform into. Your values are what power and motivate you to change. The more you become conscious and aware of ways that your present day beliefs and behaviors fail to fit with your values, the more you will have energy to correct those beliefs and behaviors so as to better shape them towards independently chosen directions.

"The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step", as the saying goes. Remember that it took you some time to become a "dependent" person. It will similarly take some time for you to grow to become a more independent person. Allow that to be the case and just focus yourself on each small step in the process of change, one step at a time. There is no hurry. Changes will occur gradually; not all at once. There may be setbacks and relapses, all of which are okay so long as you do not use them as an excuse to give up your self-help efforts. Instead, when you fall down, dust yourself off, rest a bit and then pick yourself back up. The more you practice independent and assertive behaviors and thoughts, the easier it will become to keep doing so.


Reader Comments
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your example is happen to me - - Jan 14th 2018

my mom needed me to support her, and my father's command is absolute, so I grow to be dependent of my parents. and think its my duty..
so its still hard for me to decide my self, I tried to decide my self to do something with risk, but before I can do it, my chest feels heavy, I cant sleep, my body feels cold all over ^^ I really want to cry..

trying to become independent.. - kalkat - Jul 8th 2010

My situation is complex though, and a lot of physciologist/ other physcians have a hard time dealing with all of my symptoms.  I have a rare autonomic conditon Hyperaderenergic Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia syndrome.  31, single parent, lost mortgage, career, and friendships.   But....I'm feeling better now and since the hardship I'm living at my boyfriends house which who knows from day to day if that will work, waiting for SSDI, no financial support.   I'm having a tough time trying to find myself again and become organized.  When I was off my feet the home we life in is gross.   I'm overwhelmed by it.  Can you please help.  My number is 269-599-2858.

For Professionals, too - Lenard Nel - Mar 12th 2007

As an educational psychologist, supporting students with learning needs to enhance their life outcomes, I found these series of articles extremely valuable. The subject matter is useful for adapting to meed the needs of studnets with social/emotional and learning needs, their families, and the professionals who support them. Thankyou, Len

Dependacy Help Made Simple - - Dec 16th 2006
I would like to thank you for the wonderful article. Simple and to the point, this is a great place to start for any journey of self help in the arena of dependancy.

good article - Maginel - Nov 26th 2006
I just want to thank you for a good, helpful article with many practical ideas and pointers! Thanks for being simple, concrete and thorough.

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