Tatiana Yevtushok

Business psychologist. Gestalt psychotherapist. Coach. Trainer

Emotional dependence

  • psychotherapy

Emotional dependence on the other in a relationship is when we get used to thinking of that other as of a cause. In a framework of such a relationship, this other can care for us by manifesting his virtue, thereby maintaining his sense of power over us, thus justifying this desire, while at the same time demonstrating to us (through his care) our advantages of being under his power. And if in a dependent relationship with another person we get used to think of him as of our cause, then the slightest distance makes us fall into fear of the disappearance of ourselves and often entails a load of accusations and pretense, i.e., we find ourselves in the position of a victim: so if the other is our cause, this means he is to blame for our all suffering, doubts, insolvency, failure, etc. Remember the king saying in “An Ordinary Miracle”: “I am not to blame! Ancestors are! All the great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers, grand uncles and aunts, forefathers and foremothers, yeah. Behaved like total pigs, and I now have to deal with their past”. Avoidance of responsibility is also a characteristic feature of a dependent position. In this case, you need to search yourself for those qualities and potential opportunities, the cause of which is this other. Some new experience knocks at us, some new images ask to be integrated into our personality.

“Of all things the measure is Man” would say the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras, and we, as true psychotherapists of our time will agree that everyone sees the world as he feels it, but we shall go further and say that truth is not so much relative to everyone, as it is born not in the person, but in the relationship between “I” and “You”, me and others, person and the world, so it can not apply only to one particular individual.

Who is often our cause in our perception? Of course, first of all, it is parents. People are used to finding the causes of their adulthood suffering and failure in their improper upbringing. But because we all lacked something in childhood (affection, tenderness, approval, support, etc., which is natural in a world where there is “I” and “You”), we easily shift the responsibility for their actions to others, especially if these actions are not quite successful. Our relationships with husbands and wives are also in the risk zone. But it is important to understand that a dependent relationship is natural, if this dependence is healthy, it is more like belonging, when we realize that we mutually need each other, recognize it, take this support from each other and because of this are able to be more productive in the world, to live a more fulfilling life. But there is no joy in pathological dependence. If you find yourself in a dependent relationship with all the consequences of feeling like a victim, accusations of another, pretense, etc., it means that you are accustomed to think of the other as your cause, and if so, you become an effect for yourself. In dependent relationships, a person finds himself in the famous “Karpman drama triangle”, in which the three corners are the Victim, the Persecutor and the Rescuer, who constantly change positions. A person may first take the stance of the Victim, then the other is his Persecutor and he is looking for a Rescuer, then he himself may turn into a Persecutor, blaming his Victim as the cause of his suffering, then immediately turns into a Rescuer, or makes another his Rescuer.

But as we know, in cause-effect relationships, a cause produces an effect only under certain conditions, when one phenomenon under certain conditions turns into another. If we consider the causal link as a triangle, then the Rescuer is the conditions under which the Persecutor turns into a cause and the Victim into an effect, so the search for a Rescuer is to address these conditions.

What is working with conditions? I invite to turn to the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, from which it follows that in the search for the cause of both being and the existence of things and phenomena, it is necessary to raise not one but four questions:

The first cause is a formal cause, the essence of the cause – man himself, not as a person, but as an entity whose will to live is determined by his needs.

The second cause is a material cause – the individual qualities of man, which by themselves are static, immobile, for the very general essence of man as a form are imprinted in them.

The third cause is a moving cause: dynamic, meaning the movement present in the relationship of form and matter, revealing the potency that matter carries in its interaction with form, the movement from possibility to reality, that is, when our individual qualities come into relationship with our human needs, there is a movement from the state of possibility to reality. It kind of creates the plot, the plot of the story in time, as the source that generates the movement in time. Aristotle writes: “By movement one must consider the realization of the possible in reality, because it is possible” (“Metaphysics”, XI, 9).

The fourth cause is the final cause, which contains the end, for the sake of which the phenomenon arises, since “from the point of view of the essence, reality goes ahead of opportunity”.

If we translate this into therapeutic language, it turns out that a person, as an entity, contains a stable sense of self (form), feels his being, with many of his needs, which are determined by his “will to life” (Schopenhauer’s wording), by entering into interaction with individual qualities, as with matter, i.e. with knowledge about himself, a person begins to move towards the realization of opportunities appearing in this interaction and their embodiment in reality, realizing the presence of a specific goal and finding its meaning. These are the 4th century BC origins of the contact cycle theory in Gestalt therapy and the concept of Self.

Aristotle sees the cause in four ways: “Cause means (1) that from which, as immanent material, a thing comes into being[…] (2) The form or pattern, i.e. the definition of the essence […] (3) That from which the change or the resting from change first begins.” In addition, cause is defined in the context of the goal, and the goal is — “that for the sake of which a thing is […]” (“Metaphysics” V, 2).

Thus, due to the causal appearance of the world in our consciousness, Aristotle essentially described the four spaces in which man exists: the space of existing nature, the space of physical things, the space of linear time and the space of meanings of existence. Hence the phenomenological approach (phenomenology, from Ancient Greek – the study of what shows itself) in the representation of the world as bringing the causes of the phenomenon to the level of consciousness, revealing the unconscious mechanisms of interaction of the products of these four semantic spaces.

I.e. returning to the therapeutic language, if we are accustomed to think of another person as our cause, then considering him as a cause according to the four criteria proposed by Aristotle, we make ourselves more clear to ourselves, we recognize ourselves, this is the essence of existentialism, arguing that in order to know ourselves, we must pass through another. In this case, we do not need to look for the cause, because we have it — the other person. But we need to bring that cause inside ourselves to get out of the oppressive dependence, it is necessary not just to survive the powerlessness to change the other in the relationship to stop all attempts to hold him responsible for our existence, but also to take this responsibility.

The following actions corresponding to the four causes will help in the work:

  1. Recognition of the fact that the other person is actually another individual with his will to life and his needs.
  2. To determine for ourselves what individual qualities we see in him. Answer as broad as possible the question “What is he?”.
  3. Based on the aforementioned, what movement does he cause in us by his presence, what opportunities do we get being next to him, what experiences would we like to live through, what potential wants to be realized, what source of change or calmness could this other be, what can we ourselves do for these changes and calmness to take place?
  4. What is the purpose of discovering these opportunities and realizing them in a new reality? What meaning do they bring us and what is important – what are we with these opportunities?

Thus, the therapist acts as a kind of representative of such a field of knowledge as heuristics (from Ancient Greek – “find” or “discover”), which studies creative, unconscious thinking, and has its origins in Socrates’ education system, when he was helping students to get new knowledge and to solve problems by using probing questions. I suppose that therapy is partly a derivative of the ancient Greek philosophical views on man, as well as methods of training, because in the process man comes to his life goals in a very Aristotelian and Socratic way.

So, based on this theory, the other person for us can be both cause and effect at the same time, evil and good, hell and paradise, suffering and joy.

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