Chapter 8: Dependency and Conformity
How dependent are we? What makes us so dependent?
Gender issues: A woman's place--
Assertiveness and our excuses for not acting
Breaking away from parents
Codependency--over-involved in solving someone else's problems 758
Believing you are in control of your life
Learning to be your own decision-maker
Extreme dependency and pathology
Dependent Personality Disorder
Dependent people as psychotherapy patients
Methods for becoming more self-reliant and independent
or directing you
The last four chapters focused on behaviors and emotions that hurt
us and demand our attention--bad habits, stress, sadness, and anger.
The emotional pain pushes us to do something about these problems.
The concerns of this chapter--dependency, conformity, and indecision-
-may be comfortable and less pressing for change. For example, being
nice and doing what we are told or what our friends want us to do may
be the easiest course for us to take. It may not be the best, however.
Likewise, putting off a decision may be easiest, but we might be better
off carrying out a reasonable plan of action. Going with our feelings
may be easier than carefully weighing the pros and cons.
So, in some respects, a helpful discussion of dependency may first
need to "shake you up" or make you uncomfortable (like chapter 3)
before you are motivated to make tough changes in the direction of
self-reliance and self-direction. If we unthinkingly accept hand-me-
down values or traditions, we should be concerned. If we "go along
with the crowd" or drift along without planning our lives, we might
benefit from a little worry. If we feel terribly inadequate without a
partner, we might cope much better with life if we stayed single long
enough to become comfortable with our aloneness and independence.
We will review the studies that show how conforming and obedient
we tend to be. It is scary, but there is hope. For instance, humans in
developed countries are probably becoming more self-reliant,
independent, self-directed, and tolerant of opposing views. How do we
infer this? Several studies have been done (Remley, 1988). In one,
sociologists asked mothers in the 1924 and in 1978 what traits they
wanted their children to acquire. In 1924, the three most important
traits were "loyalty to the church," "strict obedience," and "good
manners." All three are aspects of conformity! 54 years later in 1978,
mothers considered the most important traits of children to be
"independence (thinking sensibly for themselves)," "tolerance (of
others)," and "social mindedness (accepting responsibility)." All
aspects of autonomy! Keep in mind these are the values of mothers of
young children; we don't know how successful those mothers were in
teaching those values. But I consider the world moving in the right
direction (although autonomy could degenerate into self-centeredness,
competitiveness, isolation, and greed). Despite the progress, this
chapter will make it clear to you that, as a species, we are still
appallingly conforming, passive, and obedient. Perhaps we have just
found new masters and Gods.
If you are motivated to be more decisive, assertive, or self-
directed, this chapter discusses several useful self-help methods: self-
rewarding independence, extinguishing fears of being alone, practicing
decision-making and assertiveness, and gaining insight into your
passive-dependency. If you consistently subordinate yourself to
others, it is likely you will eventually feel inferior and resent them.
Don't take the easy way out. It is important to be "your own person."
Since God made us to be originals, why stoop to be a copy?
Definition of terms
Dependency is having needs that you can't--or feel you can't--
meet by yourself. An infant is obviously dependent in most ways. Later
in life, as a teenager, we may need our parents less and less in several
areas: safety, socially, economically, affectionately, etc. Thus, we as
adults become more independent although it is normal to always need
others in certain ways. But if as children we have overprotective, over-
controlling or authoritarian parents, we are in danger of remaining
overly dependent for our age. The dependent personality is
conforming, compliant, passive, suggestible, sensitive to what others
want, yielding to other's opinions, needy to have others like us, and
generally pleased to be taken care of. Many of these traits are "nice"
but you can clearly see that the dependent personality is designed to
encourage others to be protective, controlling, demanding, and
nurturing. Thus, dependent people are usually in a reciprocal
relationship with someone who is controlling (a "control freak") or
someone who is over-protective (a "rescuer" or codependent). Indeed,
that is the essence of a dependent adult: they want to have someone
support and take care of them (Bornstein, 1992).
As a generic term, dependency also implies being weak and
fearful, indecisive, insecure and somewhat helpless, naive and
inexperienced, and overly sensitive. Even these negative traits include
many behaviors that suggest putting other's preferences, needs, and
wants before your own. That is, it is assumed that you let others guide
what you will do because you want and need their approval, control,
support, or love. Thus, conformity, compliance, passivity, and non-
assertiveness are often major aspects of dependency. These behaviors
and attitudes are not powerless; in fact, they affect others powerfully,
e.g. being unmotivated irritates people, being helpless and in trouble
prompts others to try desperately to help, etc.
Conformity is when we change our behavior or opinions due to real
or imagined pressure (not direct requests) from others. This includes
behaving in traditional ways or according to cultural or familial
customs, so we all conform. Compliance is when a direct request is
made of us and we agree to do it. Passivity is when someone else
takes action involving us or against us, and we do not object or resist;
we are submissive or inactive. Non-conformity or non-compliance or
passive resistance is when we are independent, resist these pressures,
and "do our own thing." Anti-conformity or rebelliousness, on the other
hand, is stubbornly doing the opposite of what you are told to do, even
if it isn't too smart. For instance, a teenager might avoid homework,
stay up late, and use four-letter words to defy his/her parents, not
because he/she thought these things were wise or in his/her best
interest. The constant rebel is no more free than the conformist.
Due to the enormous attention given to addiction in the last 15 to
20 years, some new concepts have developed. Obviously, a drug
addict or an alcoholic is dependent on drugs or alcohol. But, many
other out-of-control behaviors have been included in the addictions:
gambling, shopping, working, sex, promiscuity, eating, socializing,
compulsive cleaning, etc. These are needs that may dominate us and
we comply. Codependency is another new label, although an old idea.
It is when you are addicted to an addict (or any needy person), i.e.
you loose yourself (ignore your needs) by becoming dedicated to
helping an addict overcome his/her addiction. Codependency develops
in stages: first, you may participate with the addict (drinking,
shopping, working); then, realizing the strength of the other person's
addiction, you go along "just this once" to keep peace; finally, the
addict is obviously unable to stop him/herself but you now deny the
destructiveness of his/her addiction as well as deny that you have lost
control of your life too. The codependent is extremely dependent. They
long for approval and recognition of their sacrifices; they do, indeed,
tolerate awful circumstances, including abuse; they fear being on their
own. They feel constant, dreadful responsibly for controlling someone
else (saving them) and they blame themselves (not the addict) when
things go wrong. Sometimes they are sad, sometimes mad; it is a
"sick" situation (see later discussion).
For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.
How Dependent Are We?
What Makes Us So Dependent?
Psychologists have done a lot of research about the attachment of
infants to their mother or primary caretaker. Three styles of
attachment are described: secure, avoidant (unemotional), and
preoccupied (very emotional). The infant/young child's attachment
pattern influences the adult's attachment styles. Within adults, the
"secure attachment" involves trust and positive, comfortable feelings.
The "preoccupied attachment" also involves a lot of emotions, both
positive and negative, but the dependent person is often obsessed
with maintaining the relationship, using various emotions and actions
to keep the lover's/caretaker's attention.
There are two types of "avoidant attachment": (a) the "dismissing
avoidant" is self-confident, self-reliant, and doesn't feel the need for a
relationship. This unemotional independence is thought to sometimes
be a defense against liking or needing someone which would expose
them to rejection or hurt. (b) The "fearful avoidant" clearly wants to
have a close relationship but is well aware of a lack of trust and fears
of abandonment. Thus, they don't let themselves get close. They
constantly feel frustrated--wanting what they can't get. Consequently,
they have lots of negative emotions--anxiety and depression--without
many positive emotions.
As teenagers we are very dependent on our parents and friends.
We rely on parents for food and shelter, for transportation, for
financial support, and so on. We rely on friends for social activities,
advice, emotional support, companionship, etc. As workers, we rely on
the supervisor for guidance, colleagues for friendship, the company for
our salary, etc. As lovers and spouses, we rely on our partner for
emotional support, meaningful discussions, physical affection, fun,
financial security, and a family. As consumers we rely on farmers for
food, seamstresses for clothing, laborers for our houses, cars, and
appliances. As citizens we rely on the government and politics for
many things we could do ourselves (Lederer, 1961). Of course, we are
dependent. So what?
If an 18-year-old becomes so homesick he/she can't leave home,
that's a problem. If a 16-year-old can't fix his/her own meals and do
his/her own laundry, that's a problem. If a 14-year-old has to be
socializing all the time, that's a problem. If a 20-year-old can't find the
time to follow politics and vote intelligently, that's a problem. If an
adult isn't capable of being self-sufficient if he/she were suddenly on
his/her own, that's a problem. If a lover feels he/she couldn't live or
"wouldn't know what to do" without his/her partner, that's a problem.
There are lots of ways of being dependent, some good and some bad.
Now, let's explore some specific ways we are dependent, i.e. by
being overly conforming, compliant, or obedient, and see how
dependent we are.
If you look at how similarly we dress and fix our hair, you'd have
to say we are almost all conformists. Consider the few males who wear
skirts, aren't they considered weird? Being considered odd is such
powerful social pressure that few of us males would think of wearing a
skirt, even as a Halloween costume. You might say, "So what? It's a
trivial matter." Better think again. Wolf (1990) says women are
"prisoners of impossible standards of beauty." American men and
women spend billions and billions for stylish clothes, cosmetics, hair
stylists, new model cars, fashionable houses and so on. Being "out of
style" is socially unacceptable, like men wearing skirts. Part of the
motive is to gain status by following new trends. Part of the motive is
simply self-aggrandizement; thus, American women spend more on
beauty and fitness aids than on social services and education (Rodin,
1992). There are better uses for the money spent on status and the
He tried to be somebody by trying to be like everybody, which makes him a nobody.
Research findings also suggest we are very eager to please others
by conforming. A famous experiment, involving easy judgments about
the length of lines, by Solomon Asch (1958) found that almost 75% of
the people tested gave at least one wrong answer in order to agree
with others (who were confederates of the experimenter and
intentionally gave wrong answers). The typical subject gave the wrong
answer in order to conform with the group opinion about one-third of
Most of us know how difficult it is to disagree with three or more
people when they all see things differently than we do. We also know
(and research affirms) that we don't always believe what we say to
others. Example: you are with a group of friends and one of them is
considering buying a car and asks how you like Fords. One person
says, "They really look nice" and another comments, "They have a
good repair record and don't rust out." Even if you don't care for
Fords, the chances are you will make a favorable comment in spite of
your private opinion. This is even more true if you are in a group of
older people or one that includes experts or your boss. In general, if
we are interested in pleasing or impressing the other group members
but feel we are only moderately accepted by them at this point, we are
more likely to conform. If we are very secure with the group or don't
care, we can speak up (Aronson, 1984). Self-actualizing people are
non-conformists; they think for themselves (Maslow, 1970).
Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.
Studies of group behavior also add to our understanding of
conformity or compliance. Groups are usually superior to individuals in
solving puzzles or problems in an experimental setting, like how to get
three missionaries and three cannibals across the river in a 2-person
boat without the missionaries ever being outnumbered (Deaux &
Wrightsman, 1984). Yet, when emotions, politics, and personalities get
involved, groups often make bad decisions. Janis & Mann (1977) have
studied several unfortunate governmental decisions, like the invasion
of Cuba (which Kennedy favored) and the expansion of the Vietnamese
war (which Johnson favored). Janis believes that group members
become too eager to please or agree with a powerful leader or too
eager to avoid controversy and arrive at a speedy solution. In the
process they overlook important information and discourage different
opinions. This faulty thinking, motivated by needs to please and
conform, was called groupthink by Janis. Watch for this in your groups.
See method #11 in chapter 13 for ways to counteract these errors in
Compliance and obedience
There is not only a personal need to agree with others but strong
pressure exerted by the group on any person with different opinions to
comply with the majority. Promises, arguments, and threats are used
to get agreement. If someone steadfastly refuses to agree with the
group, he/she is frequently rejected and ignored. Usually the more
deviant group members (those taking an extreme position) and the
entire group move in the direction favored by the majority. This has
become known as group polarization (Deaux & Wrightsman, 1984). It
can be thought of as a "jump on the band wagon" effect or "go along
with the majority" effect. However, we do not yet know under what
conditions private opinions are actually changed, if they are, in these
more complex situations. Perhaps as we learn more about a certain
opinion and argue for it, we come to believe it more. Perhaps we just
don't want to make waves. Perhaps we "know which side of our bread
is buttered." It's all compliance.
There are other specific conditions in which we tend to comply with
direct requests. For instance, once we have granted one request, we
are more likely to comply with another request. So a salesperson will
make a small request first: "May I ask you a few questions?" and "May
we sit down?" Finally, "May I order you one?" This is called the "foot in
the door" technique. Another approach is the "door in the face"
technique: first, someone makes a very large request of you and you
say "no" (that's the door in the face). They graciously accept your
refusal and then a few days or weeks later the same person
approaches you with a much more modest request. You are more
likely to comply this time than if you had never been approached.
Thirdly, there is the old "low ball" technique: first, get a person to
agree to some unusually good deal, then change the conditions and
the person will still agree to the new conditions. For example, a car
salesperson might offer you a fantastic deal or a teacher might request
some help. Once you agree, then the sales person "discovers" a
mistake and raises the price or the teacher tells you it's a dirty job at
7:00 AM, but you still go through with the agreement.
Deaux and Wrightsman (1984) summarized the research that
shows independent people are more intellectually able, more capable
leaders, more mature, more self-controlled, and more self-confident.
Conforming people are self-critical, have lower self-esteem, and have
stronger needs to interact with others socially. Don't get suckered into
Obedience to authority
The most impressive and appalling studies in this area were done
by Stanley Milgram (1974). They are famous studies. Milgram's intent
was to see how much harm ordinary people would do to another
person if directed and urged to do so by an authority (a psychologist
asking them to shock a person when he/she gave a wrong answer in a
learning experiment). Actually, no one was shocked but the subjects
obviously believed they were hurting another participant in the
experiment. The shock was to be increased with every mistake. To do
this there were 30 switches at 15-volt intervals labeled as follows:
Slight shock (15-60 volts), Moderate shock (75-120 volts), etc. on up
to Extreme-intensity shock (315-360 volts), DANGER--severe shock
(375-420 volts), and XXX (435-450 volts). Most of us would assume
that our friends and relatives wouldn't do such a mean, dangerous
thing. Certainly, we wouldn't. Especially if the person being shocked in
the next room started moaning (at 75 volts) and then yelling, "Hey,
that really hurts" (at 120 volts) and then at 150 volts, "Experimenter,
get me out of here! I refuse to go on!" At 180 volts the victim cries, "I
can't stand the pain." Later, there are agonized screams after every
shock and he pounds on the wall pleading with you...and finally at 330
volts the subject falls silent. When the shocker wants to stop the
psychologist simply says, "Please continue" or "You must go on." What
do most people do?
Amazingly, 65% of the subjects went all the way to 450 volts! In
fact, every one of the 40 subjects administered at least 300 volts!
Milgram wrote, "Many subjects will obey the experimenter no matter
how vehement the pleading of the person being shocked...It is the
extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the
command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of this
study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation." The
subjects administering the shock were not sadistic monsters nor very
angry nor prejudiced against the learner nor indifferent (they appeared
to be very stressed).
So, why or how do we humans do such things? Milgram says the
subjects (1) became absorbed in pleasing the authority and doing their
assignment just right, (2) denied their responsibility, "the
experimenter was a Ph. D." or just like Lt. Calley or Adolf Eichmann,
many of the subjects said, "I wouldn't have done it by myself, I was
just doing what I was told," (3) started to believe that the experiment
was vitally important and that the pursuit of truth is a "noble cause"
(even though someone has to suffer), (4) blamed the victim, "he was
so stupid and stubborn he deserved to get shocked," and, most
importantly, (5) just couldn't bring themselves to act on their values
and defy authority.
This deference to authority is a serious problem, not just in terms
of kowtowing to government officials, but also to "experts," doctors,
bosses, owners, authors, and many others who are eager to tell you
what to do.
Socially instilled obedience
Milgram's reasons sound mostly like excuses for our immoral
attempts to curry favor with an important person. Considering the
great stress the subjects experienced and the fact that they were only
paid $4.00 for one hour of work for an experimenter they would never
see again, there must have been some other very powerful needs to
please the psychologist. What, then, are the real reasons we are so
ineffective and intimidated by authority? I suspect it is due to years of
indoctrination (internalization) by the people and institutions most
dear to us--parents, schools, religion, government, etc. Most of the
time conformity and obedience are helpful and morally good. The
same trait, unquestioning obedience, that produces the good child at
home, the good church member, and the good student at school may
also have produced the calloused and cruel abuse in the Milgram
study, in Nazi Germany, in the Vietnamese war, etc. We must learn to
be "good" and to think for ourselves.
Research (Head, Baker, & Williamson, 1991) indicates that persons
diagnosed as "dependent personality disorder" tend to come from
families that had rigid rules, including "do not express your emotions
openly" and "don't be independent--do what you are told, follow the
family traditions, obey your parents." Hitler's father was the
unquestioned authority in his family; Hitler re-created his family
situation and established himself as the unquestioned authority of the
Fatherland. Every dictatorial authoritarian must have dependent,
compliant followers. Unfortunately, neither authoritarians nor
dependent people get much practice at functioning independently as
In the process of growing up we are exposed to enormous
pressures to be compliant or conforming. Examples: (1) Parents often
demand obedience, "Do it because I say so!" This may continue even
after the "children" are 18 or 20 years old. Overprotective parents
produce frightened, dependent children. (2) Peers reward going along
with the crowd. (3) Teachers expect you to do the assignments, not
plan and carry out your own education. (4) We are expected to get
married and we are led to believe that love and marriage will solve
most of our problems; we depend upon and long for all these benefits
from marriage. (5) Government regulates much of our lives; it is
drilled into us to follow the law. Have you ever been driving at 3:00
AM and noticed that you stopped and waited for all the red lights to
change even though no other cars were around? (6) Religions tell us
what to believe "with unquestioning faith" and, indeed, avoid and
strongly discourage doubts and questions. Can you imagine a religion
studying the psychological needs underlying the development of myths
and religions? (7) The media encourages passive observation and
glorifies persons in high authority. Independent thinking is hardly
rewarded, e.g. there are 30 to 40 candidates for president every four
years, but how many get a chance to share their ideas? Two, maybe
three. (8) The military teaches, "Yours is not to wonder why, yours is
but to do and die." (9) At work, the employees, even after 20 or 30
years, do not make decisions but wait on the bosses to tell them what
to do. And finally, (10) our friends, in most cases, only remain friends
so long as we agree with them on major issues. "To have friends, you
have to get along." We are taught well to be submissive followers. To
truly think on your own and to do your own thing can be very scary.
The continuation of a society depends to some extent on
compliance. Forty years ago, writers claimed that the pressure to
conform was increasing. William Whyte (1956) in The Organization
Man contended that "getting along with others" and team-work were
replacing the Protestant Ethic of individual effort and hard work. David
Riesman (1950) in The Lonely Crowd described three common ways
we conform socially: (1) we are tradition-directed; that is, social
customs and beliefs, especially in the form of social pressures,
determine what we do. (2) We are conscience-directed; that is, we
have internalized our parents' morals and ideals so that we are
controlled not by our reason but by our sense of guilt. (3) We are
other-directed; that is, we are sensitive to what our friends and
associates think and feel and we try to please or impress them.
Riesman saw America as becoming more and more other-directed.
Certainly Milgram's subjects went to great lengths to please the
The Calf Path
One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
(The poem goes on to describe how a dog followed the calf's path the
next day, then later some sheep, and over the years many other
animals followed the path. Eventually, the path became a trail followed
by men, then a road with a village along side which grew into a city.
The author concluded:)
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead...
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent...
For men are prone to go it blind
Among the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done...
-Sam Walter Foss
From Desk Drawer Anthology, a group of poems collected by Franklin
Harvey, Hunt, and Schroder (1961) found four types of people: (1)
rule abiding, tell-me-what-to-do types (30%), (2) rebellious, don't-
tell-me-what-to-do types (15%), (3) cautious, what-do-you-think-I-
should-do types (20%), and (4) self-directed, I'll-get-enough-
information-and-decide-for-myself-what-to-do-types (5-7%). It's
shocking that so few fall in the last category (especially since most of
us think of ourselves as independent). The more recent data (cited in
introduction) provides some hope that we are gradually learning to
think for ourselves.
Social-emotional needs and dependency
If we are willing to seriously hurt someone to please an authority
we will know for only an hour, one has to wonder how strong our
dependency is on parents, friends, and loved ones. Harry Harlow
(Harlow & Harlow, 1966) did an impressive series of studies
demonstrating that baby monkeys need mothering. Unless the
monkeys received some kind of love in the form of being held,
stroked, and played with, they developed abnormally, i.e. they became
scared, hostile, self-destructive, and sexually inept. Human infants
also need loving care; they may die without it (see chapter 6). Bowlby
(1969) found the infant's first attachment was to mother and then to
others. These early needs and emotional bonds are powerful and
possibly innate. Can it be that this same kind of desperate clinging
dependency persists as adults?
In the movie, This is Your Life, two children, about 8 and 10, are asked by their single
mother: Would you rather have your Mom in the next room contemplating suicide for the
next week or have your Mom in ecstasy all alone in Hawaii? We all know the children's
Takeo Doi (1973), a Japanese psychoanalyst, describes a unique
Japanese word--amae--which refers to the longing of an infant at the
breast to have every whim attended to, to be enveloped in indulgent
love, to feel at one with the mother. Doi says such a feeling continues
into adulthood. It is being so dependent and needy that one is very
careful not to disrupt such a warm, giving relationship; thus, the
Japanese are dutifully apologetic. It means being so close to another
person that one can be self-indulgent without embarrassment. It
means seeking unconditional love, love you receive just by existing
(what Fromm called "Mother's love").
The Japanese are more aware of these dependency needs, partly
because they have the word (amae) and partly because their culture
does not emphasize (as much as ours does) individual freedom and
self-reliance. They are willing to stay close and subservient to their
parents; they are inclined to become attached to the company they
work for, giving conscientious work and expecting life-long support
from the company.
In the last chapter, we discussed the conflicts between teenagers
and their parents. Both anger and dependency are involved. Later in
this chapter we will consider the lingering dependency ties with
parents even after we "grow up."
Our need to be accepted
Otto Rank (1932), an early student of Freud, said it was important
to assert one's own "will." He believed that most neuroses develop
because people do not have the courage to be themselves; instead,
they suppress their true selves in order to please others. Many others
agree. Moustakas (1967) calls conformity a self-alienating process by
which he means that we cut ourselves off from our own feelings,
dreams, talents, and potential because we want to be liked. Other
peoples' fears of being "different" cause them to reject us if we are
"different" and unique. Thus, it is our fear of being rejected (by
conformists), that causes us to lose our own freedom and
Fritz Perls wrote a popular poster which reflects our common
struggle to get free of domination by others:
"I do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your
expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and
I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful. If not, it can't be
Love and dependency
Songs, poems, and novels attest to our desperate yearning for
love. Psychologists talk about it too (Fromm, 1974; Maslow, 1970;
Shostrom, 1972; Peele, 1976). Mature love, according to Fromm, does
not say, "I love you because I need you," but rather "I need you
because I love you." Romantic love is referred to as D-love by Maslow.
D-love is based on one's deficiencies, on one's weakness, as in popular
songs: "I'd be lost without you" or "Since you left me baby, my life is
over." We need someone else to make us feel adequate or whole and
secure. B-love is mature, unselfish love, i.e. based on a love of the
"being" of the other person. The self-actualized person wants but does
not desperately need love, so the loss of love to them is regretted but
not traumatic. If our loved one decides to leave us, it probably means
they are growing and/or trying something new. We could wish them
well instead of being crushed. We are crushed because we feel so
needy. Maslow's theory suggests our reaction to the loss of love
depends on how we look at it and our self-esteem (see chapter 6).
D-love is like an addiction to drugs: we get hooked on someone we
can't do without because of our own inadequacies (Peele, 1976). How
common is this? Some form of "social dependency" (a lover or friends)
is the addiction of two-thirds of middle class teenagers; lower classes
use drugs and alcohol, according to Peele. More mature love--B-love--
is the opposite of interpersonal addiction. As a weak, needy person in
deficiency-based love we are absorbed by this one relationship; it is
our whole life.
"If a person loves only one person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love
is not love but a symbiotic (dependent) attachment, or an enlarged egotism."
-Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
After the infatuation is over, how can you tell if it is mature love or
addictive dependency? Ask yourself these questions (Peele, 1976):
Is each lover mature and confident of his/her own worth and
ability? Are they independent? Are they each comfortable
Are both continuously improved by the relationship?
Do both have outside interests and relationships?
Is the love relationship integrated into his and her life rather
than being an isolated part of life?
Is there no jealousy of the lover's success, growth, and new
Are the lovers also genuine, honest, close friends?
When our obsession with another person causes us to neglect our
own needs and priorities, to neglect our own life, you need to cure
your love addiction. Bireda (1990) addresses this problem directly.
Germaine Greer (1971) in The Female Eunuch points out that some
lovers like their partners to fail or to have a weakness because a
scared, inadequate person is more likely to stay dependent on them.
Likewise, making yourself indispensable to your partner, i.e. making
him or her dependent on you, may be harmful to the relationship in
the long run. She says the question to ask is: "Do I want my love to
be happy more than I want him/her to be with me?" If your answer is
yes, it's probably mature love. If it is no or "I'm not sure," watch out
for clinging dependency.
If your life centers almost entirely around your loved one, naturally
breaking up will be agonizing and take a long time. Of course, growing
and mature people often go different directions; parting will be
regretted and painful for them too, but not a long-lasting emotional
disaster. In those cases where love suddenly turns to hate, it suggests
that the person was thinking more of him/herself than the lover all
One of the fantastic experiences of life is being deeply in love--
obsessed with someone, thrilled by them, wanting to touch them all
the time. Maybe the desperate need for love can't be escaped. There is
a saying, "Love is nature's trick to insure the species." The deep
internal feelings of love are so similar all over the world, it isn't likely
we learn to love from the movies. Of course, we are often hoping for
more from love than a relationship and sex. So often we hope that
love and marriage will solve many or all of our anxieties and problems
(Gordon, 1976). As we will discuss later, traditional women have
wanted economic, social, and emotional satisfaction; traditional men
have wanted all the comforts of home, admiration, and emotional
support. (Non-traditional men and women expect less from their
spouse.) When our expectations are not met by our lover, we have
problems (disappointment and anger).
Being familiar with these theories--and that is all they are--may
make us more aware of the emotional dependency and
unreasonableness involved in "blind" love. This awareness can help us
cope. If deep, intimate love cannot exist without certain kinds of
dependencies, maybe we can anticipate those needs and handle them.
Judith Bardwick (1979) and Marion Solomon (1994) say that lovers are
always dependent. To them dependency merely means mature lovers
need affection and affirmation as being good, capable people. Lovers
do not need to be insecure, self-doubting, and helpless. But
dependency is a part of intimacy. They say mature lovers need both
closeness and also distance; they need emotional connections and also
autonomy. This is called an interdependent relationship.
Without a long-term commitment to a love relationship, Bardwick
says we are in danger of feeling insecure, finding little meaning in life,
and longing for unconditional love (Mother's love or amae). I think
love may be a basic human need, like safety or being touched or sex. I
think there is some inevitable pain when love is lost (at least, it seems
true for most of us). Thus, people in love are not independent in the
sense that they can just easily walk away (angry lovers perhaps can).
Healthy people in love are independent enough that they can, with
conscious effort, walk away from a very unhappy, restrictive
relationship. Having formed a couple, each person should, of course,
remain free to have his/her own interests, friends, and activities. So,
lovers need to be independent and dependent.
A student shared with me this beautiful, poignant message:
Being Your Own Person
After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand
and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and company doesn't
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts and presents aren't
And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes
open, with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow's ground
is too uncertain for plans and futures have a way of falling down
After awhile you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much,
so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of
waiting for someone to bring you flowers,
And you learn that you really can endure,
That you really are strong and you really do have worth,
And you learn and learn... with every goodbye you learn.
-An unknown lover
There is so much more we humans need to know about
dependency and love, jealousy, submissiveness, painful rejection,
anger, etc. Chapter 9 helps us understand ourselves and relationships;
chapter 10 deals with love and sex.
Reactions to social influence
When someone or a family or a social-cultural group tries to
influence you, there are several ways you can respond. You can argue
and rebel. You can go along with the idea or request or tradition, in
which case there are three types of reactions you can have (Aronson,
Compliance, as we have seen in the Asch and Milgram studies
above, is agreeing with the request or idea in order to get some
payoff, perhaps just to avoid unwanted consequences. Thus,
family members may gather at Mom and Dad's every Sunday,
because the parents would be hurt if the children didn't.
Likewise, students do homework to avoid a low grade. People
do hard labor for money. Take away the grading system or the
pay, and the work won't be done. Underlying compliance, in
this case, is power--the ability to reward and punish.
Identification is where you want to be like someone else and,
thus, do and think what they do. Thus, if your favorite aunt is a
singer, you may study hard on your voice and guitar lessons in
order to be like her. If your father is a republican, you may
vote that way because you identify with him and respect his
political views. Underlying identification is an attraction--having
adopted the other person's ways and values because of the
appeal of the person, not because of the validity or morality of
his/her ideas. If you start to dislike that person, your actions,
ideas, and values may change.
Internalization is based on the desire to be right. If you hear a
speaker who seems knowledgeable say something that makes
good sense to you, you are likely to accept these ideas as your
own. This is the strongest and most permanent reaction to
social influence because our motivation to be right is powerful.
You keep these opinions until they are proven wrong.
If we are hoping to change some behavior or belief acquired via
social influence, it would clearly be helpful to know if it was acquired
because it paid off or because of identification or internalization.
Gender Issues: A Womans Place---
In addition to needing love, as we grow up we identify with older
people, primarily of our own sex, and internalize many of their
attitudes and values. Anne Schaef (1981) asked people to first
describe God and humankind in relation to each other, then describe
males and females. She got these responses:
The conclusion? It would appear that in the eyes of many people,
males are to females as God is to humankind. That is, man is regarded
as superior and women as inferior. If these sexist beliefs are
internalized by boys and girls at an early age, what an awful burden
for both sexes. Given this image of differences between the sexes, no
wonder men are always competitively striving for superiority. No
wonder women accept subservient, self-depreciating roles.
Where does this idea of male superiority come from?
Anthropologist Boyce Rensberger (1979) suggests that humans started
pairing because two could care for the offspring better than one and
because physiologically we evolved into sensual beings interested in
full-time sex, not just when the female is in heat like other animals. In
addition, human males seem to be more interested in co-parenting if
they are confident that they are the biological father; this can only be
known if the female has only mated with them; thus, pair-bonding and
love evolved as a method for the species to survive and thrive. Sex
(enjoying it frequently), a bigger brain, and uprightness (to carry food
to our family) may also have been vital to the development of human
life in which males and females lived in pairs.
The history of gender roles
But, when, how, and why did males become dominant? Interesting
questions. We don't know the answers. Apparently some primitive
form of humans existed 4 million years ago, but the current human
brain developed very recently, perhaps only 35,000 years ago. It is
thought that humans lived in groups of 15 to 25 until 12,000 to 15,000
years ago. These groups wandered long distances looking for available
food. About 10,000 BC, some groups learned to cultivate crops, stored
grain, developed weapons for killing larger animals, domesticated
animals, settled in one place, and built more permanent shelters. The
settlements grew larger. Some historians believe that 10,000 years
(300 generations) ago women were the leaders and the gods of some
larger groups. Mother earth and females were obviously the magical
sources of life and, thus, closer to God. But, according to Rensberger,
in a more settled existence where goods and wealth could be
accumulated, well beyond what one could carry, there developed a
strong relationship between meat-eating and male dominance. Men
were the hunters because they were stronger, didn't have children to
suckle, and were more expendable. The more meat provided the tribe
by the men, the more the men were revered, the more economic and
political power men accumulated, and the more dependent and
submissive became their wives. We still speak of "bringing home the
bacon." This historical scenario may support one contention of
feminists, namely, that women will have to become economic,
political, and religious equals of men before they will be regarded by
society as individuals of equal status.
There are other theories about the source of male chauvinism.
Even before anthropologists developed their theories, Freud was
impressed both with the power of love-sex drives to dominate our lives
and with the male feeling of superiority over women. He, being a
male, thought young girls might feel inferior because they don't have a
penis and because they may fear it had been cut off as punishment for
being bad. That's an unlikely explanation of why males feel superior
and females feel inferior, compared to continuously being told by your
entire culture that boys are better and girls are nice but not as able or
as wanted as boys, which continues to be said long after the men of a
society have stopped risking their lives to hunt lions. (Besides, why
don't men feel inferior because they don't have breasts?)
Traditional roles and the Womens Movement
There was an enormous amount of feminist literature written in the
1960's and 1970's (Friedan, 1963; Greer, 1971; Janeway, 1971). It
rebelled against the 5,000-year-old stereotypes for men and women. I
won't try to summarize the feminist literature but its focus was on the
importance of equality between the sexes, including being against
male chauvinism (feeling superior or "god-like") and female
subservience or dependency. Men and women should read and take to
heart this literature. Schwartz (1970) is typical of the early
assertiveness literature. These writers point out how much more is
involved than the emotional need for love (as discussed above) or the
need for sex discussed by the anthropologists. The feminist writings
clarify how tradition has dictated male and female sex roles that
control much of our lives--our interests, our work assignments, our
attitudes towards ourselves and others, our status, our love lives, our
dreams and aspirations, and almost everything about our lives. As we
have seen, people tend to conform to other peoples' ideas of what is
right or how things ought to be. For example, only men are supposed
(according to "old" tradition) to strive for economic and political power,
e.g. to become chief of the tribe or president of the country or CEO of
the company. Only women are supposed to be homemakers and full-
time caretakers of the children (this is really slow to change).
Indeed, tradition in America (until the Women's Movement) had a
notion of the ideal or "perfect" marital relationship. For traditional
women, it is being loved and taken care of by a successful, good man
(Dowling, 1982; Willis, 1981). He goes to work and makes good
money to provide for the family. He knows about finances, cars,
repairing the house, and makes the major decisions. She doesn't just
feel dependent on him, she is truly dependent on him. For example, if
she, like a good wife, puts him through medical or business school by
working as a secretary and he later leaves her because she no longer
shares his interests and intellect, she can't financially take care of
herself and the children. She is not self-sufficient. However, he can
perhaps earn well over $200,000 a year. That's not equality.
What does the traditional husband need? He wants to be
successful, to beat out his competitors for money and advancement.
It's stressful and he wants a haven from the "rat race." His haven
includes a loving, devoted, admiring wife who cares for his basic
needs--food, clean and pressed clothes, good sex, a comfortable social
life, a neat, clean home, etc. She takes care of the kids and their
problems; she is in awe of his achievements and nurtures his ego
when he's down; she keeps their love relationship going smoothly. She
is indispensable too. If she finds the homemaker life frustrating and
seeks an exciting career--and in the process finds a better, more
egalitarian relationship--he is crushed. He loses a home, a cook and
maid, a wife, and the children. Although he felt superior to "the little
wife," he isn't totally self-sufficient either; he feels lost inside the
empty house alone.
Dependency in marriage
We are all dependent (interdependency is discussed above). There
is nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn't place us in a position of
feeling inferior or of being unable to cope if we are left alone, as in the
marriage situation described above. Overly-dependent people put
themselves, often unconsciously, in situations where they are helpless
or feel helpless in order to get others to take care of them, like
children. Often dependent people will refuse to take responsibility for
managing their own lives, as long as someone else will. If you feel you
can't survive on your own, you are dependent in the worst sense of
being incompetent or helpless. Such a situation is scary, if and when
you permit yourself to think about it. Even if you are a liberated
woman and not helplessly dependent on a male, it may be difficult or
impossible to find an exciting career, so you are dependent on the
business world for employment. The unemployed can tell you how
scary that dependency is. Furthermore, the employed woman often
has to care for the children and manage the household because her
husband is hung up on the old ideas of what is woman's work (and/or
because it's easier to watch TV than to bathe the kids). Indeed, one
survey of 50 two-career couples with children found that the wives
worked 15 hours more each week than the husbands! Hochschild
(1989) helps such couples avoid these unfair gender roles.
How are women coerced and/or lured into the vulnerable passive-
dependent role? Willis (1981) says (1) women are promised the
reward of security and little responsibility, (2) social pressures are
exerted on females to do what is expected of women and mothers,
and (3) women are subtly encouraged to avoid the stress of asserting
themselves and competing in an aggressive world, especially since
they aren't considered well equipped or prepared for "a man's world."
A woman may give up being self-directed because she realizes she has
been placed by others in an "inferior class," where her being strong,
decisive, successful, and a leader are discouraged. Gradually, the idea
of being independent, capable, and self-sufficient becomes scary (in
Freudian terms she is castrated) and being dependent, protected, and
compliant seems much safer and easier.
Letty Pogrebin (1980) says our current sexual stereotypes give
children two basic messages: (1) boys are better and (2) girls are
meant to be mothers. The underlying purpose is to motivate boys to
excel--"be the greatest!" However, since most boys fail to be as
successful as they had hoped, their frustration is relieved by exerting
their superiority over women. Furthermore, since women are meant to
be mothers, women cannot fulfill their roles in life without first
attracting a man; this creates enormous concern in women about sex
appeal and attractiveness. Too often the woman's self-esteem comes
from how good a man she can attract, rather than from within herself
or from her own achievements. Pogrebin believes males have sold the
boring, menial job of childrearing to women by glorifying motherhood.
On the other hand, she thinks the Women's Movement has made
careers more appealing than homemaking, at least for the middle-
class, well educated elite. Consequently, it is predicted that 25+% of
women between 25 and 29 will not be married but will have careers.
Gradually the old traditions are changing. And why not? Men aren't the
only ones capable of "bringing home the bacon." And, women aren't
the only ones capable of "taking care of the kids."
Feeling inferior and super responsible at the same time
Being considered by society to be inferior to men, some women
may simply accept being helpless and become a "Door Mat" (Namka,
1989). Other women may try to over-compensate by trying to become
everything to everybody, by feeling super responsible, by taking
charge, by loving and giving too much, by pleasing everyone, by
becoming "Superwoman." Thus, there is a spate of books about
women doing too much for others while forgetting their own needs
(Norwood, 1985; Bepko & Krestan, 1990; Leman, 1987; Braiker,
1989). Low self-esteem and shame are thought to underlie this self-
depreciatory behavior. Bepko and Krestan say there is a "Goodness
Code" for women: be attractive and sexy! be ladylike! be unselfish and
thoughtful! be sure everyone is getting along! be competent! and don't
be uppity or a bitch! These rules are so pervasive that they seem to
"come natural" to women. But part of being "good" is believing you
have never been good enough. So, built into women's roles is a
mechanism for creating self-doubt, insecurity, and a tendency to take
on too much.
Likewise, our culture encourages women to seek perfection in
terms of attractiveness. As Rodin (1992) observes, the beauty contest
goes on and on. Women worry about their looks, feel vain, and, in
turn, are ashamed of how much their bodies mean to them. It is
almost immoral if you don't diet and exercise; it is impossible to look
perfect all the time; it becomes a trap.
Willis (1981) notes that even "liberated" women are frequently in
conflict about other things, such as dependency and assertiveness.
Examples: an aggressive business woman acts like a emotional
teenager in sexual relationships; a strong, powerful, dogmatic anti-
ERA female speaker declares that women's' place is in the home being
taken care of by a man; an egalitarian female wants a challenging
career but feels guilty when she isn't the main caregiver with the
children and makes more money than her husband; a feminist
demands equality but doesn't want to be drafted into combat like men.
Many women are still struggling with these dilemmas.
Expectations of boys and men
High expectations of men can be enormous burdens for them too
(Farrell, 1975). Remember, they are to be God-like, omnipotent, and
successful. Examples: Real men are expected to be tough--"big boys
don't cry"--and fearless. Men, in turn, become demanding of others
too, inclined to criticize and direct or advise rather than empathize.
They are supposed to be logical and practical, not emotional and
idealistic. They are expected to pretend to be women's equals except
whenever they "have to put their foot down" to avoid doing housework
or to keep her at home. They must be successful in their trade and
have a superior answer to all problems at all times. They must look
confident and impress people. They must be aggressive and approach
attractive women. And, they must, of course, be a sexual powerhouse-
-a "stud." Taken altogether those are impossible standards to meet.
Anyone (including the liberated female) compelled to be so
competitive and so superior has become an unhappy slave to a
demanding stereotype (more about this in chapter 9).
What about innate dependency needs?
Sex-role stereotypes and social pressures may not be the sole
causes of dependency. Indeed, emotional dependency may not be
learned at all, it may be a basic need. Eichenbaum and Orbach (1983),
psychoanalytic therapists, argue that males and females have innate
dependency needs--needs for love and emotional support. In terms of
these needs, men hide their needs more than women but women are
raised to meet those needs in men. In short, women learn to be
depended upon, not dependent! According to this theory, women may
be economically dependent and mechanically (fix the car) dependent,
but they are trained to deny their needs and become the emotional
and interpersonal caretakers and controllers of the family. The entire
family depends on mother; she is the family organizer and therapist.
But, there is no one to take care of mother's emotional needs.
Certainly men aren't trained in our culture to attend to feelings and to
discuss emotional interactions at length.
If we grow up in a nurturing, loving family which gives us self-
esteem and teaches us self-reliance, we are fortunate. However, if our
innate dependency needs were unmet as a child, we may grow up
yearning for the impossible--a soul mate who will love us constantly
and make us whole. Many wives provide this emotional support; many
husbands do not. Thus, self-sacrificing women look needy. And
bewildered men wonder, "What does she want?" According to
Eichenbaum and Orbach, much of the dependency problem in
marriage goes back to basic deficiencies in the mother-child
relationship. The push-pull in mother-daughter relationships is
especially strong; for the daughter it involves needed love and
unwanted control. Boys, starting at 4 or 5, can reject some of the
emotional involvement with mother as they identify with father; girls
don't have that way out of a consuming relationship with a powerful
person (mother). Sometimes the intimacy with a lover at age 20-25
revives in a woman the old dependent, push-pull struggles she had
with her mother. Sometimes intimacy with and dependency on a good
spouse is scary (reminding us of our need for mother), sometimes
dependency keeps us in a bad relationship. Sometimes we think we
are secure and independent but it is a childhood facade, the bravado
of a 9-year-old boy. We all need love, which is something our
hormones prove to us at 13 or 14 years of age. We can't escape our
biology; our "nature" helps explain our behavior but we can learn to
handle these needs and drives.
Women are making progress
Partly because of the Women's Movement and partly due to
economic necessity and fewer children, substantial progress is being
made in the status of women (Sacks & Rubin, 1982). In 1970, 38% of
women had some college. In 1980, 63% have some college. In the
late 1980's, about half the BA's and MA's (in all areas) were earned by
women and 45% of the Ph.D.s went to women. By 1995, 75% of BA's
in psychology went to women, 70% of MA's, and 60% of Ph.D.'s were
awarded to females. In 1970, 4 in 10 white women worked for wages;
in 1980, 5 in 10 did, and in 1990, 6 in 10. 20 years ago women earned
only 65 or 70 cents for what a man got a dollar for, but recent surveys
show that they now earn 85 to 95 cents for a dollar's worth of men's
work. Low paying service jobs are still dominated by women, however.
One third of the children under 6 had wage earning mothers in 1970;
in 1980, one half had wage earning mothers; in the 1990's about 70%
of these mothers worked outside the home. In 1970, one third of the
women between 20 and 24 were not married; in the 1980's, more
than one half were not married at that age. Still about half of all
marriages end in divorce.
As more and more women break away from the stereotype of
marriage, homemaker, and motherhood, women in general will be
freer to chose their own life-style, including not marrying, not having
children, having children with parenting shared equally, or having
children with one parent--the male or the female--doing most of the
child-rearing. In spite of dogmatically held personal biases, so far as
we know, all would be equally good options in a society free of
antiquated stereotypes. The child needs care and love; gender of the
lover doesn't matter to the child. (There is evidence that children
benefit from having both a male and a female caretaker.)
An independent person will not only decide about life-style but
he/she will be self-sufficient. That doesn't necessarily mean earning
half of the income but it does mean being capable of earning an
adequate income if you needed to do so. It means being socially and
emotionally strong enough to live alone and/or find another partner if
you needed or wanted to do so. It means having a fair division of
labor, and the knowledge and skill as well as a positive attitude
towards your partner's duties so that you could easily exchange or
take over his/her role. Great personal security comes from knowing
you can handle problems that might arise.
There's an old joke: Where does an 800 pound gorilla sleep?
Anywhere it wants! Likewise, what is a woman's (or a man's) place?
Whatever she wants it to be! Yet, there are powerful forces opposing
women being equal; men, being competitors, like their superior
position and are threatened by talk of change; already successful
women, hoping to keep their status, may not welcome more
competition from other ambitious, capable women; the women
themselves, wanting good relationships, are hesitant to be assertive
and seek advancement. However, since unequals are not likely to be
true friends, both men and women have much to gain from being
equals (Miller, 1976).
Assertiveness and Our Excuses for Not Acting
In the 1960's and 1970's the Women's Movement blossomed, not
just in books but in millions of families. Women went back to school,
got jobs, and asked their husbands to help with the housework and the
child-care. One big strength of the movement was the personal
support available to women from friends or from consciousness-raising
groups. These groups preached equal rights--the right to be treated
with respect and have an equal voice in all family decisions, a right to
have and express your own feelings, a right to be listened to and
taken seriously, a right to set your own priorities, a right to get away
from the children for a while or develop a career, the right to have a
social life independent of their husband, a right to say no without
feeling guilty, etc. (Bloom, Coburn, & Pearlman, 1975). More
importantly, perhaps, the consciousness-raising groups encouraged
and coached each intimidated and dominated group member. Every
small step in each life was discussed and practiced in these groups:
how to get a job and how to share more equally child care duties,
cooking, cleaning, financial decisions, etc. Remarkable changes were
made in many families. Some men resisted but most profited from a
happier, more confident, more interesting, and more self-sufficient
The next step in human liberation flowed naturally: several books
on assertiveness training appeared, starting with Alberti and Emmons
(1970) who wrote, "If you must go through life inhibited, bowing down
to the wishes of others, holding your own desires inside you, or
conversely, destroying others in order to get your way, your feeling of
personal worth will be low." Assertion training is not just a method for
overcoming insecurities and submissiveness. It is a philosophy of life
involving self-respect, self-confidence, self-direction, and meeting
one's own needs and values without offending anyone's dignity or
violating anyone else's rights (see method #3 in chapter 13). That
sounds perfectly reasonable and harmless, doesn't it? So, what keeps
us from standing up for our rights? We have our excuses.
Just like the Asch and Milgram studies of conformity, Moriarty
(1975) documented how reluctant we are to confront a person who
offends us or is inconsiderate of us. Only 5% of college students
studying for an exam insisted that a neighbor turn down loud music.
Another 15% asked the neighbor nicely once to turn it down (which
did no good). But 80% said nothing and put up with the disruption.
Likewise, loud neighbors in a library were asked to be quiet by only
2%, 23% moved away, and 75% simply endured the disturbance.
Most of us just don't want to make waves. What are our excuses?
You will remember that we tend to have excuses for not living up
to our values (chapter 3), for procrastinating (chapter 4), for being
hostile to others (chapter 7) and now for being passive. Here are
several common excuses for not asserting ourselves (Bower & Bower,
1976). See if the shoe fits:
"Maybe I'm overreacting--I'll be quiet." You have a right to
expect quiet in a library or movie or dorm or your own house,
so admit your frustration to yourself and firmly insist on quiet.
You have lots of rights.
"Everybody has rights." Yes, but their rights end where your
rights begin. This comment is just an excuse for not confronting
the aggressive, thoughtless person. Stand up for your rights.
"Oh, well, it won't happen again." This may be true but it is an
excuse. You should be assertive (a) for your own self-respect
and (b) to help the offender be more considerate of others.
"I don't want to make a scene." Tactful and rational
assertiveness should not degenerate into a loud fight. If you
are being overcharged or under serviced, it is your civic duty to
point out the unfairness and request better service.
"They'll get mad at me." Could be, many people have learned
to intimidate others by getting angry. But look at it as another
manipulation that doesn't need to upset you and does
represent a silly, unfair way of controlling you and others. Don't
get angry, just be firmly assertive.
"Why haven't others complained?" Like 1 this thought raises
our self-doubts. Remember the studies in this chapter that
show how very conforming and passive people are. Suppose
the napkins in a bar degrade women and when you express
your disapproval to the manager, he says, "No one else has
ever complained. In fact, many people think they are funny.
Maybe you've got a hang up." Don't let this insult put you on
the defensive. Tell him that just because most customers don't
say anything doesn't mean they like the putdown of women.
And to prove your point, if he doesn't change the napkins, tell
him you will write a letter to the editor of the local paper asking
people's opinion of his attitude towards women. If you are in
public and in doubt about how others feel, conduct your own
poll but word your question so that people taking no action
appear to support your position. For example, suppose you
would like the loud music to be turned off at a picnic, you might
ask everyone: "How many here want to listen to the radio?"
rather than "How many want to turn the radio off?" That way all
the non-responders, for whatever reason, look like they do not
want to listen to the radio.
"I can't do anything about it." This helpless attitude is the
major cause of compliance. It is a self-putdown. It is also a
condemnation of "the system" which is seen as unchangeable.
Blacks, women, and other minorities "went along" for a long
time. Victims give power to the oppressor by doing nothing. Do
something! Write letters, talk to the owner or manager, ask a
politician to change things, start a group to correct some
situation, etc. Chapter 13 gives detailed suggestions for being
effectively assertive. The first task, however, is to deal with
your excuses and decide that you have a right to take action.
Breaking Away From Parents
Our emotional ties with our parents are stronger and often more
complex than with anyone else. We have already discussed how vital
love and care are to our physical and psychological well being; we are
totally dependent for a few years. According to Cindy Hazan of Cornell
University, by age 5, we have started to prefer to play with friends
rather than with Mom and Dad, but we want to be with our parents
when we are upset, and Mom and Dad are counted on for security.
Between 11 and 16, we prefer to be with friends and we seek support
from peers when we are upset, but parents are still providing us with
basic security. By age 17, most of us are enjoying friends more and
seeking support when feeling down more from friends than from
parents; moreover, over 50% feel friends (more than parents) will be
there when we need help. In the 1980's, more and more college
students have expected their parents to pay for their college
education, at least to the BA level. In hard economic times, many
college graduates return to live with their parents until they get a job.
So, becoming independent of our parents is a 18 to 25 year process.
Even after becoming independent, powerful emotional ties remain
For most of us, loving a child is one of life's most beautiful
experiences; giving someone life and helping them mature give
profound meaning to our life. Letting go of the loved child or parent
can be very hard. As Evelyn Bassoff writes, "A mother's tasks are to
create a unity with her child and then, piece by piece, dissolve it." But
all the ties can't be dissolved. Mom and Dad are embedded inside us
forever; they have enormous power over us. But we have some ability
to choose which ties to keep and which to drop.
The process of leaving home is, for some, easy, smooth, and
exciting; both parents and children are ready for the child to mature
and become independent. Obviously, if the relationship has been
enjoyable, both children and parents will miss the closeness and good
times but realize "we can't go back." For others, leaving home is a
trauma or "just too hard," either for the child or the parent, so the
young person stays in or near "home." For others, they have to get
away; leaving home is an emotional necessity for the child, the parent,
or both. In short, there are a variety of problems when leaving home
and during the years thereafter. See chapter 9 for a general discussion
of family relations and for generally useful references.
In recent years, there has been an avalanche of books about abuse
within the home and how to deal with the after effects (see chapter 7).
But there also has been some attention paid to the other end of the
spectrum, namely, being too loving, too protective, too indulging, too
smothering. These are parents who simply want their children to
become happy, well adjusted adults but they want it too much or give
too much in the process. Some parents worry constantly about their
child; they will do anything for their child (forgetting themselves, their
spouse, their own career, friends, other needy people); they become
frantic when the child has a problem; they are crushed if the child
rejects them or their values. In their desperation, such parents may
become demanding dictators, demeaning critics, indulging protectors,
smothering best friends, needy don't-abandon-me parents, and so on.
All designed to bind the child to them tightly. There are books for
over-involved parents and their children (Ashner & Meyerson, 1990;
Becnel, 1990), for mother-daughter relationships (Bassoff, 1989;
Caplan, 1989), for mothers when their children become troubled
(Brans, 1987), and for young adults who are emotionally tied to a
parent (Engel, 1991) in what is called "emotional incest" (Love, 1992).
In chapter 7, there is a description of how anger can make it easier
for dependent 18-year-olds to leave home when the parent-child
bonds have been too tight, too confining, too uncomfortable. For the
one third of us who leave home under a cloud of stress and conflict,
the strained relationship with Mom and Dad often continues to be a
problem. Howard Halpern (1976) and Harold Bloomfield (1983) have
discussed ways to cut loose from and make peace with our parents,
not as angry teenagers (as discussed in chapter 7) but when we are
adults. What an important thing to do! Here are some of suggestions,
mostly from Halpern.
Many people in their 20's and 30's still get sucked into emotional
traps and/or need their parents' approval, so much so that they can't
be themselves. How does this happen? Inside us all, no matter our
age, is an inner child, a left-over from childhood. The inner child
contains many needs and wants--many of them primitive, self-serving,
and even self-destructive. Parents still have an inner child too. While
parents want their children to be capable and happy, there is another
part of them that continues to see their children (even when they are
20 or 30) as weak, naive, and needing guidance. The inner child inside
mom or dad may be saying "don't grow up, don't leave me." Some of
these parents may resent a strong, independent child who is
successful or chooses a different life-style or religion or politics or
spouse than they would have preferred. To keep such parents from
being upset, hurt, or angry, the little child within us may keep secrets
from them or respond with "I need you too" or be overly nice and
accommodating to them while harboring resentment. The best way to
respond to such parents is to bypass their child and address their adult
part which wants you to be mature and independent: "It's time for me
to live alone" or "Instead of coming home, I've decided to do
something else for Christmas this year." Make the interaction adult to
adult by giving your reasons in a straight forward manner. Part of your
parents may be very pleased you have "grown up" (in spite of their
inner child's needs). They may object; consider their reasoning and
make your decision.
Halpern helps us recognize these parent-child "song and dance"
routines we utilize as long as the child within (us or the parents) is in
charge rather than the inner adult. It is a safe bet that you are overly
attached to a parent if after 20 you react with anger, guilt, fear of their
reaction, or self-pity when you think of a parent. One of the toughest
parent roles for a child to handle is the sacrificing martyr. The classic
is a mother who says, "If it weren't for you children, I wouldn't have
suffered so. You forget all I've done for you. And now everyone forgets
their dear old mother." Often such a mother felt unloved and unlovable
as a child. The mother's inner child is angry, frightened, and
demanding. Now she thinks she can get love from her children only by
force, primarily guilt. Her message to the son or daughter is, "If you
don't do what I want, I'll feel terrible, all because you are so selfish
and hurtful." To stop this "song and dance" the son or daughter has to
say, "No, I won't do what you are asking, and it's your choice, mother,
to suffer or be happy." You can't rescue your mother or father from
her/his unhappy childhood. You can carefully explain your reasons for
your actions, showing that you considered their wishes, that you love
them, but you have a life of your own.
Having a weak, dominated parent may be a problem but even
more serious is a dominant, aggressive, authoritarian parent, often a
father. He/she feels like he/she owns the child. Often the child has
been "bought off" with cars, clothes, college, vacations, a nice
wedding, etc. The controlling parent's technique for keeping the child
(even if 20 years old) down is to keep him/her dependent and
insecure. This is often done by belittling the 20-year-old "child." "Be
little" and helpless is the dominant parent's message. As a child or
young adult, your inner child may fight, surrender, or join the
tyrannical parent. The child who was a fighter may have had a bitter
childhood and then marry someone gentle and passive only to resent
the partner's lack of strength and to miss the joy of battle. The
surrenderer may have been dominated and frightened as a child; they
often become underachievers and generally unhappy failures crushed
by the overwhelming parent. The joiners grab a little of the power by
becoming aggressive like the parent or by joining the family business.
They never challenge the authoritarian parent and, thus, are never
free. The escape from all three of these problematic solutions is to first
recognize the scared, angry, threatened little kid inside the
authoritarian. How did he/she get that way? Was he/she a spoiled,
pampered child? Or a child who got little attention without demanding
it? Then decide what you can do: become aware that your inner child
is frightened of the parent's inner child. Your reasonable adult will
have to take control and end your defiant or "I'm worthless" or
imitator song and dance. Be an assertive independent person and plan
your own life; be the equal of the strong, critical, distrusting,
Another type of domination is by a saintly parent who tells you
exactly what to do, feel, and think because it is "good" or "the right
way" or "God's word" or "what must be done." Breaking this parent's
rules causes shame, a feeling that we are bad or sinful, and arouses
an appropriate concern that our parents won't like us. Eventually, you
may have serious troubles: you feel imprisoned, in conflict about what
is right and wrong, rejected by others for being so rigid and
judgmental, or burdened with lots of psychosomatic complaints. What
can you do? Start questioning some of the old rules, using your own
reason and life experience. Next recognize there is a scared child
inside your saintly mother or father, i.e. that super-confident voice of
authority is simply a little child inside saying, "my mommy (daddy)
says..." and repeating what he/she heard from his/her saint (your
grandmother or grandfather who repeated her/his saint's rules, etc.).
Decide your own values (see chapter 3) and just hope your saint can
accept you as an independent person who carefully plans his/her own
Other parents, according to Halpern, are unloving and narcissistic
(self-centered). Others are over-loving and seductive (Oedipus and
Electra Complexes). All have their own internal needs that drive them.
If you are unloved, the major task is to learn to love yourself,
recognizing your parent has a defect in his/her ability to love but it is
not your fault. Seductive involvement with the opposite sexed parent
causes trouble: guilt, anger, and jealousy; it alienates the same sexed
parent and may interfere with establishing more mature and satisfying
love relationships. For every problem, Halpern's solution is to learn to
recognize the dynamic interaction between your needy, insecure inner
child and your parent's inner child. Then deal with your parent in an
independent adult manner. Reference to Transactional Analysis in
chapter 9 should be helpful in understanding these dynamics.
Sometimes a therapist is needed to gain this kind of insight.
Each of us develops and/or were assigned a role within our
families. Often we grow up disliking several of the roles we adopted in
our family. These roles may even continue whenever we return home
years later. Some of these roles are: the clown that everyone makes
fun of, the cute doll, the family failure or sad sack or black sheep, the
one who always has a problem, the family genius or business success,
the rescuer or therapist, mother's or father's helper, etc. You may be
uncomfortable with the role the family continually assigns to you. But
even if you like it (e.g. the doll or the genius), often you are only
encouraged to interact in the one assigned way, as though that is all
you are. It may take considerable awareness of what's happening and
effort to interact differently in order to break out of your assigned
family role. Life is bigger than just one role or one relationship with
one parent. Breaking away from parents means being free to grow and
develop new roles and relationships, as well as establishing good, new,
and different relationships with both parents. Perhaps Halpern's book
should be called "helping parents grow up."
Codependency: Over-Involvement in
Someone Elses Problems
The term codependency, as first used in the alcohol treatment
field, meant any person whose life was seriously affected by an
alcoholic. Now the meaning has evolved and expanded. A codependent
person today has two problems: (1) a disastrous relationship with an
addict or compulsive person and (2) a disabling personal problem of
his/her own, namely, an obsession with controlling or curing the other
person which leads to frustration.
People who are codependent care a lot; they devote their lives to
saving others who are in trouble. Sounds wonderful! But that isn't the
full story. Codependency is caring run amuck. Melody Beattie (1987)
describes codependents as angry, controlling, preachy, blaming, hard
to talk to, subtly manipulative, amorphous non-persons, and generally
miserable. Not exactly angels of mercy. They have tried so hard to
manage someone else's life--to "save" them--but they failed, and
sooner or later their life crumbled into bitterness, despair, guilt, and
hopelessness. They became martyrs, tyrants, people-pleasers, clinging
vines, distraught parents, 24-hour-a-day caretakers, etc. They have
lost control of their lives.
Naturally, these "rescuers" are attracted to people who certainly
need lots of help, such as alcoholics, drug users, con artists, habitual
criminals, sex addicts, mentally ill, physically ill, and, perhaps, most
unsuspectingly, selfish, irresponsible, troubled children or ambitious
workaholics who need someone to support them while they "do their
thing." The codependents of alcoholics have an organization to help
them, called Al-Anon (call AA for information). Self-help groups for
other types of codependents are available in some cities (call
Codependents Anonymous at 602-277-7991). But codependents often
do not recognize their responsibility for their own problems; they see
only their gallant efforts to help an ungrateful, troubled person whom
they now blame for all their misery. They don't see the choices they
have made. Much has been written about co-dependency recently
(Bradshaw, 1988; Kellogg, 1987; Wegscheider-Cruse, 1990).
The basic traits of codependents--caring and helping--are very
commendable. However, the obsession with solving another person's
problems becomes problematic (if their cures don't work). The
codependent's basic personality problems seem to be excessive other-
centeredness, i.e. needing others to be happy; a lack of clear-cut
"boundaries" between them and the addict, leading to assuming
responsibility for another's life; low self-esteem, self-criticism,
excessive guilt, and shame; anger, nagging, and threats; denial of
one's own problems and need for love; unwarranted optimism about
changing others; depression and an inability to accept reality. Some
theorists say shame is the basic cause for addictions and for
When codependents die, they see someone else's life flash before them!
Beattie (1987) says recovery from codependency is simple: detach
yourself from the other person, take responsibility for managing only
your own life, and be good to yourself. Then she writes two books
describing how to do that (the usual: build self-esteem, become
assertive, overcome the barriers to intimacy, set goals, handle your
Detachment from another person does not involve rejecting the
person, it is rejecting your feeling responsible for them. As Beattie
explains, "detachment is caring without going crazy." To become
detached from another person requires a clear notion of who we are,
what our purposes are, and what limits we place on our involvement in
another person's life. Being able to detach involves "having well
defined boundaries." The boundaries between people may be very
vague and fluid, especially in very close relationships, e.g. a mother or
father may "feel for" a son as he struggles with a physical handicap or
a daughter as she goes though the loss of her first love. A spouse may
feel great pride as his/her partner gets promoted or graduates with
honors. Our identification with our children or spouse may be so great
that we "live their lives with them," experiencing their joys and
problems ourselves. The boundary between their life and our life may
be weak; in which case, their life invades our life; as a codependent,
another person's life becomes our life...and we try to fix it.
Very dependent people have vague boundaries; they feel the need
for others to "take over" and make them feel sufficient and whole.
People who have been raised to be caregivers--or to feel unworthy of
love unless they give a lot more than they get--tend to believe they
should be strong and "take over" and take care of other people's
problems (weak boundaries). If we have been controlled by someone,
it may be unclear to us what parts of us are ours to control and what
parts someone else has a right or needs to control (weak boundaries).
Of course, our original bonds with our parents (involving weak or
strong boundaries and major or minor control over us) have powerful
effects on our relationships throughout life.
If a 25-year-old child or a spouse constantly gets into trouble, say
some illegal activity, the weak-boundaried, codependent parent or
spouse would continue to respond with dread and excuses for each
offense (almost as if he/she had committed the crimes) and feel
compelled every time (probably thinking "I can't let this ever happen
again") to do everything possible to buy the best legal defense to
avoid punishment. On the other hand, the strong-boundaried,
detached person would have regrets but hold the other person
responsible for his/her illegal behavior, let him/her fend for
him/herself, and let them take the consequences. It isn't a matter of
codependents loving the other person more than detached people;
rather, it is differing degrees of enmeshment or confused identification
with the other person. It is a matter of trying to control someone
If you are a codependent and overly involved in running someone
else's life, you need to withdraw and detach yourself. This is done by
"setting limits" or "setting a boundary" with this person. In this way
you clarify what you will and will not do for another person; you
establish your rights and set the limits of your commitment to the
other person (even if you feel you should do everything for them).
Explain to the person you have been worrying that you have done all
you can, that they must now care for themselves, that they probably
need professional help as well as a support group, that you have, do,
and will love them deeply, but you want to make the best of your own
life. Then, get started immediately focusing on improving your own
life. Find useful, interesting, important things to do (see chapter 3).
Have some successes and some fun. (Be sure you don't go looking for
another addict to take care of.)
How can you tell the difference between codependency and just
being a good, caring person? Probably by your degree of involvement
and the amount of pain you feel. Examples of codependency: If you
only think and talk about someone else's problem, have a long history
of unsuccessful efforts to rescue him/her or change his/her behavior,
and always feel "I have to do something" to help a particular person,
you are codependent and need to detach. If you have been terribly
upset for months with a person's problems (or with a series of people
with similar problems) and are thinking "I can't go on living like this"
but you do, you are codependent and need to detach. If your lover has
drained you of all your assets or your spouse has had repeated affairs
or abandons you while "working at the office," and you are "going out
of your mind" trying to hold on to him/her, you are codependent and
need to detach. If you react with horror to the suggestion that you get
out of this mess which is destroying your life, saying "Oh, my God, I
couldn't do that; I care too much," you are codependent and need to
If our self-concept is low and has weak, unclear boundaries, we
may (a) be dependent, taken over, used, or manipulated by others, or
(b) feel so identified with a needy person that we are compelled to
take over and manage the other person's life. In the beginning, the
codependent looks like a strong "savior" but in the end they feel
crushed. If our boundaries are thick walls, no one can get close to us
and we aren't open to change. Ideally, our boundaries will be strong
enough to resist unreasonable, destructive demands (no matter how
flattering they seem at first) but flexible enough to let in freely given
intimacy and love. More self-esteem (chapter 14) and assertiveness
(chapter 13) are needed if our boundaries are overly weak or overly
strong. In therapy, codependents are repeatedly told the Three C's:
You didn't cause it; you can't control it; you can cure it! In short, you
can stop supporting the addict's sickness and get a healthy life of your
Mental health professionals are rather critical of the addiction and
codependency concepts. For one thing, psychologists often feel
parents are unfairly blamed for these problems (and the shame-based
inner child), rather than the environment or our culture. Other critics
point out that women suffer most of the codependency and women are
blamed for these problems, i.e. the victim is blamed. Also, critics point
out that caring and loyal codependents are extremely controlled by
others and, yet, the recommended treatment by writers in this field is
often a 12-step program which teaches "I am helpless" and turns over
all the remaining control over their lives to a "higher power." Instead,
perhaps, they need to take control themselves of their lives and
relationships. For more criticism of the codependency concept, see
Tavris (1992) and Solomon (1994). The latter author attacks the
emphasis on being independent by citing the benefits of mutual
dependency or caring in love relationships. Healthy giving and loving
support should not be confused with unhealthy codependency.
Melodie Beattie's books are considered "fairly good" by
professionals, but many other books about codependency are not
respected, especially if they take a very spiritual approach (Santrock,
Minnett & Campbell, 1994). More help might be gotten from books
about assertiveness and communication (chapter 13), interpersonal
relationships (chapters 9 & 10), life-planning and decision-making
(chapters 2, 3 & 13), building self-esteem (chapters 6 & 14), and
anger or abuse (chapter 7).
Believing You Are in Control of Your Life:
Becoming an Internalizer
In order to feel independent and free and responsible for what
happens, you must see yourself as having some control over the
situation, over your own behavior, and over the outcome of the
situation. Otherwise, you see yourself as helpless and at the mercy of
the "powers that be" or fate or chance. We have already discussed
self-efficacy, i.e. faith in your ability to handle a specific situation, in
chapters 4 and 5 (also see method #9 in chapter 14). That is
important but doesn't need to be repeated here; however, the concept
of internal or external locus of control does need to be briefly
described because it is another important aspect of passivity and
Some people believe they are in almost complete control of what
happens in their lives. They are called "internalizers" because they
assume the locus of the controls over their lives to be internal, i.e.
inside them (or inside the space ship you are in charge of). Likewise,
Humanists and Existentialists believe that we are internalizers and
have choices to make that determine what happens to us. Thus, we
are responsible for our future and for what we feel.
Self-discipline is when you tell yourself to do something and you don't talk back.
-W. K. Hope
Other people believe they are not at all in control of what happens
to them (these people feel like they are merely riding a space ship
controlled by a control center far away). It seems to them that
external forces, such as other people, fate, luck or chance, are
responsible for what happens to them. Such people are
"externalizers." At first, it may seem like externalizers would be
hopeless, scared, and paranoid. Some are but others are optimistic
and blissful because they believe "things happen for the best," life is
guided by a kind fate and/or by God's will, or a benevolent God is
looking out for them.
Many learning theorists, such as B. F. Skinner, believe that forces
in the environment (including previously learned response habits
based on rewards and punishment) determine what happens in our
lives. This eliminates free will (meaning an undetermined choice--one
which is of our doing at this moment and not explained by the
environment or our past experience). Yet, many if not most people feel
as if they make "free" choices and are in control. How could we get the
belief that we are directing our lives if everything were determined by
external factors (which I don't believe)? Because it "seems like" we are
planning and directing our lives, at least some parts of it. I believe that
is an accurate perception, but, in addition, research has shown that in
certain circumstances there is a remarkable tendency to believe we
are in control when we aren't. For instance, Langer (1975) sold $1
lottery tickets. One half got a randomly selected ticket; the other half
got to select their own ticket. Then she asked them how much they
would sell their ticket for. The first group would take on average
$1.96. The second group wanted an average of $8.67, presumably
asking much more because they believed it was more likely to win. So
it is quite possible to believe you are in control when you aren't. (And,
as we saw in Seligman's helplessness research in chapter 6, the
opposite may be true too: dogs and many humans too may believe
they are out of control when they aren't. More on this later.)
Why might a person believe they have control when they haven't?
This view provides hope (of winning the lottery, etc.) and makes the
world less scary and more predictable and comfortable. Indeed,
considerable evidence suggests we are more effective, more
responsible, and happier when we feel we are partially in control, i.e.
have made the decisions and carried out the plans for changing things
(Deaux & Wrightsman, 1984). But, of course, it is usually impossible
to know exactly how much of our good fortune is due to our efforts
and how much is due to others, fate, or chance. It is, to some extent,
a matter of "beliefs."
Several years ago Julian Rotter developed a simple but now
famous personality test for measuring internalization-externalization,
called the I-E Scale. It asks these kinds of questions in order to
measure your beliefs about your control over life events:
Are most unhappy events in your life the result of bad luck or
Does it pay to prepare a lot for tests or is it impossible to study
for most tests?
Can ordinary people influence the government or do a few
people in power run things?
Do good friendships just happen because the chemistry is right
or do friendships happen because both people are making
attempts to get along?
Does it pay to carefully plan things out in detail or do most
things just work out as a matter of good or bad fortune
Is what happens to you mostly your own doing or are most
things beyond your control?
Once you understand the concept, the internalizer answers are
obvious, so you can get a good idea of how you would score on such a
What does being an internalizer or externalizer have to do with
dependency? If we consider our internal cognitive processes, such as
thoughts, skills, and decision-making, to be unimportant in
determining what we do, it seems unlikely that we would become
resourceful, self-reliant self-helpers. If we thought external forces
ruled our lives, we'd do little but look for help from others, human
service agencies, employers, government, God, or fate. Perhaps we'd
adopt an Eastern philosophy that says the universe is unfolding as it
should and our lot is to quietly, serenely accept whatever happens.
Beier and Valens (1975) have taken an attributional approach to
this issue and described five common targets of blame when things go
wrong: (1) other people, especially parents, siblings, friends, teachers,
bosses or traits in others involving selfishness, hostility, stupidity,
prejudice or other forms of maladjustment or malice; (2) forces
beyond our control, such as the government, a lack of money or time,
or fate; (3) ourselves, in the form of self-blame for physical
appearance, size, inability, nervousness, temper and so on; (4)
objects, such as defective or unreliable equipment--the late train, a
computer error, etc.; and (5) social-psychological circumstances,
including deprived or traumatic childhood experiences, poverty, poor
parents, poor education and so on. These targets of blame, including
self-blame (internal), become reasons for doing nothing because we
see the problems as beyond our control. Surely this is one way to
become pessimistic and passive.
On the other hand, believing we are in control of the situation has
a powerful impact on our behavior. We try harder. Pain and fears
aren't as disruptive if we believe we can control them to some extent.
A dramatic but gruesome illustration of this was done by Curt Richter
with rats. Wild rats are very good swimmers, being able to stay alive
for 80 hours or so in water. However, if they are restrained so they
can't escape and frightened right before being put in the water, many
will die after a few minutes of frantic swimming. By the way, they
don't drown; they just suddenly stop swimming and die. It is as if they
give up. Yet, if just a few seconds before dying the rats are permitted
to escape from the water, the next time they are put into the water
they will swim 40 or 60 or 80 hours. They apparently have learned to
have hope. We all need hope.
The little I-E Scale has resulted in extensive research (Lefcourt,
1976; Phares, 1976). Internalizers try harder to change their
environment and to change themselves. This involves being more
perceptive, gathering more information, remembering it better, and
using more facts and care in decision-making about how to cope.
Internalizers may be less likely to blindly follow orders; they are more
likely to realize there are choices to be made and rely on their own
judgment. Of course, when internalizers fail, it is harder for them to
say "it isn't important" or "it's someone else's fault" than it is for
externalizers. Yet, externalizers are more anxious (lack of hope?).
Strong people make as many and as ghastly mistakes as weak people. The difference is
that strong people admit them, laugh at them, learn from them. That is how they become
Remember, regardless of how little confidence you have now in
your self-control, there are some internalizer beliefs and some
externalizer beliefs in all of us. Furthermore, how we see ourselves
(internalizer or externalizer) may depend upon the situation and on
whether we are considering successful outcomes or failures. Most
importantly, as we gain self-control skills we become more confident
There is a tendency, supported by research, to think of
internalizers as being healthy and externalizers as being maladjusted.
There is some logic to this; however, Rotter believed extremes in both
directions were unhealthy. Internalizers may overestimate their control
(there is no guarantee that an internalizer will be competent and some
situations are unchangeable) and may be disappointed when they
don't get what they wanted--and/or they may feel especially guilty and
sad about failing. Externalizers overlook their opportunities to
influence the situation and may feel unnecessarily helpless. Ideal, as I
see it, would be to maximize your control where possible and, at the
same time, increase your acceptance of the unavoidable (the Serenity
It should be noted that other overlapping factors are important in
accounting for our lives, in addition to the internal or external locus of
control. For example, there are stable and unstable factors, like
intellect is fairly stable but mood is changeable. Weiner (1980)
concluded that stable factors influence our expectation of success even
more than the locus of control. Naturally some of the internal factors
are not stable--our talents and skills will vary from task to task, our
effort or mood will fluctuate too, etc. Also, as one can see, there is a
question about which factors are controllable (or intentional) and
which are not, e.g. perhaps you can control how hard you try but you
can't control other peoples' motivation or their ability.
As one might imagine, internalizers and externalizers prefer
different kinds of therapy--and probably different kinds of self-help
methods. Both respond to rewards but externalizers are not very
motivated by the threat of punishment (Deaux & Wrightsman, 1984).
Internalizers prefer a therapy in which they can actively participate
and from which they can learn how to handle their own concerns. They
probably incorporate self-help ideas easily because that is their natural
inclination: "how can I use this to mold my world?" Externalizers
prefer a therapy that is directive or authoritative (Lefcourt, 1976).
They have greater difficulty seeing the relevance of self-help and
remembering to use the information. Once used successfully, however,
the self-help methods should be self-reinforcing, even in an
The explanation we have of our world is complex--but it is
important in understanding how we react and feel about our lives, our
selves and our future. Lefcourt (1976) says, "...man must come to be
more effective and able to perceive himself as the determiner of his
fate if he is to live comfortably with himself." To cope, you need to feel
responsible and more in control.
How to become an Internalizer
One way, if you had a choice, is to be born into a warm, protective,
nurturing, middle or upper class family which models success and
encourages independence and self-reliance. Other ways involve
learning through experience and training that you can change things,
that you have the ability to self-help and influence others, that the
future is partly your responsibility. There is evidence that applied
psychology courses and workshops, personally useful books, self-help
projects, personal growth experiences, and certain skill-oriented
therapies increase the internal orientation. This book is designed to
give you control over your life, i.e. help you be a realistic internalizer.
To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream, not only plan but also
Learning Independent Decision-Making
You can readily see the extent that our parents, institutions,
culture, and peer groups and our own needs and history make
decisions for us and control us. But, if you aren't making decisions,
you are dependent. It is not simple to decide how and when to take
charge of our lives. To many young people it seems that they must
defiantly oppose everyone telling them "how to do things" or else cave
in to the pressures from all sides. Fortunately, there is a middle
ground because one person can not decide everything entirely on their
own and, besides, many external influences incorporate the "wisdom
of the ages" that should not be contemptuously rejected (Campbell,
1975). The middle ground is making our own decisions as best we can
and as often as we can, but accepting established customs or well
informed opinions in situations where we can not make a decision for
When we are overly compliant, it means we are (1) discounting our
own decision-making ability, (2) denying the possibility that each
situation is unique warranting an individualized decision, and (3)
accepting the foolish notion that traditional social practices are based
on all there is to know about the human condition. Surely, social
attitudes about the "right thing to do" in 2105 will be as different as
current attitudes are from 1905. However, no matter how logical it is
to make your own decisions and be less conforming and more
responsible, it isn't possible in every instance nor is it easy.
Some of the most poignant words I have ever heard were about
making hard decisions and carrying them out. See The Paradoxical
Dr. Kent M. Keith.
How do we learn best? The Personal Growth Model
There are many ways to make a decision. Some people are so
unsure of themselves that they try to think what dad or mom (or some
other respected person) would do. Other people put off making a final
decision. Deciding to do nothing is still a decision. Many people quickly
make decisions, not bothering to gather much information. Some
people seek advice from a favorite source or two. A few people know
where to get relevant, reliable information, consider the pros and cons,
and cogently make decisions. Some deciders gather such great
volumes of facts that they get bogged down in the process.
Decision-making involves acquiring knowledge and comparing
alternatives. It should help you to consider four decision-making or
education models: (1) self-directed, personal growth model, (2) the
traditional education model, (3) the medical model, and (4) the super-
guru model. Traditional educators assume that the students know little
about the subject and the teacher knows a lot. So, the teacher, having
a full pitcher of knowledge, pours each student's empty glass full.
Teachers oriented towards personal growth recognize that students
have knowledge to share with the teacher and other students, i.e. they
have pitchers of knowledge too. Each student in the self-directed
personal growth model seeks out new knowledge and awareness for
their own reasons, then they share that information so it can be used
in life by others.
The medical model, like the traditional teacher, assumes that the
expert--the doctor--has all the knowledge and makes all the decisions.
The doctor diagnoses the problem, decides how to treat it, does the
treatment, and tells you when you are well. The personal growth
facilitator does not try to "cure" a "patient," instead he/she helps the
other person acquire new needed skills or new outlooks for coping
better. Medical model treatment starts with sickness and ends with a
cure; growth may start with sickness or wellness and fosters
improvement which never ends.
The super-guru model assumes that a guru--a therapist, teacher,
writer, preacher, etc.--has the answer, a blueprint for living. In
contrast, the growth model assumes that the good life is more
complicated than a simple prescription. In self-direction, optimal,
creative growth involves the creation of your own values, dreams, and
skills, and the avoiding of internal barriers to progress (Elliott, 1973).
As you can see, gathering information--and the way you go about
doing that--is closely related to decision-making. In some situations,
you may need a teacher who will simply pour out the facts you need.
At times, where the decisions are very technical and you have no
training, you must surrender your decision-making to an expert. Most
of the time, though, you are better off gathering the needed
information, listening to the opinions of others, and doing your own
evaluation of the pros and cons for different alternatives. Granted, this
is work, not the "easy way."
The major decisions of our lifetime
As we're growing up, we make few major decisions. (Some made
impulsively are mighty important, though, such as teenage
pregnancy.) But, rather suddenly as a young adult, say 18 to 25, we
are often confronted with several major decisions. We may have no
one to advise us or we may get conflicting advice. If you ask young
people, "What are the most important decisions you will ever have to
make?" you get these answers: (1) whom to marry, (2) what career to
choose, (3) when to have children and how many, and, occasionally
someone mentions, (4) what values and morals to live by. Notice that
all these decisions tend to be made relatively early in life, although
marriage and children are being delayed more and more.
Ask students what decisions are most carefully and logically made,
and they wisely admit: what car or sound system or house to buy. Ask
what decisions are made under the greatest social-emotional pressure,
and they say: sex and its unwanted consequences, like having an
abortion or giving up the child or getting married prematurely. Ask
what decisions are made almost accidentally, and they say: whom to
date, choice of major (career), and getting pregnant. Clearly, there is
a lot of room for improvement in decision-making.
I'm 47 years old and I've figured out what I don't want. All I have to do now is decide what I
If you want a place in the sun, you must leave the shade of the family
Barriers to careful decision-making
It seems that the most important and pressured decisions are
made with the least objective thought. The most careful choices
involve cars, sound systems, and houses, where there are lots of
technical facts and research, even though there isn't much difference
between manufacturers, such as General Motors and Chrysler. In
contrast, there are enormous differences among partners, careers,
planned and unplanned children, etc.; yet, our selection process is
sloppy where the range of choices is great. Why? Largely because
strong needs and emotions interfere. As we have discussed, the strong
needs for sex and love push us into marriage and/or parenthood. We
may spend years in high school, college, and graduate school
preparing for a career without even one day of actual work in our
chosen field. Furthermore, we may have initially selected that life-long
career because we liked one teacher (totally unrelated to the work).
Likewise, chapter 3 tells us that the values guiding our lives are often
hand-me-downs or pushed on us by parents, friends, or our
There are many stumbling blocks to good decision-making
(Wheeler & Janis, 1980). First of all, we may deny there is a problem
or assume there is no solution or grab the first solution that occurs to
us. Or, instead of hastily making decisions, we may postpone making
them. Kaufmann (1973) called this decidophobia, an incapacitating
fear of making decisions.
When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.
Secondly, we may not consider the long-range consequences or
values we want to achieve. More often, we overlook possible solutions
because our thinking is inflexible or defeatist. People often feel
inadequate and this interferes with good decision-making. For
example, we are afraid to "date around" even as a teenager because
we don't want to lose the current boy/girlfriend or we avoid dating
certain people "because he/she wouldn't go out with me." We don't
even consider certain careers "because it costs too much money to go
to medical school" or "because I couldn't handle the math" or "because
I get all upset by other peoples' problems." These are all self-
putdowns. We must master the fears that interfere with good decision-
making. We can do that (Marone, 1992).
What is more mortifying than to feel that you have missed the plum for want of courage to
shake the tree?
-L. P. Smith
Thirdly, we do not take the time to fantasize about the best and
the worst possible outcomes for each alternative in order to consider
the advantages and disadvantages. We do not gather all the
information (How will you and others be affected by each alternative?
How will you and others feel about you?) and expert opinion needed
for a wise decision, because we don't know how or don't want to
bother. Often, it is wishful thinking that the solution will be quick or
our intuition will give us an easy answer. Fourthly, we do not know
how or take the time to gather the information needed to carefully
weigh all the alternatives. Deciding is a complex process.
Fifthly, many of us do not develop a careful plan for accomplishing
our goals; thus, undermining our efforts to change. It is common for
people--even smart college students--to believe that deciding where to
go is all they have to do to get there, e.g. they set a final goal but
develop no specific action plan. They say, "I want to get all A's next
semester" but give little thought to getting there. The wish or hope is
there but the commitment to a realistic day by day plan is not.
Perhaps we don't think detailed plans are necessary to achieve our
difficult, long-range goals. Not only are there no plans of attack, there
are no contingency plans in case things go wrong either. For example,
the premed student, who gets such poor grades for four years that
he/she can't get into Medical School, responds with "Oh, my God, what
am I going to do now?" There must be some reason why we have such
inadequate plans for our lives; we plan our spring breaks in Florida in
more detail than we plan our careers.
Lastly, Wheeler and Janis say there are two common reactions
when things go wrong: immediately assuming the worst and
impulsively adopting the opposite approach. Examples: Two people
decide to break up after their first disagreement. A couple has saved
money all their lives until one middle-aged child "borrows" several
thousand dollars for a boyfriend who disappears. They decide to spend
all their money on a big home and travel. Both examples could be
serious errors. Avoid making major decisions when you are very
emotional. Let things settle. Figure out why things went wrong. With
new knowledge and understanding, make decisions and plans again.
If we can recognize the smoke screens and barriers caused by our
own emotions, we will be in a better position to make good decisions.
Like other problems associated with dependency, it is helpful to have
considerable experience before making major decisions (like who to
marry), good skills so that one is assured of eventual success (like
finding another lover) even if this effort fails, specific ideas and plans
to make it work (not just "live happily ever after"), and generally a
positive attitude towards ourselves (I'm a good, considerate, well
It is so sad to hear a 45-year-old person say, "I've never liked my
work, but it's too late to change." Or a 25-year-old mother may say, "I
married John because I wanted to get out of the house" or "because I
got pregnant" or "because he was the basketball star but I knew he
resented my being smarter." Or a 30-year-old father may say, "I
married Jill because she was a knock out before she gained 30 pounds
having three kids, now we have nothing in common except the
children." It won't do much good to advise a person in love to "wait,"
because the emotions involved are overwhelming. But, learning about
your self through personal growth and mastering the art of rational
decision-making before "falling in love" could prevent a lot of human
misery. It might take weeks or months of careful work to make a good
decision about your career or partner but it is worth it (see Freud's
comment below). Consult with experts and friends. See method # 11
in chapter 13 for detailed decision-making procedures. See chapter 10
for partner selection and chapter 14 for building self-esteem. How
could one hope to become self-reliant and self-actualizing without
becoming a good decision-maker? Decision-making is not merely a
knack or a gift, it is a learnable skill and hard work. It may require
intuition too, but logic, information, judgment, and mature emotional
reactions are all involved.
When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to
consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a
profession, the decision should come from the unconscious. The important decisions of
our personal life should be governed by the deep inner needs of our nature.
It has been said that the best way to decide what to do is to ask:
"What seems right to do?" Don't ask, "What feels good?" or "What gets
me the most?" or "What is the obvious choice?" When the decision is
difficult, there is no one obviously correct choice. There will be clever
arguments against every choice. So, as much as possible, do the right
A student shared with me something like this; I modified it some.
The original writer is unknown.
When you have worked very hard to build something valuable,
your contributions will be dismissed as soon as you are gone.
Work hard and build anyway.
When you are empathic and caring, people will say you are
manipulative and politicking.
Care and do good anyway.
When you are seeking excellence, you will encounter closed
minded, self-centered, and unchangeable people.
Seek excellence and achievements anyway.
When you are active and optimistic, you will be criticized as
being an unrealistic idealist and opposed.
Be positive and constructive anyway.
When you seek noble ideals and strive to reach grand goals,
you will be swamped with indifference, meanness, and greed.
Revere love and truth anyway.
Extreme Dependency and Pathology
Dependent Personality Disorder
Some dependent people, called Dependent Personality Disorder,
are so disabled and restricted that they can hardly function alone. For
others the disability is less severe, e.g. there are people addicts who
must be with someone almost all the time--for some only one person
will do (e.g. a parent, spouse, friend, or child), for others anyone will
do. In other cases, there is a compulsive "dependency" of sorts but it
isn't considered a disorder, such as a highly effective workaholic or a
teenager constantly listening to music. People can become addicted to
or, at least, dependent on many other specific activities, such as
sports or exercise, sex, religion, social activities, hobbies, TV, reading,
music, cleaning, dressing, and so on. If you feel insecure and
inadequate, then you are more likely to depend on someone or repeat
some activity over and over that you are sure you can do. Feeling so
inadequate that you feel you can't handle your life must be a
Masserman (1943) proposed that psychological problems, e.g.
hypochondria, were a panic reaction to being powerless or feeling
unable to cope. He believed almost any neurotic reaction, such as
anxiety, social withdrawal, depression, etc., no matter how ineffective,
was more comfortable than doing nothing about the real stresses we
face. So, being tense or sad is better than being weak and dependent.
It is interesting to note that feeling helpless or inadequate has been
involved in every emotion we have discussed thus far-stress,
depression, anger, and, now, dependency.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV-R
describes a diagnosable disorder called "dependent personality." The
Passively allows others to assume responsibility for major areas
of life because of fears or inability to function independently
(e.g., lets spouse decide what kind of job he/she should have).
Subordinates his/her own needs to those of persons on whom
he or she depends. This is to avoid conflicts and to avoid having
to rely on self (e.g., a dependent or codependent person might
even tolerate an abusive spouse).
Lacks self-confidence (e.g., sees self as helpless, stupid).
Research spanning 30 years (Greenberg & Bornstein, 1988)
suggests that a dependent personality is at risk of depression,
alcoholism, obesity, tobacco addiction, and a variety of physical and
psychosomatic disorders (note all the "oral" activities). In spite of
having many psychological problems, dependent people show a strong
tendency to believe that their problems are somatic and,
consequently, they seek professional help for physical problems or see
their depression as a "chemical imbalance." When under stress,
dependent people generally seek out others, rather than withdraw. For
unknown reasons, if a girl is dependent as a child, there is a tendency
for her to remain consistently dependent from early childhood
throughout adulthood. On the other hand, passivity and dependency in
boys and men are not nearly so stable or predictable. Possibly, we are
just more accepting of passivity in women and make fewer efforts to
What are the more common dynamics of dependency? You might
see yourself or your friends in some of these speculations:
A person may become almost totally helpless, which, as noted
in chapter 6, is a basis for feeling depressed. Therapists have
observed that a dependent personality often precedes a
Dependent people manipulate others. Getting people into doing
things for us may be a self-deceptive way to deny our
helplessness or a way to prove our charm or cleverness and/or
others' gullibility or weakness. Correspondingly, many people
love to have someone depend on them and look up to them;
thus, they are easily manipulated: "I just have to be nice and
flatter Mom or cuddle up to Daddy and they'll do anything for
me." The last example is harmless enough, but the
manipulation can involve "playing hard ball." For instance, an
effective way to get care and attention from our parents or
loved ones is to make bad decisions, be indecisive or
irresponsible, and get in trouble. Dependent people learn that
weakness and passive defiance are very powerful and difficult
to deal with: "I'm powerful, I can drive them up a wall" or
"They don't have any choice but to take care of me!" Like an
attention-starved child, some dependent people act as though it
is better to get in trouble than to be neglected. Sometimes,
governmental systems encourage dependency: "It is better to
have a baby and go on welfare than to stay in school and have
to look for a job." If anyone cares about you, being "down and
out" and helpless are powerful ways of getting help. Certainly,
being compassionate is commendable, but compassion must
strengthen the weak, not further weaken them.
Dependency may stem from an insatiable need for love or a
need to prove one's importance: "Give me more proof you
really love me" or "I want Mommy to love me more than she
does anyone else in the world, even more than Dad" or "I want
you to love me totally, like my Daddy did." We all have needs
to be babied and cared for, of course. And, perhaps, we are all
a little resentful that we aren't loved and nurtured enough (for
our inner child). But it is only in extreme cases where we
constantly demand proof of love.
Some psychologists point out the similarity between the fear in
dependency and the fear in agoraphobia, which is a fear of
being away from home and in crowds or open spaces where we
have no support. Both can be intense fears that debilitate us.
Martyrdom and masochism may, in some cases, also be closely
related. The subservient person who neglects him/herself while
serving others "hand and foot" may feel taken advantage of
and lead a life of suffering--that's a martyr. Shainness (1984),
a female psychiatrist, has written a book, Sweet Suffering,
describing the tendency of some women (and men) to fear
authority and to put themselves down to such an extent that it
becomes a form of masochism (an enjoyment of pain and
A common reaction to dependency is anger. Others may
respond hostilely to our dependency and we may resent the
dependency we see in others. Wouldn't you hate to be weak
and considered rather helpless all the time? As we saw in
chapter 7, sometimes long-term subservience results in a
sudden outburst of violence but more likely it will result in
continuing passive-aggressiveness ("I won't do anything as
long as you're bugging me"). A resentful child or a disgruntled
employee or student will passively (quietly) resist, e.g. the child
will procrastinate ("I'll do it as soon as this TV program is over"
but forgets), the worker just doesn't pay much attention, and
the student pretends to like the teacher but talks about him/her
behind his/her back.
Naturally, having someone constantly expect you to take
care of them, especially if you feel they could care for
themselves, will become irritating (unless you are a needy
codependent). It may not be as obvious, but the weak,
dependent person is also likely to subtly resent someone who
always has more or is more capable or better organized.
Resentment is associated with dependency in all directions,
including feeling like a victim as we discussed in chapter 7.
Mutual unassertiveness or an unverbalized compromise may be
the easiest but not the best arrangement. For example,
students implicitly strike a bargain with teachers, such as "if
you don't make me assume responsibility for planning and
controlling my own learning, I'll tolerate your dull lectures over
the textbook. Make it easy for me to get an A or B and I'll not
criticize your teaching." A labor union and the management
might compromise like this: "I'll let you have the money and
status of being the boss if my workload is easy and if I don't
have to learn about the business, make decisions, or take any
other responsibility for running this business." Avoiding
responsibility is almost always a form of dependency. If one
person accepts responsibility (a boss or one spouse in child
care or one sex in military combat) and another person avoids
responsibility, it is hard to assume those two people are equals.
Dependency seems to be related to alcoholism, perhaps both in the
beginning of the process (dependent needs lead to drinking) and at
the end of the process (the disabilities of alcoholism force us to be
dependent). Dependency is also related to cigarette smoking; the
reasons aren't known.
Dependent people as psychotherapy patients
The dependent person is prone to a variety of physical and
psychological disorders. Given the same degree of poor health,
dependent people are far more likely to seek treatment than
independent people. And, they behave differently from non-dependent
people in treatment, e.g. dependent personalities react more positively
toward the doctor and comply more fully with doctors' orders; they are
more perceptive of treatment procedures and other people; they
request extra help and useful information about themselves; they stay
in treatment longer (Bornstein, 1993).
The dependent person is in many ways an ideal patient: quick to
come in, observant, cooperative, positive, eager to get treatment,
eager to please, etc. The problem is that dependent people will resist
terminating this nurturing relationship with a caring, giving authority
figure. They often get worse or have a crisis near the end of therapy.
How will a dependent personality react to self-help? An interesting
but unresearched question. Probably they would much prefer to
interact with a supportive professional than with a self-help book. They
may be drawn to a self-help group and become a perceptive, active,
helpful group member. But, as in a relationship with a therapist, they
are likely to resist making real changes in their lives and may be very
reluctant to leave the group. Regardless of whether you are in therapy
or doing self-help, you have to confront your dependency. Dependency
has many payoffs; you must be willing to give them up before much
self-improvement can be made.
Now we will turn to the self-treatment of passivity and
Methods for Becoming More Self-Reliant and Independent
The major self-help methods in this problem area are:
assertiveness training, problem-solving, and decision-making skills
training, building self-esteem, and gaining insight into the causes of
our dependency. As in the other chapters, the methods will be
discussed by levels.
Level I: Learn and reward new behavior; avoid people caring for or
If you have learned to be a follower or to be submissive and
indecisive, you might try the following.
Reward your own independent goal setting, planning, and
action. This involves more than reading a self-help book like this one.
Just reading does not necessarily involve taking responsibility for
changing nor does it prove that you can actually improve yourself. You
must initiate a plan of action and carry it out successfully before you
can truly believe you are capable and independent (method #16 in
chapter 11). Practice self-control over and over, using different
methods, until you believe you can change things. Several behavior
modification studies, using positive reinforcement, have reduced
dependent, helpless behavior (Hickok & Komechak, 1974; Harbin,
Independent behavior can be learned from models. For
example, Goldstein, et al. (1973) tape recorded 30 situations and
illustrated independent and dependent responses to each situation:
You and your partner arrive home late. You are searching for your
keys but can't find them. Your partner says, "Why did you have to lose
your keys now?"
Independent response: "Well, where are your keys?"
Dependent response: "Do you remember where I put them?"
Or: A friend asks you to buy a particular gift for her mother while you
are downtown. However, you buy a different present because the one
she wanted was sold out. She says, "I think it's ugly!"
Independent response: "Then you should have gone yourself."
Dependent response: "I'll exchange it for you."
The subjects were rewarded for choosing the independent
response as what they would actually say. After this brief exercise, the
subjects (dependent males and females) selected more independent
responses during the post-test than they did during the pretest, but it
is unknown if they changed in real life.
A self-helper could make up his/her own situations and think up
good independent or assertive responses. You can practice the
independent responses either overtly or covertly (imagining how you
would handle the situation). It is more effective if you improvise and
add your own details as you rehearse (Kazdin & Mascitelli, 1982). It
would also be helpful to develop self-instructions designed to prompt,
guide, and reward independent action and assertive decision-making
(method #2 in chapter 11).
As you come to recognize your passive-dependent thinking, e.g.
externalizer thinking, poor decision making, and excuses for being
conforming and unassertive, use relapse prevention methods to
avoid reverting to weak, passive-dependent responses (method
#4 in chapter 11). Expose yourself repeatedly to situations where it is
tempting to "just go along" or where someone will take care of you,
but don't give in, make your own decisions, do what you think is best,
and take care of yourself.
If you depend on or defer to specific people, avoid those people
so you have to be self-reliant. Piaget (1991) has written about how to
stop people from running your life.
Level II: Confront fears; vent feelings; face long-term consequences
If you are inhibited by self-doubts and fears, if it is stressful for
you to confront others, if you feel unable to control the situation, if
you'd just rather let others decide, if you are in awe of people in
authority, if you enjoy being cared for and "helped," there are several
things you can do.
Fears and self-putdowns keep us weak and submissive. As
we learned in chapter 5, to overcome them, fears need to be
confronted --faced and conquered, perhaps by desensitization
(methods #6 or #8 in chapter 12) or simply by carrying out the scary
but desired behavior over and over. Thought stopping (method #10 in
chapter 11) can curtail the self-putdowns.
Passivity. Passive, compliant, dependent people hold back most of
their negative emotions because they fear alienating the people on
whom they are dependent. They suppress feelings "to keep the
peace." They rationalize being quiet and overly nice. They may avoid
"feelings" so much they are not even aware of the emotions raging
inside of them. The outcome of the suppression may be unfortunate;
sometimes such people are said to be "emotionally constipated." Their
emotional dishonesty may on the surface enable them to appear well
adjusted and self-controlled but they may be hurting inside. Moreover,
the unhappy situation will continue if no action is taken. Before a
person can become assertive--or even happy--he/she may have to
reclaim and tune in to the emotions inside. A variety of therapies
(Ramsey, 1978; Pierce, Nichols & DuBrin, 1983) have suggested ways
of relearning how to emote, how to become whole again. Try venting
your feelings, as described in method #10 in chapter 12.
Remind yourself. Since dependency is comfortable, you may
need to constantly remind yourself of the unwanted long-term
consequences of remaining unchanged: resentment of being
dominated and/or weak, low self-regard, no life of your own making,
loss of respect from others, the unfairness of people taking advantage
of you, etc. Make yourself unhappy with your conformity, dependency,
Improve your ability to cope. The feeling of helplessness can
only be countered by improving your ability to cope and your
awareness of that ability. By willfully changing your environment and
your own behavior, you start to see yourself as a self-helper, not as
Expect only gradual changes. Most of the time we can't
suddenly become decisive, assertive, and independent. Failures and
backsliding are part of learning; don't awfulize and be overly critical of
your mistakes. Be gentle but firmly assertive with yourself.
: Becoming skillful.
Level III: Learn problem-solving, assertiveness, communication skills
If you feel you can't make decisions or stand up for yourself, skills
are needed to be independent, decisive, and self-assured. The self-
help methods at this level are probably the most useful, powerful, and
relevant to counteracting passive-dependency.
David Weikart has researched the long-range effects of early
childhood education which emphasizes independent thinking (in 4-
year-olds!), problem-solving, and sharing their self-help plans and
progress with others. Ten years later, at age 15, these students had
better family relations, more part-time jobs, less delinquency, less
drug use, and a greater sense of personal control than similar students
taught obedience and conformity in preschool (Remley, 1988). Don't
overlook the importance of skills and attitudes. If ordinary 4-year-olds
can learn this stuff, so can dependent, insecure adults.
Make your own decisions. Making your own decisions is
obviously vital to "being your own person." The importance of these
skills has already been discussed in this chapter and the detailed steps
for making decisions are given in method #11 in chapter 13.
Teaching personal problem solving skills, much like in chapter 2,
has been shown to be effective with dependent clients (D'Zurilla &
Be tactfully assertive. Being tactfully assertive is the crux of
effective relating (Jakubowski & Lange, 1991). Assertion is the
opposite of conformity, passivity, blind obedience, etc. discussed
above. If you can't meet others, speak your mind, express your
feelings and preferences, ask others to explain themselves, give and
accept compliments, talk about yourself, and disclose your real self to
others, you need assertiveness training as described method #3 in
chapter 13. Also see self-disclosure training in method #6 in the
Research has shown that it is important to identify the exact
situations where you have trouble being assertive. A person is seldom
unassertive in all ways, just in certain areas. There are six common
problem areas: (a) objecting to being taken advantage of, (b)
expressing positive feelings, e.g. praise or affection, (c) wanting to
approach someone, (d) complaining about a service, (e) expressing a
different opinion, and (f) refusing an unreasonable request. You need
to practice giving specific responses in troublesome situations relevant
to you, because practice in one area doesn't help in other areas. If
possible, also get feedback from someone who can provide a model of
assertiveness for you and reinforce your good responses.
Furthermore, the assertiveness training needs to be modified
according to the reason for your problem, for instance (a) you might
not know when it is appropriate to be assertive, (b) you may be afraid
of what might happen if you became assertive, and (c) you may not
know how to be assertive (MacDonald, 1975). Chapter 13 deals with
each of these problems, but you must diagnose your own needs and
Please note: no matter how skillful you become, the other persons'
positive reaction to your new assertiveness is not guaranteed. Indeed,
they may become aggressive, walk out on you, or have some other
unwanted response. Be prepared. Also, there is some evidence that
the untrained spouse of a person in assertiveness training becomes
less effective and more anxious socially (Kolotkin & Wieliewicz, 1982).
So, as you gain communication skills, be sensitive to any difficulties
your partner is having. Perhaps both of you need assertiveness
training, e.g. your partner may need to tell you "no, you can do it all
Practice is necessary. In learning any skill, as you know, practice
is necessary. You can practice new ways of relating with others by
imagining yourself saying and doing specific things, but better than
that, you can actually practice new ways of acting with a friend or in a
group or class, and, eventually, in the real situation. Role-playing is
one of the best ways to start if you have a good friend or a helpful,
understanding group you are comfortable with. See method #1 in
chapter 13. Eisler, et al (1974) successfully treated passive-avoidant
husbands with critical wives by role-playing common fight scenes and
teaching the husbands more assertive ways of responding. Note that
in this study, as mentioned above, assertiveness training using other
situations (not related to their marital problems) was not helpful, so
practice the exact behaviors you need to learn.
Learn leadership skills. As Benjamin Franklin observed, "All
mankind is divided into three classes: those who are immovable, those
who are movable, and those who move." Only the movers--the
leaders--are growing and changing things. If you are tired of being a
follower, a cog in a wheel, a hired hand, then you need to take the
initiative and learn to lead, to move things along. By learning
leadership skills you are preparing to move into more responsible
positions (see method #15 in chapter 13). These traits are also
discussed in chapters 9. You may first need to get out from under the
control of others before you can become your own boss (Piaget,
"I" statements. Anyone who has a problem relating to another
should be familiar with "I" statements. The overly dependent person
should become an expert in communication, noting exactly how he/she
influences others and gets them to meet his/her needs. "I feel _____"
statements can certainly be used to maintain our own dependency, but
they can also be the most effective and tactful way of asserting oneself
and being independent. See method #4 in chapter 13.
The low key, compliant, unassertive person will profit from
knowledge and communication skills, such as persuasion methods,
as well as assertiveness. The more knowledge and experience you
have, the more appropriate solutions you will be able to conceive. But,
how and when you present those ideas--the effectiveness of your
communication--will largely determine how influential you are. See
method #16 in chapter 13.
Level IV: Set life goals, build esteem, correct irrational ideas, find
If you have few values and goals of your own, if you feel
inadequate and helpless, if you believe fate or other people are guiding
your life, if you truly believe others are more important than you, if
you only want to sacrifice and support others, it is not possible to be
an independent, self-reliant, self-actualizing person.
Guiding principles. To be self-directed requires certain guiding
principles --a personal philosophy of life--that are constantly used. Our
major life goals and objectives should be clear to us. See chapter 3.
Ask yourself: What needs to be changed in my family, my school, my
job, my town, or the world that I'm not helping with? Do I have my
priorities straight? Why am I not asserting myself? Are these answers
valid or excuses? How can I remove the barriers preventing me from
doing what I think I should? Most of us probably need a mission or a
cause to spur us into action.
Stand up for your rights. One of those principles-to-live-by is
that "all persons should be dealt with as equals." This isn't just a nice
quotation; it is something you must really believe and act on to be
assertive. You have equal rights within a marriage, a family, a
friendship, an organization, within school and a place of employment.
If you find yourself discriminated against, you have a right, indeed an
obligation, to stand up for your rights and the rights of others.
Insist on being equal, not superior or inferior.
Build self-esteem. A good self-concept and self-acceptance
greatly facilitates independence. How can you be self-directed if you
think you are unimportant, stupid, or bad? Why would anyone follow
you if you didn't have confidence in your ideas and like yourself? There
are many methods for building self-esteem (Canfield & Wells,
1976; Susskind, 1970) and for correcting the irrational ideas that lead
to excessive self-criticism (chapter 14). You need some self-confidence
before you will allow yourself to manage even a small part of your life.
As confidence grows, you can take control of more and more.
The development of a "can do" spirit is not just changing your
thinking. The fact is that self-confidence is gained by practice, from
doing, from trying out one's skills and succeeding. It is vital to try to
do for yourself, to work alone and enjoy being by yourself, to give help
as much as you get help, to speak out and stand up for your ideals
against opposition, etc.
The correction of self-critical ideas is facilitated by understanding
the source of your ideas. For instance, Wolfe and Fodor (1975) use
Rational-Emotive therapy in assertiveness training groups for women.
As the group members re-experience and/or role-play recent
unassertive episodes, they try to remember "early childhood
messages" and "what they were thinking in the recent situation." The
focus is on the old internal belief systems (irrational ideas) that
interfere with expressing yourself, usually self-putdowns:
a. "I shouldn't hurt anyone's feelings, especially my parents. I
must visit them over the holidays; if I don't, they'd say I was
being mean and uncaring."
b. "It is better to avoid trouble. If I complain, it will just create
Early messages (female socialization) that cause the ideas above:
a. Women are supposed to take care of others' needs before
b. If I'm real good, other people will take good care of me and
love me (the Cinderella story).
Ideas which challenge the above beliefs:
a. Is it really "hurting others" to consider my own needs and
preferences equal to others' needs? I am equal!
b. Who said life is easy? Who believes that justice always
comes to the person who is good and quiet? Challenging
tradition and "the way it's always done" may be stressful but
beneficial and fair.
Many of these irrational beliefs lead us to expect a catastrophe to
occur if we are assertive. Thus, these erroneous ideas stop us from
acting. We can discover these ideas we carry constantly in our own
heads are not true (but only by taking risks).
Furthermore, by learning many other new self-help skills and
attitudes, by using these skills for self-improvement, you can change
your self-concept to being decisive, effective, fair, self-sufficient, self-
controlled, likable, skilled, and considerate of yourself and others.
Defeatist attitudes can also be reduced. Defeatist attitudes
and corrected by honest self-disclosure--by learning that others are
like us, that our feelings, opinions, hopes and problems are accepted
by other people, and that some of our self-critical ideas are wrong.
Supportive groups or friends or therapists are very helpful for
getting through the initial steps of self-doubt and intimidation
(Millman, Huber, & Diggins, 1982). Having fantasies of coping
effectively by yourself can overcome self-doubts associated with
dependency. But remember, you must behaviorally become
independent before you are "cured."
Level V: Seek origins of your dependency, conformity, and master-
If you are passive and dependent because you are too immature or
irresponsible to manage your own life, realizing that should be
sobering and provide motivation to change. If you are weak and
helpless so you will be taken care of or attractive to dominant men or
nurturing women, you have settled for a dependent, subservient way
of life, perhaps without carefully weighing the long-term pros and
cons. If your helplessness is to punish yourself or to frustrate someone
else or a way of saying "don't expect much of little old me," an
awareness of those payoffs might be painful but liberating, allowing
you to make better use of your capabilities.
Recognize there is a child in all of us that wants to act
impulsively and delights in being nurtured and pampered.. A
more mature, rational part of us has to regulate the child so that it
gets indulged occasionally but doesn't dominate our lives. It helps to
be in touch with the child. See chapters 9 and 15.
Recognize that the inner child gets its way by providing us with
excuses for being passive-dependent rather than strong-assertive (see
earlier discussion). The inner child shuns positive thoughts about
ourselves (it is "arrogant" or "selfish" or "contrary to God's will") and
encourages weak, needy thoughts. The inner child is selfish and
insensitive to the needs and rights of others ("it's not my job,"
"nothing can be done," "it's the victim's fault," and "I'm too busy right
now"). Detecting our rationalizations and childish needs are a major
part of becoming self-controlled. Refer to Snyder, Higgins and Stucky
(1983) for a complete discussion of excuses.
Observe the antecedents and consequences. Observe the
antecedents and consequences (method #9 in chapter 11) of your
submissiveness, your deference to authority, or being a martyr. Look
for the payoffs. Try to figure out the origin of this behavior --did
you have a dominant parent? or a dysfunctional parent? Were you
taught that good girls (or boys) should be quiet and obedient? Were
you the "caretaker" as a child? Were you the "spoiled" child? Are you
angry and afraid to let feelings out? Are you self-punitive and/or
enjoying your suffering?
Also record your thoughts that lead to submissiveness or "going
along to avoid conflicts" and so on. Some people think that many of us
attempt to "read other people's minds" and then do what we think
they want. The trouble is we are frequently wrong (when mind
reading) and, consequently, we may end up doing things with other
people that no one wants to do, just because no one said, "I don't
think I want to do that."
Read about the dynamics of dependency. Insight can come
from reading about the dynamics of dependency --the need to be
cared for, the fear of authorities, a way to exercise power, a hostile
using of someone, seductiveness, etc. Unconscious motives are easier
to understand in others but that understanding can, with patience, be
applied to ourselves. Several excellent references are cited in this
chapter, such as Halpern (1976), Piaget (1991), and Shainness
(1984). Thoele (1994) offers encouragement to be your own person.
On a morning talk show, J. R. of Dallas fame said: "Many women say, 'My father--or my
husband--is just like you!' and when I say, 'Doesn't that bother you?' they respond, 'Oh,
no, I love it." They love the male arrogance and domination of others?
Become more sensitive to the relationships that often have
a master-slave aspect to them: parent-child, teacher-student,
husband-wife, boss-employee, male-female, seducer-seducee,
authority-client, minister-parishioner, doctor-patient, coach-player,
senior-junior, urban-rural, wealthy-poor, smart-dumb, attractive-ugly,
etc. There is no reason those can't be equal relationships or, at least,
more equal than they have been. Remember Frederick Douglass's
famous cry to slaves: The power of a tyrant is granted by the
oppressed. Furthermore, as the military says, familiarity between
unequals breeds contempt. So, be everyone's equal.
While I have chosen to deal with dependency in a separate
chapter, it is an area with close ties with other emotions and
personality traits. In many ways, conformity and compliance may just
be the calm, tolerant, flexible end of the anxious, hostile, rigid
dimension. Perhaps conformity is, in many cases, simply adapting
easily to others' needs and whims. In other ways, the weakness of
dependency and the selflessness of conformity seem the opposite of
self-actualization, i.e. joyfully finding your real self and maximizing
your potential (see next chapter). Like most aspects of personality,
compliance and dependency are very complex and different from
person to person.
Perhaps the greatest overlap is with depression (chapter 6)
because dependency is closely tied to helplessness. Like "learned
helplessness," the dependent, compliant person sees no alternative
way out. They need to learn to say to themselves, "I can handle this
myself" or "I don't have to agree with everything someone else says."
They need to challenge self-limiting ideas, such as "I could never do
this without _____'s help," or "I'd be scared to move a long way away
from my family" or "Oh, I'll never make it without all the good luck I
can get." Take charge. Test your ability. See if you can't accomplish
much more than you have thought you could. Build your optimism and
self-confidence (see methods #1 and #9 in chapter 14).
Because shame is thought to underlie the addictions and
codependency, there is a strong tendency in this area to blame
parents ("dysfunctional families," "toxic parents," etc.) for our
problems. There is also great emphasis on 12-step treatment
programs. Certainly, understanding the origin of our difficulties is
useful, but instead of merely parent bashing, we would profit more
from recognizing our reaction to parental anger, fears, over-protection,
domination, punishment, abuse, emotional disturbance, etc. Not all
abused, neglected kids have problems; some find ways to adjust. We
need to understand our reactions to good and bad circumstances; then
become survivors and copers.
Some therapists believe blaming our parents and going to 12-step
groups are not as helpful as it could be. These critics (Tessina, 1993)
say the emphasis is unduly on past troubles and misdeeds--not on new
skills, new views of the situation, new expectations and goals, new
plans for changing your life. No doubt that is true--it would be
delusional to believe that current 12-step programs will remain the
best possible treatment for the next 50 years. But 12-step programs
serve many people well (at low cost); they are a good "first effort," a
place to start, and they provide many effective procedures.
Researchers need to find additional treatments to add to the 12-step
programs. Unfortunately, some people's devotion to and dependency
on old methods as well as a fear of change may inhibit the
development of even better treatment methods in this area. Research
is just good thinking.
References cited in this chapter are listed in the Bibliography (see
link on the book title page). Please note that references are on pages
according to the first letter of the senior author's last name (see
alphabetical links at the bottom of the main Bibliography page).