This person is typified by a difficulty in making their own decisions. Difficulty initiating things. They will readily give up responsibility to others for major areas of their lives, they can lack self confidence and avoid having to rely on self.
If no one is there they will experience a strong urge to look around for and to attach to what they see as a strong authority figure and then seek for that person to make decisions for them. Hence we end up with the symbiosis diagram.
In this theory the dependent personality seeks to give up their Adult and Parent ego states and allow the other person to assume ’control’ of them. At the same time the other person is usually looking for some one of this dependency type so they can either control them. Or they are looking for some one they can rescue or ‘save’. The woman who seeks to save the man from prison, drugs, gambling and so forth.
At this point we need to define two different types of dependent personalities. The one diagrammed above essentially results form a lack of skills. The person lacks assertion skills, they lack practice and experience at using their Adult ego state independently or exercising their Parent ego state in the ways they can. Thus they lack confidence and a belief in self. This may happen because mother never gave the child the chance to practice such things or maybe father undermined the child’s confidence but putting him down or deriding him.
If this is the case then treatment is not too difficult. The individual is afforded the opportunity to learn assertion skills, use their own Adult ego state to change the tyre on a car, manage their money, practice setting their boundaries around others and expressing their opinions from their Parent ego state. When this happens their self confidence will usually slowly rise as well for which they get lots of positive strokes along the way.
The other dependent personality type does not result just from a lack of skills as described above. Instead it results from a disturbance in the structure of the personality. Thus one can say it is a ‘deeper’ kind of problem that is more difficult to remediate.
To explain this type we don’t use the symbiosis diagram but use the attachment diagram.
As the diagram shows this person has a poor sense of self as an individual. For some reason in childhood they did not successfully separate and in particular individuate from mother. As we know a child is born and it then develops an attachment to mother in the first two years of life. After that it uses the three separation/individuation stages of 2 yo, 4 yo and adolescence to separate and individuate from her.
The more the child separates the more it can individuate. That is discover who it is as an individual. The more it individuates the more it can then separate. The person who has successfully individuated can answer the question - Who am I? Not in the practicalities of gender, marital status and so forth, but in the feeling sense of who I am. The dependent personality will find it very difficult to answer this question.
The parents may have kept the child cocooned for some reason or children of rich parents can have this problem as well. Parents can use financial ties to make it harder for the child to leave. If a child has always been given lots of money that can at times significantly hamper the individuation process.
The person does not develop a strong sense of who they are.
Exercise: When I first moved away from my parents as a young adult what did I learn? What did I learn about me and about life?
As there is an under developed individual self this person seeks to form attachments to others. Once done they assume the the identity of the other as their own and thus feel better psychologically. An example of this is the woman who says: “I don’t feel complete without a man”. She recognises that she ‘lacks’ some sense of identity and discovers that if she forms an intimate relationship with a man then that lack of identity gets filled up with his and thus she feels more complete.
This woman is then in very difficult circumstances as she will find it very difficult to leave the relationship. All people find it difficult to leave a intimate relationship with a strong attachment. But she will find it 10 times harder because her basic sense of identity is also connected with staying attached to the man. For her to leave its like psychologically having her arm ripped off.
This woman is domestic violence waiting to happen. If the man is violent he discovers that he can hit her and she wont leave. She may threaten to leave or even leave for short periods but she always comes back for the reasons I mentioned above. When asked why she moved back she may say, “He said he loved me and wont do it again”. Of course the real reason is that she finds it intolerable to loose part of her very identity or sense of self.
The dependent personality of this type is harder to treat as it is not merely the acquisition of new skills that is required. She has to acquire a sense of herself as an individual human being which is not easy to do and will take time and money usually. However these people can end up in counselling because they will be attracted to the strong counsellor for the same reasons. In this case one can get the rapid development of strong transference feelings from the client to the therapist. The client does the same and takes on the therapists identity as her own and thus will get that sense of ‘completion’ again.
This can be a good thing in that then she can separate and individuate using the therapist as the parent figure but it takes time. On the down side this client is primed for financial exploitation by the unscrupulous therapist. Sensing her high level of dependence the therapist can propose multiple sessions per week and expensive workshops and training which she takes up because of her dependency needs as described above.