top of page

Demystifying 'Dependency' in Relationships

Updated: Jun 27

Notes using attachment theory & contemporary psychoanalysis

This is a nice title, no?!

Yeah, it's not mine. This is what young Sigmund says to his aunt when he finds the dark of the night to be discomforting. Guess he knew that this dark of the night, & the dreams enclosed would lure him in!

Demystifying Dependency


Darkness aside, (for now), this newsletter is one of those pieces that I didn’t write in one go (like a brain vomit!). I wrote a little of it every dawn, and I’m quite proud of that. 

Of course proud because the writing here is more dense, but also because Anar has finally learnt that I will not attend to her throwing things until 7 am, so she lets me write in peace now. 

Speaking of cats- the popularly detached, independent creatures… 

I came across the term ‘dependency paradox’ very recently (yeah I live under a rock); and since then, I haven’t been able to brush it off my mind. 


It’s such a clever term- enticing, evoking & giving (clearly, I’m a sucker for playful language). But more than that, this term is gripping because ‘dependency’ is not an unfamiliar nemesis to any of us- we may love it, we may hate it, but we can’t hide from it. 

No seriously, if you feel you’re not emotionally dependent on anyone, I’d wait for the bubble to burst. 

And this is not a challenge or predicament, it’s just the reality of being human. Having attachments is like one of those tests, where you click on the pictures that have street lights or the cars to prove that you’re not a robot (you know what I’m talking about, right?). 


To be human is to find comfort in the (real or imagined) presence of the other; and sh*tt starts falling when that presence is not guaranteed (Alexa, play abandonment trauma, insecure attachments, neglect, on repeat!). 

Now, if like a very special patient of mine, you’re someone sitting on the ideals of Bhagvat Gita and detachment, let me tell you something that got crystallised through the course of our work- “people who believe in the idea of detachment are fundamentally attached to the idea of being detached” (clever right?!).


But that was not the only thing that got etched. Through, and with my patient’s lived theorisation of detachment, came along multiple whispers:


First one is the strongest, for understandable reasons- 

Salman saab (Prof Salman Akhtar) suggests that patient has intuitively developed their ‘cure’- “That much psychopathology can result when the function of ‘letting go’ is ill-developed or hypertrophied” (2021).


Second one is brewing as a nascent theory- 

detachment as an addictive state trying to manage intolerably painful & confusing affect. A study by Cacioppo et al. (2009) portrays what it is like to be someone unable to rest in an un-integrated state. The study shows that people who feel no one is looking out for them, develop a crude sense of hyper-independence. In other words, developing dependence on detachment as an object that is used in place of where a connection could’ve been. 


And the third one that validates my meaning-making in analysis via literature-

“Zindagi bhar ek lamha nhi guzra” (a moment that didn't pass in the lifetime)- a repetition-compulsion, a frozenness that can be felt in the patient’s marriage to the idea of detachment, less as an experience, more as a response learnt very early to an impasse.


So what is the Dependency Paradox? 


The Dependency Paradox is that the more fully we can depend on our relationships and trust them as our secure base, the more independent we are able to be (Levy, 2021). Nobody becomes secure or individuated in the absence of a relationship, but, in the presence of them. 

Obviously, how can one grieve or separate from something that doesn’t exist? 


And so, often, the work of therapy is to find the ghosts (of the past/ of the dead relationship) to claim that they exist(ed); that one is not living without them, but in spite of them

The patient doesn't learn to be silent; they learn to be silent in the presence of the therapist. The work of therapy is, on a good day, to reintegrate into being, the disavowed, demystified dependency. 


To allow dependency on the self is to tolerate love and care- it’s to tolerate the self. 

In allowing the infant to depend on the (m)other, the mother is communicating to the infant that their needs (aka they) are valid, and tolerable.

On the other end, the mis-attuned or dismissed need for dependency hardly ever leaves the relationship fractured; the impact is internalised, and the self is rendered excessive.


In other words, hyper-independence is not a defence because of the marred relationship, but for the marred relationship. “I’m too much” is the learnt narrative and the desire for dependency is bartered for the promise of a relationship.

Let’s swiftly also go to Winnicott- the cute old white man who developed wonderful works out of observing how a wooden spoon is negotiated between the mother & the infant! 

He elaborates on three phases of the developmental journey: 'absolute dependence', 'relative dependence' and 'towards independence’ (1965), possible in the unperturbed presence of a ‘holding environment’ that concerns itself with the preoccupation with the baby- simply because the survival of the baby, psychically and literally, depends on it. 


And even then, drumrolls

he argues, drumrolls continue

that complete silence

we’re never fully independent (dayummm!!)


At best, we are in a pathway towards independence, using the templates of our good-enough childhood to deal with impingements of reality. 

He (cited in Mitchell and Black, 1995, p125) used the phrase “environmental deficiency disease” to make the point that mental health difficulties like psychosis, depression or addiction were not vacuumed internal dispositions, but a catastrophic failure on the part of the ‘good enough environment’ woven into the psyche.


Basically, we're all suffering from relationships (That, should be in the DSM).


 But here’s what I figured out:


 The idea of ‘attachment’ is central to the formation of the relational psyche; however, it is understood differently in Eastern & Western literature (ingenious, right?!). 

Eastern literature advocates detachment from material possessions (including the love object) as an ideal ego capacity, whereas Western literature emphasises the impossibilities of reaching that capacity, haunted by the incompleteness of the love objects. 

From where I see it, it’s an adjunction between the ‘ego ideal’ & the ‘ideal ego’ (Lacan).


Psychoanalysis louvvves dependence (so much so that we’re questionably accused of making patients dependent on us).

We simply love dependence because we see it everywhere. There is a systemic dependence (the Church & the State), there’s developmental dependence (on primary caregivers), there’s egotistical dependence (narcissistic personality organisations), there’s symbolic dependence (being dependent on other’s feelings), and I can go on. The point is that psychoanalysis has learnt to read dependence as a reverie, and not a dream.


Dependency is the new social drug- obsessional, often medicative, yet denied. The newly adopted lingo- simping, bread-crumbing, etc (yeah, I’m learning!) are bringing into language, and hence the consciousness of the inevitable, if not heightened confusion around dependency in relationships. It won’t be too wrong to argue that the ‘modern’ relationships are organised around gatekeeping dependency.


‘From a certain point, there is no more turning back. That is the point that must be reached.’ (Kafka, 1918). Why? Phillips writes, and I agree, “because there is always the temptation to give up? Or, more suggestively, because there is always the temptation to turn back, to turn or simply to turn back to the time when you can choose to give up or choose again what you really want to do. As though progress, or completion or commitment, depends on reaching the point from which there is no more turning back”.

Dependency is that psychic point of completion. The crisis of choice is over; we are no longer in search of exits and alibis; we are no longer seduced by alternatives and deferrals. It is the point at which we know what we want; we are no longer the complicated, conflicted creatures we were until this point. We are, in a certain sense, free.



Well, heavy stuff yeah?!

That’s why I love Psychoanalysis- it adds gravitas to the ordinary.




P.S. I reckon that the world doesn't end when we depend on someone, but it does end for us, when we're not able to. 

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page