I have been doing Career Counselling for the last 35 years. I always ask both parents, or at least one parent, to attend the career counselling session of their child. In a recent case, the father did not attend and the mother was accompanied by the maternal grandmother of the child. The mother asked for permission for her to be present during the ‘parent counselling’. With no objection from the child, I proceeded. About half an hour into the session, the grandmother said she wanted to share a concern. She said she was speaking on behalf of her husband, her son-in-law and herself. And then in front of her daughter (the mother of the child) she spoke of the mother’s dependency on the child (More on that later).
Later, while thinking about the session, I thought ‘Dependency’ would be a good topic for a blog. I started on a ‘mind map’ and realized I was confused — I was vacillating between thoughts of ‘dependence’ and ‘dependency’. I needed help and had to take recourse to research. Let me share some research ideas that brought clarity to my mind and my own reflections on those ideas.
I will begin with the definitions –
Dependence — It is the abstract quality of being dependent. It refers to someone who relies on someone or something outside of themselves for survival, achievement or success. Young children are dependent on their parents / adults. Old people can be dependent on their children or anyone else for some or all of their needs. It is also not uncommon to see people take the help of others which can be perceived as dependence. It can also refer to an addiction — an irrational over reliance on a substance or a gadget like a mobile phone.
Dependency — is the concrete state of being dependent. This can relate to someone’s control over another person or thing. It can also mean someone’s over reliance on someone or something. For e.g. X’s dependency on his mother is a serious concern.
Hence ‘dependence’ with the suffix ‘ence’ is the quality and ‘dependency’ with the suffix ‘ency’ is the state of having to rely on someone or something else.
My focus in this blog will be on ‘dependency’.
Let’s go back to the concern of the grandmother. The 3 other significant adults in the family were concerned about the dependency of the mother on her son. I did not have a conversation on the issue as the mother immediately teared up and did not want to pursue the matter. I could however feel that this was a major problem in the home.
However, there were tell-tale signs in the conversation and behaviour of the child as a recipient of the mother’s dependency on him. He was relating to his mother and others from a position of superiority and condescension. This was perhaps, because the mother was possibly relating to him from a position of inferiority and humility. He looked down on creative people and said they are losers. There was the arrogance of believing that only systematic people are successful. He refrained from socializing with his peer group. His home and his room were his comfort zone. Socializing was a waste of time. It could be that the mother had made him believe that she needed him to be close to her.
I can only assume that these characteristics were an outcome of the dependency of the mother on him.
Here is another case study of a different kind of dependency.
A normal family of Father, Mother, 3 Daughters and 2 Sons. I said ‘normal’ as for all purposes, everything seemed fine on the surface. However the dependency of the mother came up every time. One of the children was getting married, the mother raved and ranted, found fault with everything and her Blood Pressure rose to alarming levels. Ultimately, she did not have a good relationship with the spouses of the children as her dependency continued from afar.
In both cases — what could be the causes of the dependency and the consequences? As ‘dependence’ is a characteristic of childhood, dependency can be seen as an adult behaving like a child. I would like to use a checklist to identify the causes for both the individuals and for all of us.
- Has the adult successfully separated from the parent/s and from the family?
- Has the adult a personal identity or a borrowed/fake one?
- What is her / his self-worth like?
- Does s/he have a feeling of competence?
- Does s/he feel on equal terms with adults?
- Does s/he change himself/herself to suit the preferences of the recipient to avoid making the child / partner / friend angry?
- Does s/he suppress his / her own personality out of fear of being assertive and losing out on the relationship?
This checklist is to start an introspection that would help in identifying some of the consequences.
I was once told by a facilitator in a ‘Behavioural Science Lab’ that I had a great need to be needed. It was a wakeup call as I then realized that I was putting myself in a secondary position. Change had to happen. And it did.
So yes one of the consequences of dependency is to make one subservient due to self-made fears. The more dependent party can feel manipulated, frustrated, angry and prone to depression and the other to arrogance.
I would like to agree with Alan Cohen and I quote,
“For everyone you create to be dependent on you, you are equally dependent on them. Neither relationship is healthy’.
So the solution would be in balancing our need for dependency and the opposite need for autonomy, to fulfil yet another need for happiness and fulfilment.
We live in an interdependent world. Our relationships transcend age, gender, class, creed, education, status, wealth, power and authority. However to have healthy relationships with others, no matter who, we need to be first autonomous ourselves! The three stages of maturity are dependence, autonomy and interdependence.