Identifying Unmet Dependency Needs

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As infants, all human beings have the three primary needs – sustenance (food and water), shelter (home and protection), and nurturing (emotional connection). Infants are dependent on others for all three needs. Without the first two, they will die. Without the third, they become depressed and they fail to develop and thrive.

These three basic needs do not go away as we grow older. We still need sustenance, shelter, and emotional connection as adults. And the consequences of going without are exactly the same, including depression and a failure to thrive when our basic need for emotional support is not met. Admittedly, this need looks different and is met in different ways during our adult years, but it does not disappear.

Examples of healthy adult emotional dependency needs are as follows:

  • When I’m angry and I tell someone how angry I am, I want/need that person to validate what I am feeling (to support, agree with, or at least acknowledge my anger).
  • When I’m sad and I express my sadness to someone, I want/need that person to support, empathize with, and soothe me.
  • When I’m joyous and I express this to someone, I want/need that person to validate, mirror, and cheer for me.

Emotionally healthy (prodependent) people naturally reach out to others – spouses, family members, longtime friends, lovers, therapists, clergy, support groups, and the like – when they have strong emotions, good or bad, that they need to regulate and process. Addicts, however, usually because they were not properly nurtured as infants (and therefore learned that others could not be trusted to meet their emotional dependency needs), find it very difficult to reach out to others for support. Instead, they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling, or some other addictive substance or behavior, using that as a way to temporarily numb out and not feel their emotions.

As part of fighting addiction and establishing long-term sobriety, it is important for addicts to identify their dependency needs, including how those needs are not being met in the adult lives. Only then can they begin the process of reaching out and getting those needs met in healthy ways. To help you with this process, we have attached a list of common dependency needs below. If you feel that you are not getting your most important dependency needs met, we suggest you explore this idea in therapy and with your support network, looking for healthy ways to address this shortcoming.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication has a wonderful list of dependency needs that anyone can use. Their list can be found at THIS LINK.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available through our free resources website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com, our low-cost online workgroups, and our residential treatment center.