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Methods for Decreasing Dependency: Change Your Thoughts and Beliefs

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

There are several approaches people might take to lessen their dependence upon others:

Change Your Thoughts and Beliefs. As we've suggested above, thoughts drive emotion, and emotion very commonly influences behavior. Thus, by changing thoughts and beliefs you have that contribute to your dependence, you can change how you feel and act so as to become more independent.

There are two aspects of your thoughts you may want to address: 1) The content of your thoughts, and 2) the perspective from which you make judgments and appraisals.

Various beliefs you may have that suggest your own judgment or worth is less than that of other people may be contributing to your dependent behavior. For example, you may believe that:

  • you are inferior
  • you are helplessness
  • you can't live without someone else's aide
  • you can't make good decisions.

Other people may have actually told you that these statements are true, but keep in mind that they aren't true just because someone else told you so (what if that person's judgment is suspect too?). Some people, (including family members, spouses and people who are supposed to love you) will tell you that they are superior to you, solely as a means of gaining control over you. This is a form of verbal abuse, and does not necessarily reflect the true nature of your abilities.

You can use Cognitive Restructuring to gain awareness of these beliefs, which probably appear to you in the form of Automatic Thoughts if they are present at all, and then subject them to an objective criticism. Ask yourself, "What is the evidence" that you are inferior, helpless, etc. You'll be surprised to find that frequently, there is no evidence to this effect at all, or only minimal evidence that has been over-generalized.

Sometimes, part of the reason that people have dependence-inducing beliefs is because they are also a perfectionist (at least as concerns their own work), and they can never measure up to their own standards. If this is the case for you, address your perfectionist beliefs using cognitive restructuring as well.

The second aspect of your thoughts you may want to address concerns the perspective from which you make judgments and appraisals. An ideally mentally healthy person makes judgments from their own perspective first, even though they have the ability to see things from others perspectives too. Overly-dependent people tend to make their primary judgments about situations from someone else's perspective, as though they were outside of themselves and looking at themselves through someone else's eyes. It's okay and healthy to take on other's perspectives from time to time - it is the basis for empathy, after all - but to do it all the time leaves you without a means for making independent decisions.

For example, an insecure suitor might approach a potential relationship thinking, "Does she (or he) like me? What do I have to do in order to get her (or him) to like me?". This sort of thinking leads to a lack of respect on the part of the potential partner for the suitor. "If he (she) is willing to do anything I want to gain my favor, he must be desperate." It is, in general, much better to approach a new relationship thinking, "Do I like her (him)?" Thinking in this way projects confidence and independence.

Some people object to the idea of forming judgments from their own perspective, because it feels quite selfish to do so. It is in fact, more selfish to think from your own perspective rather than from someone else's (when you have made a habit of thinking from someone else's perspective). However, it is a healthy and assertive sort of selfishness that we're promoting for you here; not an abusive form. We are suggesting that you take care of yourself first; not that you forgo caring what other people think.

When you move your perspective from other to self, you will also be moving your Locus of Control as well. Locus of control is a psychological term that refers to whether you feel in control of your life or not. When you have an external locus of control, you have little or not ability to control your life, and you tend to feel helpless. When you move your locus of control more inside yourself, you start to see that, while there are many things you cannot control, you do have the ability to control your life direction.

Good methods for learning to shift your perspective from other to self might include:

  • Qualitative Self-Monitoring of your judgments; (e.g., recording when you become aware of making a judgment about something, and writing down what perspective you've formed that judgment from).
  • Thought Substitution Practice, in which you write down your first judgment (from the other perspective) and then writing down an alternative substitution judgment, formed from your own perspective, next to that original judgment.

As you practice these tasks, you will find that it gets easier to become aware of your judgment process, and to substitute your own judgment for your idea of someone else's in the moment.