Emotions can be tough to handle, and all sorts of factors play into how we manage them. If you feel like you aren’t necessarily in control of your emotions due to the influence of others, you may not be emotionally independent.
Many people struggle with achieving emotional independence despite its importance to good mental health. That being said, achieving emotional independence can be difficult, as numerous reasons cause people to depend on others. Before discussing how to achieve emotional independence, let’s define it.
What Is Emotional Independence?
Emotional independence is about being autonomous and governing your own emotions. Unfortunately, emotional independence is little discussed in everyday life. It is quite rare to hear someone talk about teaching their kids to be emotionally independent. It is also uncommon to hear of someone struggling with emotional dependence. This could be because emotional independence often comes naturally to people as they mature out of childhood. For others, however, it can be very difficult to manage and take control of their own emotions.
For people who have not achieved emotional independence, their emotions depend on others’ behavior. Typically, their behavior and emotions are dependent on someone close to them, like a romantic partner or a friend. They are always asking other people for their opinion because they want to please them. People who are not emotionally independent have a great fear of being rejected, ignored, not liked, or criticized. The way they view themselves is often negative, and they may have low self-esteem. They may be negative towards themselves and will change what they say, do, wear, or even believe in hopes of feeling more accepted by another. They feel like they can’t live without their partner and would be worthless if they left. This is not a healthy way of living.
What Causes Emotional Dependence?
If you feel you are experiencing emotional independence or know someone who is, you may be wondering what causes it. As you probably know, parents have a large impact on their children, whether they know it or not. One of the most common causes of emotional dependence is a parent who helps perpetuate that need, and parents who have been incarcerated can also create issues with emotional independence. Another common cause is trauma, where someone was heavily controlled and/or hurt by another person. Having difficulty in being emotionally independent can arise for no apparent reason as well. No matter the cause, it is helpful to learn how to achieve emotional independence.
Ways To Achieve Emotional Independence
It is essential to be emotionally attached to your partner, but what makes it go from a healthy to unhealthy bond? If you’re sacrificing your true self, emotions, wants, and needs for your partner, that is unhealthy for both of you. You should strive for emotional independence to better yourself and have a healthy image of yourself. Prioritize yourself and take control of your emotions.
The first thing you should do when trying to become more emotionally independent is to let go. When you are dependent on someone, you are constantly trying to please them and feel great pressure to be perfect all of the time. It is time to let go of that. This is much easier said than done, so start by taking little steps. First, stop asking people for their opinion of you, whether that is what you’re wearing, listening to, watching, your personal goals, etc. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others, you should express yourself however you want.
Many emotionally dependent people don’t understand that people are in their lives because they already like them. For example, your romantic partner liked you when you two met and decided to get in a relationship with you. No matter how low someone’s self-esteem is, they need to understand there are positive traits. So, learn how to let go of your fear and plan how you will be happy, emotionally secure, and in control of your thoughts. Your true friends and loved ones don’t want you to constantly act in a certain way, especially if that isn’t your true personality. And if you do start to let go of trying to make everyone happy and the people around you disapprove, you may be better off without them in your life anyway.
2. Establish Boundaries
Once you have started taking steps toward emotional independence, you will need to set boundaries for yourself. Make sure you know and understand your values so you can express boundaries to those around you, especially a romantic partner. If something is making you upset, be vocal about it to your partner. Set boundaries around the people in your life giving you their opinion. If you were constantly asking for others’ opinions before, they might still be in the habit of giving their opinion frequently. This can be very damaging when trying to make progress towards becoming emotionally independent. You may have to say, “I appreciate your opinions but I am trying to focus on making my own judgments now.” The people in your life should respect this.
3. Work On Your Self Esteem
Your self-esteem is crucial on your journey to emotional independence. You need to be confident in yourself for it to work. Now, if you have always had low self-esteem, you can work on it and make it better. Take care of yourself, do things you like to do, and spend time with people who genuinely make you happy. You may have to cut out people who try to manipulate your emotions and tear you down. While this can be difficult, it is important to set yourself up for success. You don’t need people in your life who are manipulative and controlling, as they can very easily hold you back from achieving your emotional independence.
Forgiveness can be a great way to start building a good self-image. You may need to forgive the person who caused you to be in the habit of being emotionally dependent. Or, you may need to forgive yourself for getting yourself in a hurtful situation. Understand that your self-worth is not found in the circumstances you are in. Everyone will go through less than pleasant circumstances at some point in their life. It is important for people who are emotionally dependent to understand this. If you have a romantic partner who has been hurtful to you, do not assess your worth based on what they did. If a friend has given you an unwelcome opinion, do not obsess over it and let it affect you. Your worth is far greater than that.
4. Make Your Own Decisions
When it comes to making decisions, some need to be made on your own. What are you making yourself for lunch the next day? You don’t need to ask your partner what you should make if you are the only one eating it. If your friend doesn’t like who you are interested in romantically for no good reason, don’t change your mind about them. Take control of what decisions you make without asking someone. This will give you greater control over your emotions. Remember that you are free to make your own decisions as long as the decision does not negatively affect someone else.
5. Take Control Over Your Emotions
While it is normal to get your feelings hurt or feel annoyed by someone else’s actions, it’s best to retain control over your emotions. If you can’t go a few days without having an emotional breakdown after someone says something to you, you may be emotionally dependent. Learn to recognize when you feel out of control over your emotions and remember that you are the only person who should decide how you feel. No one else should have control over your emotions. If someone does this consistently, it’s a good indicator that they are a toxic person. If you are in a relationship with someone who has too much control over your emotions, whether intentionally or not, couples counseling might very well be beneficial for you. A counselor will help you and your partner pinpoint why you are emotionally dependent and help you resolve the issue.
Achieve Emotional Independence
As you go about getting your emotional independence back, be yourself and focus on improving your emotional control. Let your partner, friends, and family know what you like and don’t like. Do not rely on others to tell you what you like or don’t. Do not allow the actions of those around you to determine and dictate your emotions.
You will love the change once you are living for yourself and no one else. Dress how you want, believe in what you believe in. If you don’t know what you like because you have been caught up in doing things for other people, learn more about yourself. Explore what interests you, take up a new hobby, learn a new skill. Being in a relationship takes two people working for it. However, you shouldn’t be sacrificing who you are to make someone else happy. You deserve to find happiness within yourself and feel in control of your emotions.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is meant by emotional independence?
Emotional independence is when a person’s emotions are not dictated by the emotions and opinions of others. For example, a friend comments that what you experienced isn’t as bad as what they had experienced. Your thought is that this is your friend’s opinion, which they are entitled to, but you know what you experienced has affected you. Whether your experience is worse or better than your friend’s is beside the point. You were looking for emotional support, and this particular friend is unable to offer it. Rather than allowing this situation – your friend’s reaction – to dictate how you should feel about what happened to you, you recognize that this isn’t the friend to talk to about that particular event. This is an example of finding emotional independence.
Emotional independence can be a powerful tool in our mental health toolkit. A study has shown that teaching emotional independence to bullies has been proven to increase their emotional independence and decrease their bullying. Essentially everyone can benefit from being more emotionally independent.
How do I get emotional independence?
Practice, practice, and then more practice. We’re all a work in progress. When we discover something that can improve ourselves and our relationships, such as emotional independence, we must understand what we need to do and implement it. We also should do check-ins with ourselves and maybe even enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to make sure we stay on track and progress toward growing our emotional independence rather than either stagnating or backsliding.
So how do we do this? Start small. Choose one of the five ways outlined above and begin. Maybe your coworker always wants to go to a certain coffee shop, but you have another in mind. However, you’ve kept silent for fear of upsetting and therefore displeasing your coworker. Your small step can be to suggest the coffee shop you have in mind. If your coworker disagrees, go without your coworker with an open invitation for your coworker to join you. No hard feelings. You want to go to another coffee shop – one that you prefer – and this is completely okay.
Continue to practice your emotional independent “voice” until it becomes confident and strong. When you feel like your voice has become small or silent or faltering, take those steps you did at first to regain that confidence and build your emotional independence.
If you feel unmoored when practicing emotional independence, seeing a therapist can help. A therapist can give you the emotional support and space to talk about what you’re feeling and thinking and help you effectively deal with people who are pushing back on your newly found emotional independence.
How do I stop being emotionally dependent?
There are many steps you can take to become more emotionally independent. Identify a time when you didn’t “stick up” for yourself. It could be something small that has bothered you or something big that hurts to remember. Take a step back when recalling that event (look at it objectively) to avoid getting caught up in the emotions surrounding it.
Now that you have that event in mind, what could you have done differently to meet your needs or wants without hurting you or anyone else? Maybe you could have stated better what you wanted or needed. How would you have phrased that clearly, assertively, and respectfully? Practice how you could have responded to that event by yourself or with someone you trust, so if a similar situation arises, you have a healthy and practiced response. This is an exercise in setting boundaries, which is one of the steps listed above in the article. Not everyone will be so pleased with your new boundary setting, but that is their issue to work on, not yours.
Emotional dependence didn’t happen overnight, and the same is true with emotional independence. Be patient. Practice the steps outlined. Be kind to yourself. You’ll have slips here and there, and that is okay. Get back on track and move forward. Finding your emotional independence can be difficult, especially if this is new to you, so give yourself time to grow into this.
How can I be emotionally independent of my parents?
Sometimes those closest to us can make it hardest to be emotionally independent. With parents, we often want to please them; we want them to love us; we don’t want to disappoint them. Fear of abandonment might keep us emotionally dependent on them. If I set a boundary, will they no longer love me? If I decide without their input, will they give me that disapproving look?
Taking responsibility for our personal growth can be both wonderful and terrifying. Yet, deciding to do this and then putting it into practice is the only way to grow, no matter how painful it is. On the other side waiting for you is that emotional independence. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it, and it won’t be so painful. It will become a part of you, and others, including parents, will recognize that. Some will be okay with it, while others won’t be. Some will find a mentor in you, while others will try to shame or manipulate you.
What causes emotional detachment?
Emotional detachment is when a person cannot or will not form emotional attachments to others. People with emotional detachment disorder experience a lack of empathy and show an inability to express emotions. They have a hard time committing people, especially to a romantic other, and even prioritizing that romantic other. Emotional detachment disorder can result from not having been in a nurturing environment during childhood (e.g., abuse or neglect), experiencing a traumatic event, or having a mental health disorder, such as an eating disorder, major depression, or bipolar disorder.
Many people, however, decide to detach themselves from people or situations that are emotional for them. This doesn’t mean that these people have emotional detachment disorder. Removing oneself from a stressful situation or person can be a healthy coping mechanism if no other healthy option is available. For instance, if you have a relative who is toxic to you and is at a family reunion, you might decide to stay away from that relative or, at the very least, not engage in conversation beyond a polite greeting.
If you think you or someone you know has emotional detachment disorder, there is help. Medication and therapy combined can be effective in treating this disorder. Sometimes, therapy alone can help a person learn to recognize emotions in themselves and others to connect with others and develop meaningful relationships.