Dependency is an essential dimension of all our relationships, it is an aspect with which we continually measure ourselves, at varying degrees, starting from when the embryo is in the womb.
During pregnancy the embryo is totally dependant on the woman who is carrying it. (in her womb). He feeds and grows on what the mother offers, both from a biological and relational point of view.
With birth, the first big separation between the baby and his mother takes place. The baby, incapable of surviving alone, finds himself catapulted into an unknown world, that terrifies him: he needs a mother and an environment able to protect him from the excessive stimuli and to satisfy his needs, both physical and emotional. A good-enough mother will do her best to tune in with the mental and physical states of her child, his needs and wishes, aware of the differences between her and her child. Her child will also try to tune in with his mother and his environment, putting at stake his own genetic sides and traits, that make him unique.
The gratification of the newborn’s needs will establish his confidence to rely on another person.
As the child grows, he will alternate between his need for dependence and a slow acquisition of autonomy with respect to the parental figures, gradually opening up to the outside world) alternately play his need for dependence, together with a slow acquisition of autonomy towards the parental figures, gradually opening up to the outside world.
In everyday life an individual has to continually come to terms with his ability to deal with his dependence on another, with his worry to get lost and/or with his ability to cope. Let’s start from a practical example: I telephone someone and cannot find him, I decide to leave a message on the answer phone. The waiting starts, “Damn, if I could do without you!”.
Dependency can set off a sense of agitation in a person, uncertainty, impotence because the other is out of control.
If a person has suffered from severe affective deprivations during his original dependence, he will be very anguished when he enters into an important relationship with someone because he will feel himself in great danger. If the other person should abandon him his fear would be to crush, to go to pieces, to get lost.
Dependency has to do with separation: the more a person is structured, the more he has resources and talents, the more he will feel solid. The more the individual has self-soothing capacities the less he will live his dependence on another person as something imperative and painful.
To think, however, that one needs no one is a counter-dependence: it’s a defence where the person denies to need someone simply because his need is too big and dependency becomes a big threat.
In adult relationship an important step involves desire as we like the other person rather than need him because we feel lonely, empty, abandoned, unwanted, unnoticed.
In the area of dependency a child needs, an adult desires.
Those who suffered affective deprivation in the early stages of dependency, because of their past unfulfilled emotional needs, can find themselves today unconsciously terrified by relationships with others: they may have found an alternative solution to their needs in relating with objects or substances on which they think they may exercize control. All forms of addiction to objects (food, drugs, alcohol, physical or work hyperactivity) clearly express the anguish of the individual in his relationship with another person. The proximity to an individual generates an excitement which sometimes leads him to escape in order not to lose his own sense of himself, his own identity. The escape is carried out to hide an ancient emotional wound lived with excessive wish and terror at the same time.
In everyday language the human being often uses food as a metaphor of the relationship with the world, for example, when he says “I can’t digest him/it” (referring to an unpleasant person or thing), “he’s eating me with his eyes” (referring to an admiring person), “he makes me sick” (referring to a disgusting person).
Relationships nourish the inner world of a human being, food nourishes the body as it will become the energy that the body needs to be able to function. Food represents something that enters into the body of the individual and transforms it.
Food and body are the emblems of our addiction: as we cannot do anything without our body, likewise also food is a means of which we cannot do without to live. Therefore they are well suited to become the target of the struggle against everything which has to do with addiction, need of the other.
Food has therefore a big emotional value.
The baby without milk does not grow, he dies.
Every mother is biologically programmed, at the birth of her baby, to breastfeed him and look after him. The mother who breastfeeds does not only give milk but also a relationship which will be fundamental in building the inner world of the child. She conveys a sense of value to him, the pleasure of functioning, her ability to care and listen, the joy to see him growing.
Food is thus the first object of exchange in the mother-child relationship. A mutual tuning on the needs of the child is built up between the two. When, however, this reciprocal regulation does not occur, the relational tension for the baby becomes unbearable and he may set up a need for compensation, using food to satisfy him.
With the language of the physical hunger, the individual talks about his relational hunger. The person who is always hungry, who consumes his meals every time as if it were the last, but without ever being able to feel a sense of pleasure, satisfaction or fullness, in this way repeats to infinity that child experience for which there was never enough. He is hungry for relationships, love, help.
On the contrary, in anorexia the body is placed under total control by starving it, body which, with its life made of needs and desires, requires dependency in the exchange with the other. The anorexic thinks that in this way he can block his wish for a relationship with another person, preserving himself from dependency, through denying himself the primary one, depriving himself of food.
Many different substances may be used as a substitute of a human relationship: they have the purpose of replacing the other, thus maintaining at least a semblance of a relation. The choice of the type of substance tells us of the kind of relationship which the person has unconsciously rebuilt, hoping to exercise control this time instead of undergoing. An addiction to a substance that carries danger and threats of death, just like the individual experienced in the early relationships at the beginning of his life. Silence, indifference, inattentiveness and distraction in the relationship are what the drug addict, the alcoholic suffered, people who were undermined in their first relationships that founded the construction of their inner world.
Difficulty in relations, low self-esteem and self -value, hypersensitivity, vulnerability and shame characterize such individuals who need, but at the same time are frightened of, a therapeutic relationship of re-construction of their original dependency, which at the time was a failure. That is why it is so difficult for these people to face a therapeutic work.