Dependency (The Road Less Traveled)

The most common misconception about love is the idea that dependency is love. This is a misconception with which psychotherapists must deal on a daily basis. Its effect is seen most dramatically in an individual who makes an attempt or gesture or threat to commit suicide or who becomes incapacitatingly depressed in response to a rejection or separation from spouse or lover. Such a person says, "I do not want to live, I cannot live without my husband [wife, girl friend, boyfriend], I love him [or her] so much." And when I respond, as I frequently do, "You are mistaken; you do not love your husband [wife, girl friend, boyfriend]." "What do you mean?" is the angry question. "I just told you I can't live without him [or her]." I try to explain. "What you describe is parasitism, not love. When you require another individual for your survival, you are a parasite on that individual. There is no choice, no freedom involved in your relationship. It is a matter of necessity rather than love. Love is the free exercise of choice. Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other."

I define dependency as the inability to experience wholeness or to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another. Dependency in physical healthy adults is pathological - it is sick, always a manifestation of a mental illness or defect. It is to be distinguished from what are commonly referred to as dependency needs or feelings. We all-each and every one of us - even if we try to pretend to others and to ourselves that we don't have dependency needs and feelings. All of us have desires to be babied, to be nurtured without effort on our parts, to be cared for by persons stronger than us who have our interests truly at heart. No matter how strong we are, no matter how caring and responsible and adult, if we look clearly into ourselves we will find the wish to be taken care of for a change. Each one of us, no matter how old and mature, looks for and would like to have in his or her life a satisfying mother figure and father figure. But for most of us these desires or feelings do not rule our lives; they are not the predominant theme of our existence. When they do rule our lives and dictate the quality of our existence, then we have something more than just dependency needs or feelings; we are dependent. Specifically, one whose life is ruled and dictated by dependency needs suffers from a psychiatric disorder to which we ascribe the diagnostic name "passive dependent personality disorder." It is perhaps the most common of all psychiatric disorders.

People with this disorder, passive dependent people, are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to love. They are like starving people, scrounging wherever they can for food, and with no food of their own to give to others. It is as if within them they have an inner emptiness, a bottomless pit crying out to be filled but which can never be completely filled. They never feel "full-filled" or have a sense of completeness. They always feel "a part of me is missing." They tolerate loneliness very poorly. Because of their lack of wholeness they have no real sense of identity, and they define themselves solely by their relationships.

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