How to distinguish between love and emotional dependence

Myanmar childThe word ‘love’ is perhaps one of the most casually used terms in the English language – so much so that it has become an umbrella term for a whole variety of very different emotions! There is one thing we all agree on – that love is what makes the world go round, and that without it, the world is but a dry empty shell of a place. On the other hand, it is a word we very easily twist around to our own purposes to justify our emotional dependence on a person. If we can learn to distinguish love from emotional dependence and put this distinction into practice, then we make life more beautiful not only for us, but for everyone we come into contact with.

1. Learn to love yourself first

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven.

~William Shakespeare

Often when we are emotionally dependent on someone, we are looking to them as a ‘filler’ to cover over and distract us from unresolved emotional issues in ourselves. In order to truly love someone, we first have to discover and explore what love is, and that means starting with the person you spend the most time with – yourself! We can often name our shortcomings far quicker than our positive qualities, and we are very quick to beat ourselves up for anything we didn’t do to our satisfaction. This all has to change. Try every day to identify your positive qualities and bring them more to the fore and increase them, and when you do make a mistake, try and see it as a ‘work-in-progress’ rather than an absolute failure. When your own self-love and self-respect increases, you are then able to approach relationships with others with much more equanimity.

2. Use the heart

There is no mistaking love. You feel it in your heart. It is the common fiber of life, the flame of that heats our soul, energizes our spirit and supplies passion to our lives. It is our connection to God and to each other.

– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Along with the word ‘love’, the word ‘heart’ is often dragged in to many conversations and used to describe all manner of behaviour good and bad. When we talk about the heart we mean the space in the middle of the chest we point to when we say ‘this is me’ – the place we feel the essence of our being more than anywhere else. It is also where most of our higher and nobler qualities emanate from – empathy, kindness and love.

Emotional attachment, on the other hand is a tangled up array of feelings from the mind and also from the emotional part of our being located closer to the navel. Because the sources of love and emotional attachment are located so lose together, they can and are often confused by the undiscerning person. However, setting aside some time each day for a practice of self-discovery and self-enquiry (e.g. meditation) will very quickly enable you to distinguish one from the other.

3. Don’t expect

“When your love is pure or spiritual, there is no demand, no expectation. There is only the sweetest feeling of spontaneous oneness with the human being or beings concerned.”

– Sri Chinmoy

Social anthropologists often describe many human relationships like a contract – we give our love to a person and at the same time we subconsciously place all kinds of expectations on that person which we want them to fulfill. And then when the other person fails to sufficiently satisfy our demands (which will definitely happen from time to time – we’re all imperfect) we feel let down and angry with the person, our insecurity and fear of not being loved come to the fore, and we often resort to some kind of emotional manipulation to try and get them to fulfill our demands.

True love, on the other hand is like the sun. The sun shines its rays and gives its warmth to all and sundry, without anything in return. This may sound like naivety to the calculating mind, but when we live in the heart we feel exactly like the sun does – we just want spread our love and goodwill anywhere we can. With this kind of love we have detachment – we have no fixed ideas about what way this love should be taken by others, the mere act of giving love satisfies our heart immensely.


4. Learn to let go

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.

– Hermann Hesse

Often we place mental restrictions on people we love, whether it be parents ‘living their dreams’ through their children, or someone ‘trapped’ in a relationship. True love means loving people for who they are, not trying to channel them into who you want them to be. The greatest service you can do to one whom you love is allow them to grow in to their soul’s highest potential – sometimes this will mean actively helping them, but other times this will mean recognising when you are standing in the way of that happening and getting out of the way!

5. The inner strength: patience and forgiveness

“Patience serves as a protection against wrong as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you.”

– Leonardo Da Vinci

To develop love, we also have develop forgiveness and patience. To forgive someone, it helps to see beyond their surface imperfections and appreciate the beauty that lies deep within. Love always goes hand in hand with this recognition of inner beauty inside a person, and when we can see this inner beauty in a person and appreciate it, we help bring that beauty to the fore and perhaps prevent whatever unfortunate thing that person might have done from occurring again.

This world of ours can seem like a downright unfair place at times, but developing this quality of love for everyone you meet allows you to rise above ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ that people might throw at you and still keep your faith in humanity intact.

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68 thoughts on “How to distinguish between love and emotional dependence”

  1. I loved this post…got to learn a lot…I often try to use these things as letting go and forgetting but every time..i dunno…it haunts back again…Obviusly…I vl try again….but dnt want 2 fail….really good article…

  2. Thank you for a much needed article for myself and others…..GOD’S love is the love I have felt and am more than happy to have with me each and everyday…..THANK YOU SO MUCH

  3. I agree with most of your points in this post. I feel as if a love where your partner loves you more than you love yourself is a recipe for emotional dependence. While when sharing your life with someone there will be times when you rely upon them to be strong when you cannot be, it should not be constant. The one thing I disagree with is that you should not have expectations for your partner. I think as humans it is impossible to rid ourselves of expectation. We can, however, both manage and communicate our expectations. They should be fluid and it you should never expect someone to behave in a way in which you have not shared, lovers are not mind readers!

  4. The path of Bodhisattva, indeed, includes the ability of distinguishing attachment and compassion (love for all lives). Thanks, I learn what to cope now. The mind itself is clustered with thoughts(emotional, knowledge) and our body stimuli, by recognizing the nature of mind, which is endless and restless, we rest our nature within from chasing after them, because they cannot be owned. Thanks, we need to love from our heart, not the mind which stipulates all sorts of addictive behaviour towards others until she/he becomes merely an item of pleasure. In which Buddha said all six senses (the last one is consciousness, includes sub-consciousness) are merely phenomenal and numbs our real ‘self'(this ‘self’ is merely used as a object to describe, one can only truly understand when they experience, start from resting the mind through meditation).
    After all, I was actually troubled by my emotions that I’ve gone attached to a girl at current grade 12, where I got too troubled(my academic still good^^). Shall I make a retreat from her in terms of my Facebook pursuit, school pursuit and emotional entanglement. (fortunately, we’re still in friends state, where the burden of emotion ain’t that strong as it is for the couples.) I just know her three months! -.-” Sry, but the first paragraph is quite useful(depends on ur degree of understanding)

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