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.


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

  1. Hi! You are so right about some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes IT IS LETTING GO.
    I have a BEAUTIFUL FAMILY,wich I Love and want to spend the rest of my life with, and They are my WHOLE LIFE. Now, THAT IS REAL LOVE. Yes! I Love My Family! The Drobikov’s. Thank’s so much! Thank God!

  2. All of this sounds really neat. There is something I do not get though. If I am able to make myself happy, why would I want to get involved with someone else? Speaking for myself, I am seeking a companion to be happier than I am and I would think that most people do the same. But doesn’t that mean that I am emotionally dependent on that companion to some extent?

  3. I was once told that the ancient Greeks had 6 different words for ‘love’ recognising the different, appropriate relationships we have with other human beings. I find it easier to ‘love’ some people than others, and I wonder why this is – is it perhaps a throwback to our instincts when we do find some people more ‘attractive’ (not necessarily physically) than others, or is it because of the reaction we get from them?
    I was thinking its a shame that people change, but that is such a selfish thought, when they are moving along in their life and having new experiences – and I’m thinking that the mindfulness is in accepting them as they become, or accepting the moving on, and in turn we have to also move on.

  4. Hi Maha,

    Just a small input based on my own perception. Seen from the standpoint of anything else but the Divine, Love will always fail. In your relationship with your partner, all that matters is duty with detachment. Do you best. “To work you are entitled, but not to the fruits thereof”. – Sri Krishna in the Gita. Actions of themselves have no power. What matters in action is sincerity of purpose; purity of intent….a live vibrant awareness of the power of Divine Providence, what some call “God”.

    Like me, You may find this practice difficult. Go inwards. It is the Inner Light (Grace), which in time will show you a way to alleviate and finally rise above the experience. Seasons Greetings.


  5. I’ve come to realize that genuine, thorough, change comes from the inside out, not by “fixing” the other person. This article definitely highlights that principle and I’m so glad I managed to come across it. This is a must-share to all of my loved ones. Thank you!

  6. U are right,people need to love and appreciate themselves first,and gain confidence.And realise their connection with God.

  7. True love is always unconditional.
    when ever we are expecting any thing in return then that love is tainted with desire and is not pure and is a kind of emotional need

  8. i have experience emotional dependence on myself since i got married and my wife still depend a lot on me emotionally. Most of the time it is not a pleasent experience.

  9. mesmerizing article !!….

    love is d mozt purest form of energy to feel great about life and people around u…an have a perfect emotional balance in…

    if u love sumone, u care about someone, u respect sumone, u feel sad wen dat sumone is sad, u feel happy wen dat sumone is happy, for no reason to cry wen dat sumone is crying and no reason to smile wen dat sumone is smiling……THEN….u r in love and emotionally attached to dat sumone……

    and wen u r emotionally attached, u dont expect anything,u dont find any faults, u find dat person totally perfect in everything and dis is wat make u feel complete by giving giving n ust giving…..

    that means…..u dont have emotional dependence in spite of being emotionally attached….as u knw d person u love…wtever u do or whrever u go…will ALWAYS LOVE U……u dont need to be dependent on ur loved one by d feeling dat he/she is always wid u emotionally and morally….

    love can make u feel divine..can relax every pore of ur mind heart and soul… can make u a good person….it is d only way to show how much u care and respect odrz….LOVE IS made by GOD to show everyone how much he loves them by granting dem a permission to b in dis beautiful world and enjoy it to the fullest…..GIVE LOVE …SPREAD LOVE…GET LOVE…..widout anyyyy expectation and feel d difference in inner YOU !!

  10. I found this article quite helpful….its does not apparently look exclusive coz we think we already know these things but it helps us resurface these thinking for practical application….thanks

  11. I like this article in that I know I have an unhealthy emotional dependence on someone and am working out how to love unconditionally and to relate in a more healthy way. The hardest part is that feeling such strong emotions, even the painful ones, is addictive. Usually breaking an addiction means you must ” stop using the drug,” but when it comes to relationships, that is not an option with someone you love and want to love purely.

  12. I like this, particularly because I have an anger issue with things and i don’t know how to deal with them at times but part of this article has helped me to realize about how much i actually care.

    I wanna just get rid of my anger..:( It does no good for the world, I’m just better off happy, I’m always better off with positivity.

    Amazing article, thanks!

  13. Give the Love without expecting something in return, then you will find that life is felt to be more beautiful^^

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