Freedom from Emotionally Dependant and Controlling Relationships


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Freedom from Emotionally Dependant and Controlling Relationships – with Stephen Ernst

Controlling friendships

We all have controlling people in our lives. I used to try control people before I started to give up my cares to God. A controlling person often has issues with pride, insecurity or fear. The ‘attributes’ of pride and insecurity may seem opposites, but they are not.

A person who has true security, identity and value in God will have true confidence, — not pride.

Because a person that is controlling has a deep insecurity or hurt, they often feel more valuable, wanted and needed when they are in control.

These controlling people may be intimidated by those who have a true Godly confidence and reach out to those around them. If they are not in charge or the center of attention, they may be mean, catty or have bad attitudes to those people that are genuinely caring for others.

These precious people don’t realise that by their controlling behaviour they are creating a living misery for the lives of those friends of whom they control. Too often controlling people may even try control the parent or courting relationships of their friends.

Regardless of how close we are to these controlling friends, — we need to see the control for what it is — and withdraw, — before it kills us and our precious relationships.

If we are that controlling person in the relationship, we need to let our friends go to experience the destiny God has for them! We don’t have a right to control another persons life — no matter how knowledgable we think we are.

We certainly don’t have the right to attack parental or courting relationships that God may have blessed.

“let no one split apart what God has joined together.” Mark 10:9 (New Living Translation)

We need to find our value in Christ by giving up our own wants. No matter how we try increase our sphere of influence, or be ‘the’ advisor to those around us, — we will never be truly fulfilled or valuable until we come to the end of ourselves. We need to let Christ become our everything!

Only then do we experience true salvation. That is the ONLY way we will find true value and confidence!

Emotional Dependent Friendships

You may say to me: “Stephen, its all very well to say I need to leave behind these bad influences in my life. But they mean a lot to me. I need friends. Its not as though I have many other friends to replace the ones I have. These friends are the only family I have.”

God doesn’t look at life the way we do. We look at a friend as something to be kept, — to give us security.

In God’s world, we don’t truly get more until we let go of our own securities and plans.

Everyone wants to be needed and often we gain our value from what our friends think about us. We also gain value by giving other people advice, — and feeling important when they follow our advice.

God on the other hand says that we need to find ALL our emotional fulfillment and value in Him — not others.

I have seen and experienced relationships where people try to gain their fulfillment from other people instead of God. These relationships are draining — and everyone of us is guilty of doing it in some form of another.

It has a lot of names — emotional dependency, co-dependency, or friendship dependency.

What is Emotional Dependency?

Lori Rentzel Thorkelson defined Emotional Dependency as “the condition resulting when the on-going presence and/or nurturing of another is believed necessary for personal security.” [32]

We feel that we emotionally ‘need’ the other person for well being, or sometimes feel as if we need to be close to the other person because we should protect them. The truth is that no friend should be dependent emotionally on another. Every friend should find their emotional fulfillment in God.

She says we are prone to dependency because:

“In a dependent relationship, one or both people are looking to a person to meet their basic needs for love and security, rather than to Jesus. Unless underlying spiritual and emotional problems are resolved, this pattern will continue unbroken. Typical root problems that promote dependency include:

  • covetousness, which is desiring to possess something (or someone) God has not given us
  • idolatry, which results when a person or thing is at the centre of our lives rather than Christ
  • rebellion, which is refusing to surrender areas of our lives to God, and
  • mistrust, failing to believe God will meet our needs if we do things His way.

Sometimes hurts from our past leave us with low self-esteem, feelings of rejection and a deep unmet need for love. Bitterness or resentment toward those who have hurt us also open us up for wrong relationships. These sins and hurts need to be confessed and healed before real freedom can be experienced. This can happen through confession and prayer, both in our personal times with the Lord and with other members of the body of Christ.” [32]

Dependent friendships stop two people from growing

Speaking to my brother recently, He told me a story of two women he knew. The women were very close. Being so close to each other was smothering them both from growing.

Recently one of the women moved away from that city to work in another place. The other woman who was left behind has now grown in leaps and bounds and is being used by God in amazing ways.

Sometimes we need to let go of our close friends if we have become emotionally dependent on them. It is not easy, but very necessary for their and our own growth!

If an old season of friendship stops us from entering a new season in life, that relationship may have become emotionally dependent.

Dependant relationships can break up other relationships

Recently when speaking to a close friend whose wife divorced him, he told me that before the divorce, his ex-wife was very close to another woman.

He had thought this woman’s influence in his wife’s life was detrimental and had spoken to her about it.

She refused to give up the relationship with this other woman.

My friends wife finally divorced him. To this day he thinks that the other woman was a key influence. His wife had probably built up an emotional dependence with this other woman and valued her friends input more than her husbands input.

Just this morning I was speaking to a Christian girl who had started reading the booklet: Emotional Dependency by Lori Rentzel Thorkelson.

She relayed to me that she had been very close to a girlfriend of hers. They spoke on the phone nearly every day. When her friend had got a new boyfriend and started to withdraw from her, this Christian girl found it difficult.

I am sure that if these two young ladies had carried on their emotionally dependant relationship, — the relationship with new boyfriend would have suffered and potentially even been destroyed because of it.

Our roots become entangled if we are not careful

God may have been planted us as a seedling in a small pot with others to grow initially, but there may come a time when we need to be separated and replanted in another piece of ground, — away from our former seedlings.

Sometimes in order to grow bigger, — we need to leave that pot that we were first planted in.

We too often stay too long in that seeding pot — and may let our roots become entangled with those in the same pot as us. If so, we have become emotionally dependent or co-dependent on them and we sap each others emotional energy intended for God and their soul mate — (future or current husband or wife).

Signs of an Emotional Dependant relationship

Lori Rentzel Thorkelson said that some signs that a dependant relationship has started are “when either party in a relationship:

  • experiences frequent jealously, possessiveness and a desire for exclusivism, viewing other people as a threat to the relationship.
  • prefers to spend time alone with this friend and becomes frustrated when this doesn’t happen.
  • becomes irrationally angry or depressed when this friend withdraws slightly.
  • loses interest in friendships other than this one.
  • experiences romantic or sexual feelings leading to fantasy about this person.
  • becomes preoccupied with this person’s appearance, personality, problems and interests.
  • is unwilling to make short or long range plans that don’t include the other person,
  • is unable to see the other’s faults realistically.
  • becomes defensive about the relationship when asked about it.
  • displays physical affection beyond that which is appropriate for a friendship.
  • refers frequently to the other in conversation; feels free to “speak for” the other.
  • exhibits an intimacy and familiarity with this friend that causes others to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in their presence.” [32]

In Lori’s article she says that manipulation plays a role in maintaining emotionally dependant relationships. Some examples she gives include:

  • “Threats — threats of suicide and backsliding can be manipulative.
  • Pouting, brooding, cold silences — when asked, “What’s wrong”, replying by sighing or saying, “Nothing”.
  • Undermining partner’s other relationships — convincing him others do not care about him, making friends with partner’s other friends in order to control the situation.
  • Provoking insecurity — withholding approval, picking on partner’s weak points, threatening to end the relationship.
  • Time — keeping the other’s time occupied so as not to allow for separate activities.” [32]

Please note: One should be aware that it is normal to have some vulnerability and dependency with a soul mate in a courting or married relationship. It is also normal for kids to have an emotional dependance on their parents growing up.

We as adults need to however still find our emotional fulfillment in God and must avoid emotional dependent relationships with friends. These dependent relationships with friends can destroy all other meaningful relationships that God brings into our lives — especially courting and married relationships.

Breaking Emotional Dependency

Emotional dependency and soul ties develop can be almost impossible to break unless we allow God into EVERY area of our lives, and we ourselves need to act with firm resolve.

Emotional dependent relationships are often formed when two people — one that likes to be in charge and in control, and another more insecure person join forces.

Often when a person tries to leave the relationship, the other will throw a pity party, sulk, manipulate, threaten or control.

When we seperate ourselves from an emotionally dependent relationship, we cannot underestimate the soul ties that have formed. It may even feel like the other person has has died when try to separate ourselves from that person.

In the article, “Emotional Dependency”, Lori Rentzel Thorkelson suggests a variety of ways that a person can escape an emotional dependent relationship.

Making a commitment to Honesty: “We need to admit we have a problem and become accountable to change. We need to walk in the light and share the problem we have with another trustworthy Christian who is not emotionally involved in the situation.” [32]

Introducing Changes in Activities: Gradual Separation — Lori says that “Whether the dependency has been mutual or one-sided, we usually begin to plan our lives around the other person’s activities.” A “parting of ways” is necessary. She says “we don’t recommend that a person stop attending church just because the other person will be there. But we do know that placing ourselves unnecessarily in the presence of the person we’re dependent on will only prolong the pain and delay God’s work in our lives.” [32]

Allow God To Work. Lori says: “This sounds so obvious, but it’s not as easy as it seems! After we confess to God that we’re hopelessly attached to this individual and are powerless to do anything about it, we invite Him to come in and “change the situation”. The Lord never ignores a prayer like this. Some people begin to confront us about this relationship, but we assure them we have it all under control. Our friend decides to start going to a different Bible study, and soon we find a good reason to switch to the same one.”… “We ask God to work in our lives, but then we do everything in our power to make sure He doesn’t! I’ve learned from my own experience that thwarting God’s attempts to take someone out of my life only produces prolonged unrest and agony. Cooperation with the Holy Spirit brings the quickest possible healing from broken relationships.” [32]

Preparing for Grief and Depression: We need to allow for a time of grief and hurting for a season so that healing will come faster. Otherwise we may carry around unnecessary guilt and bitterness.[32]

Cultivate Other Friendships: Even if we find it scary or our hearts are not in it we need to cultivate other friendships. Our feelings catch up later. We need to embrace the other relationships that God brings across our paths. Lori says: “He knows just the relationships we need to draw out our special qualities and chip off our rough edges.” (Read my article Challenge me to greatness) [32]

Discover God’s Vision for Relationships: God desires relationships to build other people up in Christ. Lori says: “If we desire an exclusive emotional involvement with this friend, then our desires are in conflict with what the Lord wants. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I working with God or Against Him in the person’s life?” [32]

Resolve The Deeper Issues: Lori says “The compulsion to form dependent relationships is a symptom of deeper spiritual and emotional problems that need to be faced and resolved. Self analysis is the least effective way to uncover these problems. The most effective way is to go directly to Jesus and ask Him to show us what’s wrong. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) Another effective way is to go to those God has placed in positions of authority over us and submit to their counsel and prayer.” [32]

She suggests that for some a long-term counseling relationship will help us face the sins we need to repent of and the hurts that need healing. She suggests for others a small group that meets regularly for deep sharing and prayer will help tremendously. [32]

She suggests that personal prayer and fasting draws us to God and breaks sin bondages in a way nothing else will. [32]

“Confession, repentance, deliverance, counseling, and inner healing are means the Lord will use to bring purity and emotional stability into our lives.” [32]

“The healing and forgiveness we need are ours through Jesus’ atonement. We can receive them by humbling ourselves before Him and before others in His body.” [32]

Prepare For The Long Haul — We need to prepare for the war, not just the battle. “We need to know ourselves: our vulnerabilities, the types of personalities we are likely to “fall for”, the times when we need to be especially careful. We need to know our adversary: know the specific lies Satan is likely to tempt us with and be prepared to reject those lies, even when they sound good to us! More than anything, we need to know our Lord. We need to be willing to believe God loves us.

Even if we cannot seem to feel His love, we can take a stand by faith that He does love us and begin to thank Him for this fact. As we learn of God’s character through His Word, we can relinquish our images of Him as being cruel, distant, or unloving. A love relationship with Jesus is our best safeguard against emotionally dependent relationships.” [32]

For a very eye-opening article on Emotional Dependency, click here [32]

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  1. Hi. First of all, let me say I really like the articles here and I love coming back to this website again and again.

    I stopped at this article, because I felt it would be an issue what I have been dealing with… from the side of being “emotionally dependant”. Lately I’ve had to confess to God that I’ve been doing many things wrong… without having an idea about it. But I am taking the reponsibility for my actions, although the whole thing is so hard to deal with.

    Anyway… then I read your article. And I was ready to learn more about my problem. But then I realized… what difference is there between being in love and being emotionally dependant? I do realize it’s NOT ok to manipulate people. But come on, who of those, who are in love, is not emotionally dependant?

    And why does nobody say “oh, poor emotionally dependant person” but everybody has so much to say about what needs to be done and what is wrong with that person? (yes, = me in this case) Please know this is not an “attack” at the author of this artcile, a book I am reading has the same attitude, so much to say about what I’ve been doing wrong and what I need to change. But nobody realizes how much we suffer when left behind. Being able to grow is so little to console.

    But in the end I actually thank you, because your article made me realize I don’t have to believe everything that every psychological article or book tell me. And that is a freeing feeling really, in all honesty.

  2. you make a pretty good point “crazie” and I don’t think you’re crazy. This article seems geared more for friendships of teens and young adults. It doesn’t say anything, as I was hoping it would, very clearly about emotional dependency in romantic or married relationships, and almost implies that it’s normal. But cutting other friends out of people’s lives, and manipulation and controlling is never healthy, even if it is fairly common. The best part of this article is the last section, thanks for that.

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