Dependency Is a Snare

by James Rudy Gray

People with devoted personality traits are common in our society. Devoted people care and are often seen as good mates, loyal workers, or faithful friends. However, a devoted personality style can go too far and develop into dependent personality disorder.

Devoted types share seven key characteristics. They are:

• Committed. They are thoroughly dedicated to the relationships in their lives and draw a great sense of comfort from those relationships.

• Togetherness. They almost always prefer to be with someone than to be alone.

• Follower. They are cooperative, respectful, and usually loyal to institutions and those in authority. They take directions well and enjoy working for others. They typically do not do well in leadership roles.

• Deference. They are happy to seek out the advice, counsel, and opinions of others and follow their direction.

• Harmony. They are careful to lessen conflict and promote harmony and good will as much as possible—especially between themselves and the important people in their lives. They are polite, agreeable, and tactful.

• Consideration. Devoted types aim to please. They are sensitive to the feelings of others.

• Attachment. Relationships provide this personality significant meaning in life. Often this type feels complete only when they are attached to people through significant relationships.

Since relationships are so important to them, they will endure discomfort and hardship in order to avoid alienating those close to them. Trouble in a relationship is a major cause of severe stress for them. They often cope with this stress by taking it upon themselves to work harder, do better, or take more abuse, criticism, neglect, etc., from the people who are the closest to them. When a death or break-up occurs in a relationship, they may feel like their world has come to an end. To deal with this sense of loss, they often fill the relationship void too quickly. It is not unusual for an overly-devoted person to go from one relationship to another in just a few months. As parents they may have a tendency to over-protect their children.

Being a devoted person is healthy—but when that type of personality grows into or toward dependency, it is both unhealthy and wrong.

How can a minister or counselor really be God’s tool for helping those who may be so strongly devoted that they even show signs of dependent personality disorder? Criticizing them will often simply cause them to blame or doubt themselves. Also, they will usually say what they think the counselor wants to hear. They seek an excessive amount of reassurance when a relationship is in trouble and may seek various types of substitutes when a relationship has ended (i.e., like food).

In order to effectively minister to someone who has strong devotion traits, we need to recognize that fear is a strong force in his or her life. Persons with dependency traits often lack a good sense of self and will compensate for that by trying to be overly compliant. They frequently fear rejection. They are driven to have an attachment with someone and will feel severe anxiety when they sense that relationship is in jeopardy. Helping them see the motivating fear behind their behavior and thoughts can lead them into a healthy devoted state and away from crippling dependency tendencies.

Overly-devoted people can learn to live for God more than they live for people. It is a hard concept for them to sometimes grasp. However, it is also a liberating freedom when they do practice it. They need to be gently coached to see that the anxious feelings they have from changing their operating style is actually less than the anxiety they live with in the clutches of dependency.

Jesus taught us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. The overly-devoted person needs reassurance, acceptance, and encouragement. Such persons need someone to help them build confidence based on a real relationship with God rather than relying on relationships with people to build a confidence that is actually not confidence at all but dependency

When dependent people have a relationship with Christ, and can apply that truth to the everyday challenges of living, they can lessen their drive for people attachments because they are confident of the greatest relationship attachment they could ever have! What, then, happens to the fear factor that had dominated their lives? 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast our fear.” When their focus shifts to their relationship with Christ and away from the drive to be attached to someone, good results can certainly follow.

James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the of American Association of Christian Counselors.

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