Does your wife or girlfriend believe it is your responsibility to take care of her emotionally, physically and financially? Worse yet, does your ex-wife or ex-girlfriend believe the same despite the fact your relationship is over? If so, you may be dealing with hostile dependency.
The Root of the Problem
Children rely on their parents for their care and safety needs. Good enough parents do their best to respond to their children’s needs while teaching them how to meet their own needs as developmentally appropriate. Even infants can learn to self-soothe by sucking their thumbs, chewing on a blanket, holding a toy and reaching for their bottle or pacifier.
Unfortunately, not all parents are “good enough.” Some parents shame their children or become angry/frustrated/impatient with them for expressing wants and needs.
When a parent punishes a child or tells them that they’re bad/selfish/demanding/inconvenient for expressing needs and feelings, the message is: It’s unacceptable to have needs and feelings and to depend upon me. Since most children actively avoid parental disapproval, these kids intuitively find indirect ways to get their needs met.
A child who has to disavow or mask their needs and feelings from a parent eventually develops an ever-growing anger and resentment. Since it’s especially unsafe to directly express anger and resentment toward their parent(s), these children often develop passive-aggressive behaviors and attachment issues.
Passive-aggression is not necessarily less aggressive simply because it’s passive. Essentially, passive-aggression is an indirect form of aggression–not necessarily a milder form of aggression (Seltzer, L.F., 2008).
Attachment issues arise from the conflicting messages and discomfort these children are made to feel about being dependent.
It should come as no surprise that adults who weren’t able to get their needs met directly, who didn’t have parents teach them how to self-soothe and who were made to feel bad, guilty or ashamed about being dependent upon their parents, bring these leftover childhood issues into their adult relationships. In more extreme cases, these issues are manifested in personality disorders and other emotional disturbances.
Healthy relationships between adults are interdependent:
Interdependence is a dynamic of being mutually and physically responsible to, and sharing a common set of principles with others. This concept differs distinctly from “dependence,” which implies that each member of a relationship cannot function or survive apart from one another. In an interdependent relationship, all participants are emotionally, economically, ecologically and/or morally self-reliant while at the same time responsible to each other.
A woman stuck in hostile dependency maps her unhappy childhood, dependency needs and anger about not having every single need met, no matter how small, onto her partner and/or her ex-partner. She is inappropriately dependent on her partner/ex while simultaneously furious about her self-imposed dependency. This kind of woman casts her intimate partners and ex-intimate partners into a parental role.
Women who have a hostile dependency upon their husbands, boyfriends or exes are, emotionally speaking, children in adult bodies. They’re stuck in a state of arrested development on a continuum of infancy to snide, bitchy, ungrateful teenager. This kind of woman-child doesn’t know how to meet her own needs, that is, if she even knows what her needs are. Many of these women are ambulatory masses of unmet, unnamed needs.
“I want, I want, I want. I need, I need, I need,” but damned if she knows what it is she wants and needs. She just know she wants and needs . . . something and your job is to figure it out and give it to her. Adult partners are expected to magically know and meet her needs and if they fail to deliver—look out!
This woman is very much the infant who uses the same distress cry for wet diaper, physical pain, “Validate meeeeeee!” and, “Pick me up, I’m bored!” Every need and want, no matter how trivial, is experienced and expressed with the same extreme urgency.
On the other end of the continuum is the woman-child who knows exactly what she wants—everything. She tells her partner or ex in excruciating detail everything she wants, needs and is “owed,” well, more like demands. She wants total financial and emotional support, blind loyalty and unconditional love—especially when her behavior is horrid and abusive. Furthermore, you must not expect her to reciprocate. Ever. This is the selfish, haughty teenager.
Kids are basically selfish beings; they’re supposed to be. The lid off the id-enfant terrible can sometimes be cute—in actual children. However, the same behaviors and attitudes in adult women aren’t at all cute. They’re obnoxious, contemptible and abusive. In her mind, it’s your job to provide her with the unconditional love mommy and daddy didn’t provide and/or the over-indulgent, permissive, no accountability, “you’re wonderful and special” parenting that created this overgrown child.
During adolescence, parents help teens individuate into autonomous, responsible adults. Meaning that teens stop attributing their difficulties to parents and others and begin to assume responsibility for their own actions (Bios, 1968). The other developmental tasks of adolescence are identity/personality formation and consolidation, separating from parents, sexual maturation and sexual identity formation, and mature time perspective (Buhler, 1968; Neugarten, 1969).
Identity consolidation is “a process of investing oneself in new adult roles, responsibilities, and contexts and evaluating one’s ongoing experience in order to construct a coherent, grounded, and positive identity” (Pals, JL, 1999). Mature time perspective involves “being able to foresee the future implications of [one’s] present behaviors and envisage how [one’s] present behavior can serve the attainment of future goals” (Simons, Vansteenkiste, Lens and Lacante, 2004).
These are essential developmental milestones that many HCP (high-conflict) and abusive personality disordered individuals (histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, etc.) fail to achieve at the age appropriate time. If you’re dealing with a woman whose hostile dependency is part of a personality disorder or personality disorder traits, I don’t know if it’s possible to successfully navigate this developmental task in adulthood. In fact, it may be impossible.
All about the Anger
Most children experience hostile dependency primarily in adolescence. It’s part of growing up. You see it in teens who want to be treated like independent adults, but are still dependent on mom and dad for food, shelter, etc.
Teens still need their parents, but resent their parents for needing them; much like women who resent and hate their husbands/exes for their own self-imposed dependency. This mentality is obvious when a hostile dependent woman angrily asserts, “Screw you! I don’t need you!” while she has both hands out to jack her ex-husband for spousal support or her husband’s/boyfriend’s hard-earned paycheck and when she relies on her partner/ex for an ego massage to make her feel good about herself.
The telltale sign of hostile dependency is the anger it generates, in both the dependent person and the person depended upon. Most ex-husbands are incredibly angry and resentful about having to financially support their ex-wives—grown adults who either refuse to support themselves or who erroneously believe they’re entitled to a better lifestyle than they can generate on their own. This is also evident in husbands who have to play nursemaid to their wives’ every emotional need and/or are stuck shouldering the entire financial burden in their families because their wives refuse to work.
Given that these women project their unresolved mommy and daddy issues onto their partners/ex-partners/children, it makes sense that they feel entitled to ungodly amounts of lifetime spousal support/attention/time/special treatment/etc.
Unfortunately, since these women’s parents failed to teach them how to self-soothe, to be responsible for their choices, to have empathy, to experience consequences for their choices and raise them into responsible adults, we’re stuck with these perpetual greedy infants, terrible two-sters and arrogant, nasty adolescents. Worse yet, these women-children are passing their dysfunction on to the next generation.
These women are children and you simply can’t treat them like adults or try to reason with them like adults; nor can you use logic. They are children and are not capable of reasoning beyond an adolescent’s mind on a good day.
You can also forget gratitude for their “allowance,” ego massages, blind loyalty and acceptance and humoring their delusions of grandeur to keep the peace. Much like a child, this woman believes it’s daddy’s/mommy’s (i.e., her partner’s) responsibility to take care of her and make her feel good. She sincerely believes she could be a CEO, have her own successful business or be a prima ballerina/president/astronaut/cowboy if she hadn’t “sacrificed” everything for you.
When you try to point out the flaws in her reasoning, you get the same convoluted reasoning you’d get from a kid. Ultimately, it comes down to this: “You’re supposed to take care of meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” and, in many cases, thank her for the “privilege” of doing so.
The bottom line: You can’t have a reciprocal, mutual, interdependent relationship of equals with a child and this includes a child masquerading in the body of a woman. You either need to resign yourself to the thankless parental role in which she’s force fitting you, find a way to get her into long-term psychotherapy that focuses on re-parenting her to help her achieve the missed developmental milestones, emotionally detach from her and the relationship or end the relationship.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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Bios, P. (1968), Character formation in adolescence. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 23: 245-268.
Buhler, C. (1968), The course of human life as a psychological problem. Hum. Develop., 11:184-200.
Pals, J. L. (1999), Identity consolidation in early adulthood: Relations with ego resiliency, the context of marriage and personality change. Journal of Personality, 67 (2): 295-329.
Neugarten, B. L. (1969), Continuities and discontinuities of psychological issues in adult life. Hum. Devel., 12:121-130.
Simons, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Lacante, M. (2004). Placing motivation and future time perspective theory in a temporal perspective. Educational Psychology Review, 16, 121-139.