Add & Subtract - Dependency Paradox

Nov 04, 2023

Today we consider the Dependency Paradox


Our first nature is to be securely dependent on adults, and thereby also comfortably independent. Good bonding with caring adults at the start of life wires trust and calm deep in the child’s brain, allowing them to confidently express themselves and explore their world. Healthy dependency goes hand in hand with healthy autonomy.

Our first, most natural nature is to be open and trusting. If our dependency needs are met well enough when young, we paradoxically become more independent as we mature. We feel safe and secure at a core level, which gives us permission to be our authentic self. We are able to express our thoughts and feelings, and fulfil our needs.

Traumatised and repressed generations of people in certain cultures (eg. Victorian England), continued to farm out their progeny to nannies, barely engaging with their children at all. Unfortunately, psychologists like John Watson encouraged parents to be emotionally and physically remote, assuming that responding to a child’s dependency would make them more dependent. Duh.

Now it is clear that healthier parenting styles make much happier people. The continuum approach advocates:

Baby immediately into mother’s arms at birth
Constant physical contact for the first few months
Sleeping in the parents’ bed
Breastfeeding on cue
Responding to infant needs without judgement or over-indulgence
You can’t spoil a baby with too much touch, and the paradox is that all that connection will make them more independent in the long run.

Psychotherapy Dr. Terry Levy on healthy response to dependency:

“According to attachment theory and more recent research, dependency is a natural part of our biology and psychology. People who are securely attached, become physiologically connected and interdependent. This reciprocal relationship begins during pregnancy between mother and child. The mother and her unborn infant are in sync, even coordinating sleep and activity cycles.

This interdependence fosters healthy development. The baby’s smile brings joy to the mother, motivating her to cuddle and stay close. The mother’s smile soothes and relaxes her baby, enhancing trust and security. The mother’s support and love help regulate her baby’s body and brain; maternal touch stimulates growth hormones, and her milk regulated the baby’s heart rate. Infants and their attachment figure continuously affect one another in a dance of reciprocity.”


Emotional neglect is well known now to be a major cause of childhood trauma. Isolation and loneliness are very stressful for adults: this is amplified a thousand-fold for infants.

When dependency needs are not met adequately, the child has to focus on getting more attention. Tantrums, high emotionality, acting out, pleasing behaviours (becoming an ‘easy’ child, the ‘nice’ adult) - survival requires connection first, whatever it takes.

The stress of the under-parented child, and the energy they have to put into getting connection, interferes dramatically with their growth and development. A ‘second’ nature is formed: selfishness, narcissism at one extreme; over-giving, appeasing at the other.

This also means that confident autonomy is not achieved. The adult may be unable to say no, set boundaries, express their needs and feelings, or ensure what they want in life happens. The adult child is forever prisoner to chasing love and connection from parents-partners-others who never give enough. There is still no room for their own independent life.

Doctor and author Gabor Mate:

“If our environment cannot support our gut feelings and our emotions, then the child, in order to 'belong' and 'fit in' will automatically, unwittingly and unconsciously, suppress their emotions and their connections to themselves, for the sake of staying connected to the nurturing environment, without which the child cannot survive.

A lot of children are in this dilemma – Can I feel and express what I feel or do I have to suppress that in order to be acceptable, to be a good kid, to be a nice kid?”



Recent Posts

Fight Trauma Reaction

Jul 07, 2024

We create our future world

Jun 30, 2024

Living in Love

Jun 23, 2024

weekly newsletter

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Weekly ideas for your growth and wellbeing