Anurag was declared asthmatic when he entered his teens. He was allergic to many foods as well as cold weather and often absented from school due to ill health. He was down with frequent common cold, cough which inevitably would lead to bronchitis. His sleep would get disrupted with terrible bouts of wheezing where he experienced a feeling of being choked for air and a feeling that he would die. His mother was his consolation, comfort and companion. She herself feared the well being of her child and cried and prayed for her darling child. Anurag became a ‘clinging child’, a ‘mama’s boy’ as he and his mother formed a dyadic relationship. As he grew up he searched for the ‘similar’ relationship among his intimate friends and eventually in his wife. His wife was troubled by his nature and had lots to complain about.
Sangita was a juvenile diabetic from the age of eight years. Again it was her mother who took care of her and monitored her food as well as her medicines. She could never decide for herself and looked at her mother for succour. As she grew up under the care of her mother she never became independent in thought and action and continued being a childlike person, never married and stayed with her parents all her life. Children with various types of physical and mental disabilities do face hardships with their management of health and the accompanying baggage of emotional knots which they need to work on in a systematic way to overcome dependencies. If this issue is not resolved it gets extended into adulthood with disastrous consequences.
Perfectly healthy children without disabilities too can grow up into ‘clingy personalities’ in adulthood if the nurturing is faulty. A girl in her late teens confessed that she had to make stupendous efforts to wean away from her controlling mother and develop her confidence and her own definitions of living! She said that she worked on her clothes, her hairstyle and her habits of reading books and newspaper. She exercised her choice in choosing her friends and socialising with them even if her mother disapproved. In reality she did a little rebellion against her mother’s autocracy and only then did she bloom into a confident young woman.
Children who remain good and obedient and seek advice and heavy doses of reassurance from their elders for their actions display a tendency towards the development of a dependent personality. Some researchers believe that an authoritarian parenting style or an overprotective parent can lead to such personality traits. Of course there are other factors contributing to it such as genetic factors, temperamental and psychological factors which can be responsible for such disorders. Highly anxious parents can infect their children with anxiety and they may need doses of reassurance in many situations.
This type of personality specifically becomes a source of severe conflict and stress in marriage situations. The marriage inevitably enters into rough weather and may be a good predictor for divorce. Although the malady may be present in both the sexes in equal measures, more women get reported by husbands. One newly married woman a qualified professional put all her expectations and demands on her new husband and nagged him to fulfil them. Such as, cook your own breakfast and lunch box before you leave for work (and allow me to sleep), look for a suitable job for me in a good firm, come home and help in domestic work (the guy would help in cooking and cleaning up), he must make as many calls from his office to talk to her for few minutes and get the groceries on way home! She has no friends as the town was new and she did not like the place for she came from a big city. She soon developed aches and pains in her body and kept complaining all day.
This pervasive dependency and avoidance of adult responsibilities (accompanied with childlike helplessness) and constant ‘blaming the other’ for all ills is a significant feature of ‘dependent personality disorder’. Accompanied symptoms are lack of confidence in self, pessimism about life, intense fear of being deserted by the other and blaming the other. Strangely, this trait manifests itself more among intimate relationships than with others friendships. To others they may appear very normal with their behaviour. Wherever they can cling to the significant other they begin to manifest their dependent traits.
Children have many fears in their mind and one such fear is the fear of being left alone in this big world- the fear of being deserted. Children naturally cling to their parents for succour and support and gradually as they become competent, skilled and develop confidence, outgrow this need for dependency and become independent and autonomous. But some children as they enter adulthood may not outgrow this need of dependency. We find high dependency needs in many adults, roughly less than one percent of the population, who continue to behave as overgrown children in their personal lives becoming a source of stress and trauma for others. This emotional parasitism seems to be growing, as parents over-protect and over-indulge in children, who then learn to lean, cling and ‘demand’ from others but do not know to be grateful to people who do things for them. It is a major concern for parents to help nurture bold, independent and interdependent adults.