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When an emotional imperative becomes a physical compulsion, the desire to find relief can be overwhelming.  In relationship dependency, the brain in the present has been trained to respond to certain conditions by the past.  Because of ingrained dependency traits and past experiences, you have written your own list of what creates pleasure for you and what creates distress.  

At first, your mind was in charge, but over the years your body has become highly influential.  You find yourself in the backseat of your own life and responses. You have trained your body how to respond, and now it’s reacting in the way it’s been trained, even if you want to feel something different.  

Retrain your Brain. Change is Not Impossible

The silver lining in this scenario is that you can retrain your body to react in a different way.  Because we are conscious, thinking creatures and not merely reactive, instinctive creatures, we have the ability to change the way we think and feel.  

Change is not impossible.  People with phobias of spiders or airplanes or bridges have been taught how to experience and enjoy normal life without terror.  People with phobias can learn to grow out of them.

Relationship dependency is really of phobia of being alone.  We have seen many people over our decades of counseling learn to push through their fears.  We have been privileged to watch as they embraced the essential value of their own self-worth.  On this solid, personal foundation, they have restored and entered into relationships with something precious to give — not acts of subservience or demands of control, but the gift of a healthy self who understands, experiences, and gives love.

Understanding How To Change

If you have an idea that you cannot change because your brain has been altered, this is your dependency talking.  Refuse to listen. Understanding the factors – emotional and physical – that contribute to certain behaviors, either with a single relationship or within a relational revolving door, is important.  Because you may have trained your brain to react in a predetermined way, you can retrain your brain to respond differently. If retraining a brain was impossible, there would be no recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers, or shoppers.  

When working with someone who is fearful of heights, that person needs help understanding that climbing the stairs, or riding in an elevator, will not result in injury or death.  They must understand the flawed nature of their own internal dialogue. The outcomes they tell themselves are inevitable are not true. Once they recognize how much control they have over their feelings of pleasure and distress, their brain can be retrained.  

In the same way, you can understand that your internal dialogue, which predicts disaster if you are not in a relationship or if you are alone, is not true.  You can take control by climbing back into the driver’s seat of your life and redirecting your brain to respond differently, to create a new template for what is pleasurable and what is frightening, inside and outside of a relationship.  


Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE. For over 30 years, The Center has treated thousands with eating disorders and other mental health issues. Recognized as a Top 10 Center for the Treatment of Depression, The Center utilizes the whole person approach to care. Dr. Jantz is a leading voice and innovator in mental health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.