According to Dr Gary Emery, you need three pieces of information before you can start systematically to increase your emotional independence. First, you need to know the specific areas where you having emotional problems. Second, you need to identify the automatic thoughts that are sustaining them. Finally, you need to know the beliefs that are generating the thoughts.

The first order of business is to discover your specific areas of emotional dependency. To do this, you need to reduce the many problems and symptoms of your dependency to the core issues – problem reduction.

Problem reduction involves distilling a host of problems down to a few specific ones. For example, your anxiety on the job and shyness with friends and relatives may be due to an exaggerated need for approval.

When you trace your problems back to their cause, you will find that most roads lead to the same destination. Often your problems are due to the pebble-in-the-shoe syndrome. Relatively simple problems, if not corrected, can lead to problems that are more serious. “If you do not take the pebble out of your shoe, adjusting to it can cripple you.” When you boil your problems down to a few basic issues, your problems become clearer and more manageable.

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You can also use your emotions as signposts to where you lack independence. Emotional pain, like physical pain, lets you know there is a problem. Once you learn to read your emotions, you can use them to tell you when you have lost your independence.

Take for example your feelings of sadness. Sadness involves loss. In nearly every case, a large share of the loss is symbolic: the loss is something that does not exist in concrete reality. You may have lost a job, but if on top of that you believe you have lost something bigger – your pride or social standing – this sadness over abstract losses is a sign that you have also lost your independence.

What about real loss? What if you lose some money or someone you love? The healthy purpose of sadness is to make it possible for you to accept the real loss so that you can get on with life. When you block off sadness with depression, guilt and anger, you have problem accepting the real loss and getting over it.

Most of the time in the case of real loss there are compensatory factors – you have new opportunities, you have other chances, and you have experience, the most useful commodity of all. You tend to overlook these saving factors if you have lost your independence.

Everyone suffers real loss – dependent and independent people alike. The difference is that when you are dependent, most sadness is due to symbolic and surplus meaning (“I cannot go on by myself … I have lost all hope … I will fail at everything”). Your real loss plus your dependency leads to problems such as depression. Symbolic losses indicate dependency and can be used as keys to identifying your problem areas.


Dr Emery believes that we have two different ways of thinking. The technical name for the first is primary appraisal. “This is more immature and primitive way of thinking.” You believe that the world revolves around you; your only concern is “What about me? Is it good or is it bad?” Your thoughts here are automatic, global, absolute, unorganized, and closely tied to your negative feelings. “Essentially you are operating in a non-acceptance framework.” For example, if there is some risk, you exaggerate the danger and minimize your ability to handle the danger. The only options you see are fight or flight.

The second way of thinking is called secondary appraisal. Here, you are thinking in more mature ways. You make more realistic appraisals of your world and discriminate real from unreal dangers. You process information in a much more sophisticated and refined way (“Before I decide, let me weigh the pros and cons”). “In primary appraisal, you are connected to the world with a string and tin can. In secondary appraisal, you are using an advanced computer.”

Primary appraisal leads to emotional dependency, secondary appraisal leads to emotional independence. Primary appraisal is made up of automatic thoughts that keep you dependent. “If you think you are helpless, you will act in a helpless manner.”

Your mind is the control tower that directs you to be dependent or independent. In the case of dependency, your primary thinking creates a non-real world – a world where you see yourself as smaller as and more helpless than you are. Your thinking stops you from acting and thus puts your goals out of reach.


Have you ever run into people you have not seen in years and discovered that they have not changed that much? Their consistency is caused by their belief system. Psychologists opine that our behavior patterns and daily comings and goings are an outward show of our underlying beliefs. “Your beliefs play the largest role in the kind of life you choose to lead. If your beliefs stay the same, so do you.”

After you are able to identify your automatic thinking, you can go a deeper level and discover which of your beliefs are generating your automatic thoughts. “In the final analysis, your underlying beliefs are your biggest barrier to becoming more independent. The main reason you want to identify and correct your distorted beliefs is that they hinder your acceptance of reality.

You need rules to make order out of life and to survive. Your beliefs give meaning and consistency to your life. They allow you to set and reach goals and give you standards by which you can evaluate your experiences. Without them life would be chaotic. However, you need useful rules that are in line with reality. They need to be flexible enough to adapt to a changing world.

The more emotionally dependent you are, the less you know about yourself. Eric Hoffer observed, “To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are. Yet it is remarkable that the very people who are most dissatisfied and crave most for a new identity have least self-awareness.” When you are dependent and dissatisfied, you turn away from yourself before really knowing who you are.

As a child, you developed many beliefs and rules about life, most of them unwittingly adopted from others. You took them on before you had the ability to think them out logically. As you grew older and had more experience, you added new beliefs and discarded and modified old ones. We never completely get rid of our immature beliefs; we just layer them over with more mature ones.  

The beliefs that cause you to be emotionally dependent are leftovers from your childhood. They are ones that had never been fully thought out when you adopted them. Many of your beliefs and rules come from parents and other authority figures. Eric Berne says the whole process of becoming more independent “consists of obtaining a friendly divorce from one’s parents (and other parental influences) so that they may be agreeably visited on occasion, but are no longer dominant.”

 Beliefs that are more flexible and based on common sense are often helpful. For example, common sense tells us that while it is good to have people like us, we cannot expect everyone to like us. However, beliefs that are rigid, excessive, absolute and based on private sense (as opposed to common sense) are self-defeating.

Where you are the most dependent is where your beliefs are the strongest. People believe the most in what they know least about. You can tell an expert by his degree of skepticism and an uninformed person by his degree of certainty. The more certain you are about a thing the more likely you are to be wrong. Rigid beliefs can only frame a small part of reality. They exclude more than they include. Dogmatism of any kind limits your vision and stops you from moving ahead.

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