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Do You Depend on Others for Your Happiness?

Tammy is someone who wants her own way, but isn’t getting it. As a result, she feels angry, powerless and out of control. Since she has learned not to trust her own strength, she acquired a tendency to depend on the strength and resources of others. For many clients, Tammy’s experience is a reflection of their own lives. Some become vengeful and vindictive. Others, like Tammy, come to feel helpless, dependent and discouraged.

Tammy comes to believe that she is, somehow, “inferior” to others who enjoy advantages that she doesn’t have. It seems logical to her that she doesn’t “deserve” to be as happy as those to whom she is “inferior.” Since happiness seems to be impossible, all she has to look forward to is a life of pain and suffering. This is a prescription for depression.

Early in life, Tammy also learned, that if she suffers long enough, someone will pay attention to her. She may even be able to get helpful people to do her bidding. Ultimately Tammy concludes that it doesn’t pay to draw upon or develop her own inner resources. It’s so much faster and easier to give people the “pleasure” of helping her. As a result, she becomes codependent.

This unhappy dependence has the effect of exasperating and discouraging those who are trying to “help” her, and they give up on her. They do not understand her paradoxical, self-destructive behavior. In the end, Tammy is obliged to seek out replacement “helpers” at increasingly frequent intervals.

Actually, this self-destructive tendency is not paradoxical at all. It is entirely consistent with the beliefs she has picked up along the way. Tammy has learned that she doesn’t deserve to enjoy her happiness. She tends to feel guilty after she has succeeded in obtaining others’ support’ through her suffering. To relieve her guilt, she must find a way to get rid of this undeserved happiness.

Tammy suffers from a childhood lesson that has made it impossible for her to enjoy happiness the way others do. She has learned that her happiness will be temporary and it will end in disaster. This expectation is below the level of her conscious awareness and sets up a terribly painful conflict. On the one hand she would like to be as happy as everyone else; on the other hand, she doesn’t “deserve” it and any happiness of will end in disaster.

Tammy compares herself to those who seem to live more secure and gratifying lives. She resents the “unfairness” of the discrepancy between their lives and hers. The only power that she seems to have is the power to end the painful anxiety of inevitable disaster.

Instead of waiting passively for the expected disaster, she actively brings about the destruction of her own happiness. She prefers to do it herself rather than waiting for others to do it to her. She prefers to get it over with sooner rather than later. In the meantime, her expectations drive her to live in fear of future disaster. This sets her up to suffer anxiety, which also sabotages any happiness in her life.

Some people like Tammy tend to be depressed because of their pessimistic expectation of disaster. Bur even more so because there is a pervasive belief in the unfairness of life. And it is unfair. They
did nothing to deserve this negativity in life, but they have it anyways.

People like Tammy may take on the scapegoat role in her family. They may appear to be weak and passive on the surface, but her victimizers sense her strength. They relieve the pain of their own self doubt by dumping their anger on her and she takes it. She is a safe target for them. As an adult, she will find herself compatible with people who will give her opportunities to prove her ability to take it.

When these people come in for counseling, we can address the anger and depression. We identify their anger at themselves for “allowing” the mistreatment to happen, as if they had the power as a child to prevent it. We show them how to replace their self-doubt with self-respect by using their judgement as an adult to take life as it comes.

Do You Depend on Others for Your Happiness?

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2013). Do You Depend on Others for Your Happiness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 8 Oct 2013
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