Healing Emotional Dependency in Teens and their families | ThreePeaks Ascent, a short-term residential treatment center for teens and their families

Healing Emotional Dependency in Teens & Families

Is your teen's emotional dependency getting in the way of their success and happiness?? Our Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment program offers unique and effective treatment for emotional dependency that empowers teens to take charge of their own lives. Our program leverages the healing power of nature in combination with individual and family therapy to equip teens with the tools they need to overcome emotional dependency and achieve their goals.

Take our teen assessment and see if our Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment program is right for your family.

Are you tired of seeing your teen struggle with emotional dependency, unable to break free from the chains that are holding them back? If so, then it's time to take action and get your teen emotional dependence treatment today!

Our short-term residential treatment program is specifically designed to help teens overcome emotional dependency and achieve their full potential. Our team of experts combines the latest evidence-based therapies with the healing power of nature to create a unique experience that's both transformative and empowering. From outdoor adventures to individual and family counseling, we provide the support and guidance that your teen needs to take control of their life and build a brighter future.

In this article, we'll explore what emotional dependency is, the different types of dependency, how to recognize the signs, and what the effects of leaving it untreated can be. We'll also provide some helpful tips on how parents can support their teen and why Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment is an excellent choice for families looking to break free from the chains of emotional dependency and build a brighter future. So, let's get started!

In This Article We’ll Discuss:
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    What is Emotional Dependency in Teens?

    Emotional dependency is when a teenager relies too heavily on external people, places, things, or situations outside of themselves to fulfill their emotional needs.  It usually happens when a teen doesn't know how to properly love and care for themselves. While it's common to depend on others when we are young and lack experience, the end goal is always to become more independent and self-sufficient.

    Achieving emotional independence takes time, patience, and skills developed through mindfulness and learning from our experiences. Unfortunately, many teens still struggle with emotional dependency due to an inability to properly care for themselves, which leads to a reliance on external sources for support, approval, and guidance. This can be particularly dangerous when the focus of that dependency is a romantic partner. It's vital for teens to develop healthy self-care practices and work towards emotional independence to avoid negative outcomes.

    Types of Emotional Dependency in Teens

    As a parent, it's important to recognize the different types of emotional dependency that your teenager may be experiencing in order to provide them with the support and guidance they need to develop healthy relationship habits and foster their independence. Here are some of the types of emotional dependence in teens:

    • Dependency on Parents: This is a common form of emotional dependence in teens, where they rely heavily on their parents for emotional support, validation, and guidance. They may struggle with decision-making and feel lost without their parents' input.
    • Dependency on Peers: Teens may also become emotionally dependent on their peers, seeking validation and approval from their social group. They may go to great lengths to fit in and avoid rejection, even if it means compromising their values or interests.
    • Dependency on Romantic Partners: Teenagers may develop emotional dependence on a romantic partner, relying on them for emotional support and validation. They may struggle with self-worth and identity outside of the relationship.
    • Dependency on Achievement: Teenagers may become emotionally dependent on achievement, basing their self-worth on their grades or extracurricular activities like sports or performing arts. They may feel anxious or depressed when they don't meet their own or others' expectations.
    • Dependency on Approval: Some teens may become emotionally dependent on the approval and validation of others, seeking constant reassurance and acceptance from their peers or authority figures.
    • Dependency on Control: Some teens may become emotionally dependent on being in control, using it as a way to manage anxiety and stress.
    • Dependency on Anticipation: Some teens may become emotionally dependent on the anticipation of future events, using them as a way to distract themselves from present difficulties or to boost their mood. This type of emotional dependence can manifest as an obsession with food, buying things, attending events, or making plans for the future. However, once the anticipated event is over, they feel a sense of emptiness and may struggle to find another source of excitement or distraction.
    • Dependency on Technology: Some teens can develop emotional dependence on various technology. They may feel like they need the validation and attention they receive on various platforms to feel good about themselves and may struggle to disconnect from technology or manage their use in a healthy way. Dependency on technology may include:
      • Social Media Dependence: With the prevalence of social media in teens' lives, they may become emotionally dependent on the attention and validation they receive online. They may feel anxious or disconnected when they don't receive likes or comments on their posts.
      • Gaming Dependence: For some teens, video games can become a form of emotional dependence, providing an escape from reality and a sense of accomplishment. They may become obsessed with gaming to the point of neglecting other responsibilities or relationships.
    • Dependency on Avoidance: Some teens may avoid facing their emotions, becoming emotionally dependent on distractions or numbing techniques such as binge-watching TV or overeating. They may struggle with regulating their emotions or understanding their own feelings.
    • Dependency on Negative Attachment: In some cases, teens may become emotionally dependent on negative or harmful relationships, such as with an abusive partner or a toxic friend. They may struggle with leaving the relationship, even if it is causing them emotional harm.
    • Dependency on Others' Problems: Some teens may become emotionally dependent on others' problems, using them as a way to avoid dealing with their own issues and as a way to feel needed and important.

    What Causes Emotional Dependency in Teens?

    Many factors can contribute to emotional dependency in teens, and while there is no single cause, emotional dependence often stems from a negative self-image. When your teen holds a negative view of themself, they rely on external sources like people or objects to provide them with a sense of worthiness or security. 

    Here are some factors that may contribute to a negative self-image and emotional dependency in teens:

    • Developmental stage: Adolescence is a time of significant change and growth, and many teens experience emotional ups and downs as they navigate these changes. This can sometimes lead to emotional dependency as teens seek out support and validation from peers or romantic partners.
    • Lack of emotional validation or support: When parents or caregivers struggle to provide emotional validation or support, teens may turn to peers or romantic partners to fulfill these needs, leading to emotional dependency.
    • Traumatic experiences: Experiencing trauma such as abuse or neglect can have a profound impact on a teen's sense of self-worth and ability to form healthy relationships, potentially leading to emotional dependency.
    • Mental health conditions: Teens who struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions may seek out emotional validation or support as a coping mechanism, leading to emotional dependency.
    • Lack of healthy boundaries: Teens who are not taught healthy boundaries in relationships may struggle to develop a strong sense of self and may rely on others for emotional validation or support.
    • Temperament or personality traits: Some teens may be more prone to emotional dependency due to their temperament or personality traits, such as being highly sensitive or empathic.

    At the bottom of everyone's dependency, there is always pain. Discovering the pain and healing it is an essential step in ending dependency

    Chris Prentiss

    Signs of Emotional Dependency in Teens

    Emotional dependency in teens can manifest in various ways. Some common signs to watch out for include:

    • Constant need for approval: Teens who are emotionally dependent often seek constant reassurance and validation from their friends or romantic partners.
    • Fear of rejection: They may have an intense fear of being rejected or abandoned by their peers, which can lead to anxious or clingy behavior.
    • Difficulty making decisions: Emotionally dependent teens may struggle to make decisions independently and often rely on others to make choices for them.
    • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities: They may lose interest in hobbies or activities they previously enjoyed, and instead prioritize spending time with their friends or significant others.
    • Jealousy and possessiveness: Teens who are emotionally dependent may become jealous and possessive of their friends or romantic partners, leading to conflicts in their relationships.
    • Mood swings: They may experience sudden mood swings, often feeling anxious, sad, or angry when they are not in the presence of their friends or significant others.
    • Low self-esteem: While seeking validation and approval is a common symptom of emotional dependency, teens may also display a low sense of self-worth or self-esteem, feeling insecure or not good enough.
    • Self-sabotage: Emotional dependency can lead teens to self-sabotage their relationships or other aspects of their life, such as school or work, due to a fear of losing their source of validation and security.
    • Anxiety and depression: Teens who are emotionally dependent may experience symptoms of anxiety or depression when they are not with their friends or significant others, or when they feel their relationships are threatened.
    • Inability to be alone: Teens who are emotionally dependent may struggle to be alone, feeling uncomfortable or anxious when they are not in the presence of others who provide them with validation and security.
    • Perfectionism: Emotional dependency can also lead to perfectionism, where the teen may have high standards for themselves and others, and may become overly critical or demanding when those standards are not met.
    • Fear of vulnerability: Individuals who are emotionally dependent may have a fear of vulnerability, feeling like they need to control everything in order to avoid being hurt or rejected.
    • Obsessive need for control: Individuals who are emotionally dependent may feel an obsessive need to control everything around them, including situations, people, and even their own emotions and thoughts.
    • Compulsive use of technology: Individuals who are emotionally dependent on technology may feel a compulsive need to use it, spending excessive amounts of time on their phones, browsing the internet, or engaging in social media.
    • Distorted self-image: Due to social media, emotional dependency can lead to a distorted self-image, as teens may compare themselves to others online or seek validation through likes, followers, or comments.
    • Inability to cope with uncertainty: Emotional dependency can lead to an inability to cope with uncertainty, where the teenager may feel anxious or overwhelmed when they don't know what's coming next.
    • Constant need for stimulation: Emotional dependency can lead to a constant need for stimulation, where the teen may seek out new experiences, activities, or people to maintain their sense of excitement and anticipation.
    • Excessive focus on future events: Teens who are emotionally dependent may focus excessively on future events or plans, feeling anxious or restless if they don't have anything to look forward to.
    • Avoiding uncomfortable feelings: Individuals who are emotionally dependent may try to avoid uncomfortable or negative feelings, such as sadness, anger, or anxiety, by engaging in activities that distract or numb them, such as overeating or oversleeping.
    • Denial or minimization of problems: They may deny or minimize problems or conflicts, and may avoid addressing issues that are causing them distress, hoping that they will go away on their own.
    • Lack of assertiveness: Emotionally dependent teens may struggle with being assertive and setting boundaries with others, preferring to avoid conflicts or saying no to requests in order to maintain a sense of control or avoid uncomfortable feelings.

    It's important to note that some of these behaviors can also be normal adolescent behavior, but when they become excessive and interfere with a teen's daily life, it may be a sign of emotional dependency that needs to be addressed.

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    Importance of Early Intervention & Treatment for Emotional Dependency in Teens

    Early intervention is crucial in addressing emotional dependency issues in teens for several reasons:

    • Addressing emotional dependency early on can prevent it from becoming a chronic problem and escalating into more severe and potentially harmful behavior.
    • Teens are still developing and their brains are more malleable, making it easier for them to learn new coping mechanisms and behaviors. It is harder for adults with more established patterns to learn the new skills necessary for emotional independence.
    • Addressing dependence early on can help build a foundation of healthy coping skills and emotional regulation that can serve them well throughout their lives.
    • Early intervention can also help prevent the development of comorbid conditions, such as depression and anxiety, that can arise as a result of emotional dependency.
    • By addressing emotional dependence early on, parents can help their teens learn to manage their emotions in a healthy way, build positive relationships, and set the stage for a successful future.
    Parents hug their teenage son at a graduation from ThreePeaks Ascent, a nature-based short-term residential treatment center for teens and their families

    Effects of Untreated Emotional Dependency on Teens

    When left untreated, emotional dependency can have a wide range of effects on a teen's overall health and well-being, including:

    Emotional Health

    • Co-occurring conditions: Emotional dependency can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-worth.
    • Short-term instability: Teens may struggle to regulate their emotions and have intense mood swings.
    • Low Resilience: Teens who don't acquire the essential emotional skills may face challenges in coping with stress and adversity later in life due to emotional dependency

    Physical Health

    • Psychosomatic symptoms: Emotional dependency can also have physical effects on the body, including chronic stress, headaches, stomach aches, or muscle tension.
    • Poor regulation of physical energy levels: Teens who depend on external sources to manage their emotions often experience issues with fatigue, low energy, and reduced physical activity levels.
    • Effects of risky behaviors: Emotional dependence can drive some teens to engage in risky behaviors as a coping mechanism, including self-harm and risky sexual activities. These actions can result in long-lasting physical effects that take years to heal.

    Social Health

    • Difficulty building and maintaining healthy relationships: Teens who are emotionally dependent may struggle with forming and maintaining healthy relationships with peers, romantic partners, and family members.
    • Social isolation: Emotional dependency can cause teens to avoid or withdraw from social activities that spark intense emotions, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and depression.
    • Need for constant validation: An emotionally dependent teen's need for constant validation and reassurance from others can put a strain on relationships.

    Financial & Occupational Health

    • Difficulty with decision-making: Teens who are emotionally dependent may struggle with making decisions, which can affect their ability to choose a career path and plan for their financial future.

    • Low motivation: Emotional dependency can lead to low motivation and lack of drive, which can impact a teen's ability to work and achieve financial independence.

    • Poor financial management: Teens who struggle with emotional dependency may make impulsive or reckless decisions with money. They may be more likely to make impulsive purchases or to spend money to try to regulate their emotions, leading to uncertainty about their own ability to support themselves in the future.

    Intellectual Health

    • Poor academic performance: Emotionally dependent teens may struggle to focus on their studies or have difficulty completing assignments on time due to their emotional distress.

    • Limited perspective: Teens who are emotionally dependent may have a limited perspective on the world around them and struggle to see different points of view, hindering their intellectual growth.

    • Impaired problem-solving skills: Teens who are emotionally dependent may also struggle with problem-solving, as their emotional distress can interfere with their ability to approach problems in a logical and systematic way.

    Spiritual Health

    • Impaired identity development: Teens who struggle with emotional dependency may struggle to develop a strong sense of identity and may have a limited sense of self-worth.
    • Difficulty with autonomy: These teens may have difficulty finding and pursuing their passions and goals, as they may prioritize seeking external validation and approval over their own desires and interests. This can make it difficult for teens to develop a sense of autonomy and independence.
    • Lack of meaning & purpose: Unresolved emotional dependency in teens can also affect a teen's sense of meaning and purpose in life which can impact their ability to take ownership of their lives and pursue their goals with confidence and purpose.

    It's important for parents and caregivers to recognize the signs of emotional dependency in teens and to seek appropriate support and resources as quickly as possible to help them overcome these challenges.

    Early Intervention Is Important For Overcoming Teen Emotional Dependence

    Early intervention refers to recognizing the warning signs of emotional dependence in teens and acting before it gets worse. When you realize that your teen is struggling with emotional dependency it’s important to get professional treatment before it becomes worse.

    Early intervention and treatment for teens struggling with emotional dependency can have several benefits for parents and families, including:

    • Improved family relationships: When teens receive help for emotional dependency, they can begin to develop healthier ways of relating to others, which can improve family dynamics and relationships.
    • Reduced stress: Emotional dependency can create significant stress and strain on parents and families. Early intervention and treatment can help reduce this stress and improve overall well-being.
    • Increased independence: As teens develop emotional independence and learn to regulate their own emotions, they can become more independent and self-reliant, which can lead to greater success in other areas of life.
    • Better academic performance: Emotional dependency can negatively impact academic performance, but early intervention and treatment can help teens develop better coping strategies and improve their academic performance.
    • Greater sense of purpose and direction: With the help of therapy and other interventions, teens struggling with emotional dependency can develop a greater sense of purpose and direction in life, which can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying future.

    Overall, early intervention and treatment can help teens struggling with emotional dependency build the skills and resources they need to thrive, while also benefiting their families and loved ones.

    Emotional Dependence Treatment Options for Teens

    As a parent, it's important to know the different treatment options available to help your teen heal from emotional dependency. Some of the options include:

    • Outpatient therapy: This is a form of therapy where your teen attends regular therapy sessions with a licensed therapist or counselor. The goal is to help your teen develop emotional skills, such as healthy communication, problem-solving, and coping strategies.
    • Intensive outpatient therapy: This is a more intensive form of therapy that requires the teen to attend therapy sessions several times a week. It is recommended for teens who need more intensive support than what traditional outpatient therapy can offer, but who do not require residential treatment.
    • Community-based programs: Community-based programs offer support and guidance to teens in a non-clinical environment. They may involve emotional regulation classes, group therapy sessions, recreational activities, and skill-building workshops.
    • Residential treatment: Residential treatment programs offer a more intensive level of care for teens who need round-the-clock support and structure. These programs can provide a safe and secure environment for your teen to become emotionally independent and work through other behavioral issues. ThreePeaks' short-term residential treatment program uses the great outdoors to help teens heal from emotional dependency and other emotional issues. Our program involves outdoor activities, group therapy sessions, and individual counseling to help teens develop new coping skills to develop self-reliance and emotional resilience.

    Ultimately, the best option for your teen will depend on their individual needs and the severity of their emotional dependency issues. It's important to work with a mental health professional to determine the best course of action.

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    Why Choose Short-Term Residential Treatment?

    If your teenager is struggling with emotional dependency, ThreePeaks' residential treatment program can help. Our program combines evidence-based therapies with the healing power of nature, providing a holistic approach to healing. Led by experienced therapists, our team is dedicated to delivering individualized care for each teen.

    During the program, your teenager will engage in activities such as hiking and camping, working closely with their therapist to address emotional dependency patterns. The simplified setting allows them to disconnect from daily distractions and focus on personal growth. The natural environment serves as a metaphor for their journey, as they face challenges and learn to develop emotional independence and resilience.

    One of the significant benefits of our program is empowering teens to take ownership of their healing process and develop the skills necessary for lasting recovery. Our program serves as a stepping stone towards building healthier emotional boundaries and fostering a strong sense of self, without relying on ongoing emotional dependency.

    We understand that choosing the right treatment program for your teenager can be a difficult decision, and we are here to support you every step of the way. Our team is available to answer any questions and provide additional information about our specialized program for emotional dependency. With the right support, we believe your teenager can overcome emotional dependency and move forward to lead a more balanced and fulfilling life. Contact us today to learn how we can help your family.

    Benefits of a Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment Program

    Being immersed in nature can have a profound impact on a teenager. It improves their mental, emotional, and physical health.  Combined with a proven clinical approach, our therapeutic program helps emotionally dependent teens.  Here are specific benefits your family can expect to see while your teen is in nature-based short-term residential treatment.

    The first stage of effective short-term residential treatment focuses on assessment and stabilization.

    1. Assessment 

    By observing your teen in a novel environment, our experienced therapists gain a deep understanding of what is really happening with your child. Research indicates accurate mental health assessments can lead to a 20% reduction in the number of days in treatment.

    2. Stabilization 

    Mental health stabilization provides a safe environment to deescalate your teen’s level of distress and/or reduce their acute symptoms of mental illness. Until teens feel genuinely safe, they cannot begin to heal. One therapeutic modality emphasizes that “Cues of safety are the treatment” and “safety is defined by feeling safe and not simply by the removal of threat.” It is not enough to merely tell a teen in crisis that they are mentally and emotionally safe, they must actually feel and believe it.

    Once your teen feels safe, our nature-based residential treatment program provides a novel and challenging environment that disrupts their unhealthy patterns and behaviors. Behaviors that either:

    • cause your teen's mental & emotional health struggles
    • or that your teen has developed as a negative way of coping with their struggles.

    The second stage of an effective residential treatment program focuses on engaging teens in the therapeutic process and empowering them with the skills needed to thrive.

    1. Engaging Teens in Therapy (even if they’ve been resistant to it before)

    The ThreePeaks Ascent treatment program is designed to re-engage teens in healthy adolescent development. When your teen attends a short-term residential program, they are taken away from negative distractions they may have at home. They engage in treatment in a way that would not be possible in any other setting.

    Your teen will participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions while in treatment. This allows them to process their behavior as well as make changes in their personal life and family relationships. They are also able to learn from their peers, realize they are not alone in their struggles, and gain motivation to make changes.

    We've found that by the time of discharge, 90% of teens were actively engaged in treatment. When contacted six months after treatment, most of these teens maintained the motivational progress they made during treatment.

    2. Empowering Teens Through Skill Development

    As your teen engages in the therapeutic process, they’ll start to see huge progress. But for long-term healing, it is not enough to only alleviate your teen’s struggles, we must also empower them with the skills needed to thrive in life. These skills include:

    • Self-awareness skills like a growth mindset, identifying one's feelings, developing interests & sense of purpose
    • Self-management skills like emotional regulation, self-motivation, resilience, setting & achieving goals, planning & time management
    • Responsible decision-making skills like showing curiosity & open-mindedness, anticipating & evaluating the consequences of one’s actions, internal locus of control
    • Relationship skills like communicating effectively, seeking & offering support, resolving conflicts constructively
    • Social awareness skills like showing empathy & compassion for others, taking others’ perspective, recognizing strengths in others

    Your teen is powerful, intelligent, and capable. They are among the leaders of tomorrow. That is why the third stage of our short-term residential treatment program focuses on helping teens redirect their previously misused potential toward developing mastery in life.

    Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed years ago, “Happiness is the feeling that power is increasing—that resistance is being overcome.” When teens develop competence and mastery they:

    • gain self-reliance and self-confidence
    • become more resilient
    • have a greater sense of meaning and purpose
    • and better resist negative emotions.

    Overall, building mastery helps teens develop a positive mindset. Because they feel competent and in control, they go from feeling, “I’m not capable” to “I can do this!”

    About the Author

    Steven DeMille, Executive Director at ThreePeaks Ascent, a short-term residential treatment program for teens in crisis

    Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC


    Steven DeMille is the Executive Director of ThreePeaks Ascent. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. His educational experience includes an MA in Mental Health Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. His research focus is on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment, nature, adolescent development, and counseling ethics. He is actively involved in the counseling and psychology profession and holds regional and national leadership positions. He publishes and presents on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment and the use of the outdoors. This is done around the world at the national and international conference levels. 

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