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Childhood Antecedents of Dependency

The results of numerous studies indicate that over- protective, authoritarian parenting is a primary cause of exaggerated dependency needs during adolescence and adulthood. Prospective and retrospective studies of the parenting style-dependency link have produced highly similar results, allowing strong conclusions to be drawn regarding the etiology of dependent person- ality traits. Findings in this area confirm that when parents show one of these qualities (i.e., overprotec- tiveness or authoritarianism), the likelihood that their children will show high levels of dependency increases significantly.

When parents show both of these quali- ties, high levels of dependency in their offspring are particularly likely to result. It appears that overprotective, authoritarian par- enting produces high levels of dependency in children largely because overprotective, authoritarian parents prevent the child from engaging in the kinds of trial- and-error learning that help to provide a sense of mas- tery, autonomy, and self-sufficiency in children. Con- sequently, the child of overprotective, authoritarian parents comes to perceive him- or herself as powerless and ineffectual, and continues to rely on others–es- pecially figures of authoritywfor advice, guidance, and protection.

As numerous researchers have noted, the child’s inability (or unwillingness) to behave in an assertive, autonomous manner exacerbates the situ- ation, in that behaving in a passive, helpless way en- courages figures of authority (e.g., parents, teachers) to continue to perform tasks for the child which the child is actually capable of doing on his or her own. Thus, the child’s expressions of dependency come to serve as cues which continue to elicit helping and care- taking behavior on the part of others, further reinforc- ing the child’s passive, dependent behavior and ulti- mately resulting in even greater levels of helplessness and dependency.

Recent research confirms that the overt expression of dependency strivings does in fact serve as a help-eliciting cue in both children and adults.

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