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Emotional Dependency

A developing girl has 3 needs: need to connect with mother, need to connect with girlfriends, need to connect with her own identity. When we feel holes in our lives (note: see the other article “Janelle Hallman on the Condition of Lesbianism”), it’s easy to confuse sexuality with the unmet needs and feel that a romantic or sexual relationship will somehow fill the need for mom, dad, friend. That’s what happens in a lesbian struggle.

Brokenness, unmet needs constitute a state of being. It’s dangerous to categorize this state of being as an identity. That’s what happens when an adolescent girl is told she is a lesbian. She’s still in process, she’s not a lesbian. There’s really no such thing as lesbian—just girls still in process.

This girl enters puberty still longing for close connection with mother, for connection with girlfriends, still longing to know herself and be OK with the fact that she is woman. She experiences attractions to female teachers, she’s not interested in boys—she’s not ready to be interested in boys! She’s walking around in this confusion; it’s so sad that she’s being told she’s lesbian when in reality, she’s still in process.

Lesbianism is an identity issue. When significant relationships in our life are broken or separated and imperfect, the developmental process of BECOMING and KNOWING OURSELVES is derailed. We’re unable to accept our true self; we don’t know who it is. At the core of the lesbian struggle is not a sexual crisis but an identity crisis. She is not only lost to others but lost to herself.

A baby girl initially attaches to mom and is supposed to remain identified and attached to mom through her growing up years, because mom is her mirror of what it means to be female and feminine. She’s going to look at her mother and discover what it means to be a woman. A boy is first attached to mom but then needs to go through a developmental phase where he begins to disidentify or separate from mom. There is movement or striving—moving away from mom toward dad, and he hopefully connects and attaches to dad (who shows him what it means to be male). The whole theme of movement or striving is very important in the development of a little boy, but should not be a theme in a little girl’s life. When she experiences a movement away from mom for whatever reason (not necessarily rejection by mom—could be illness, surgery, too many other kids), or a sense or rejection or abandonment by her girlfriends (this can happen in military families where you move every two years and the friendships are ripped apart), it sets up something in her that is not good at all. It doesn’t allow her to work though her identification process herself as a young girl.

When a girl experiences a lack of attachment, or rejection, or separation (from mom especially, early in life), two things happen. The girl potentially loses the opportunity to practice and fully develop her relational capacities. We LEARN how to relate as men and women. We have to PRACTICE relating in order to learn it, and a girl loses that opportunity to practice relating to others. She also loses the opportunity to get to know herself, because a woman comes to understand and know herself through ongoing attachments. Any separation or rejection that she does experience gives her the message that she is the cause of that rejection or abandonment, she is to blame: “There’s something wrong with you.” And at the core of the lesbian struggle is a deep, deep belief that she as a girl is unacceptable, unwanted, unlovable, ugly and even poisonous. As you can imagine, carrying all of those inside, at the core of the lesbian experience is a deep self-hatred of themselves as women.

Loneliness and a deep emptiness are themes in a lesbian’s life. And they go very, very deep.

But we as girls and women have a way to survive. If we have these missing blocks, we will develop kind of a neurotic dependency on other people. That’s very common, for straight women as well as for women who struggle with lesbianism. And since the heart of the lesbian condition is a specific need for mother, or girlfriend, or her own feminine self, this dependency will be played out in a relationship with a woman.

Emotional Dependency is when a woman posits her identity and well-being in another woman. So she says, unconsciously, “My well-being depends on my connection with you. If our connection or relationship is constant, warm, secure and loving, I feel OK. If the connection is threatened in any way, I am in crisis. I am not OK.”

I want you to hear these words at a different level. Consider a little baby. A little baby can say these words: “If my connection with you, mom, is threatened in any way, I am in crisis. If I’m separated from you, I may even die.” That’s what’s coming out in these relationships—an incredible need to feel this warm attachment and connection. It’s not about sex for the women. The women just want to be held. They want to rest in another woman’s arms; they want to suckle at a breast. They want to gaze into the eyes of a woman like a baby would her mother. Now naturally, these kinds of behaviors become sexual for adult women. But it’s not about sex, and most of my clients say, “I don’t CARE about the sex! I just want to be held, and I don’t want to be alone.”

However, in these relationship you can imagine the volatility and the ups and downs, because no human being can provide a totally safe, secure, warm connection all the time. So what happens in these relationships is, as those threats emerge, a woman will actually begin to panic: “I’m losing you. I’m losing this connection.” So they’ll hold on even tighter, and what happens is, the other woman begins to feel suffocated. And she has to back away, and then that causes the other one to panic more. To the point where one of the women finally leaves the relationship. The remaining woman is in a state of absolute isolation and loneliness, and a place of panic.

It is going to be incredibly hard to end a lesbian relationship. It will feel like death. There is something emotional that probably reaches close to death. It will take time. There will be falls. It will be a long process, and they need compassion and support and understanding.