views updated May 21 2018


The term "dependence" is part of contemporary language; it is frequently used in the field of psycho-pathology but more for descriptive convenience than to specify a precise relational modality concerning the subjection of a subject to an object. Sigmund Freud used the term infrequently but made reference to it in his discussion of the pleasure principle: "It will be rightly objected that an organization which was a slave to the pleasure principle and neglected the reality of the external world could not maintain itself alive for the shortest time, so that it could not have come into existence at all. The employment of a fiction like this is, however, justified when one considers that the infantprovided one includes with it the care it receives from its motherdoes almost realize a psychical system of this kind" (1911b). Serge Lebovici (1991) remarked that the human being's original state of dependence is a fundamental postulate of Freudian theory; it is the baby's Hilflosigkeit, or helplessness (détresse or désaide in French).

As Michael Balint (1968) remarked, the notion of "oral dependence" appeared in the work of Otto Fenichel in 1945. Fenichel describes oral character traits, especially a disguised dependent need, created by reaction-formation, manifest in attitudes and behaviors of independence and rebellion. Franz Alexander used this idea to describe ulcerous subjects who indicate their condition by the conflict between the desire to maintain a state of infantile dependence and the affirmation of independence of the adult ego.

Melanie Klein showed no interest in the concept, but her students Paula Heimann and Joan Riviere, in Developments in Psychoanalysis, refer to the infant's total dependence on the mother at the beginning of life. The concept becomes central in the thought of Donald Winnicott (1963), who emphasizes that the baby, who is dependent on the care of those around him, is subject to a "dual dependency," which will become simple dependency as soon as he or she becomes aware of it.

This is part of a normal process for every human being, so that not every state of dependence later found to exist can be reduced to it. Yet this inaugural kernel, which is characterized by a sense of powerlessness (as well as the narcissistic omnipotence associated with it), is the basis of subsequently-observed states of mental dependence and defects in the separation-individuation process. Adolescence especially is a period of reactualization and the heightened revival of feelings of dependence and infantile helplessness. Philippe Jeammet (1989), who considers dependence to be characteristic of this period, has developed the concept within a metapsychological perspective that cannot be easily summarized. According to this conception, the adolescent shows himself to be clinically dependent whenever he feels that his object needs threaten his autonomy and narcissistic equilibrium.

Some authors have examined dependence in the treatment of borderline states, following Winnicott, who emphasized the danger of underestimating the transference dependence in this type of case as part of the counter-transference risks of his interpretation. He, like Balint, cautions against an overly systematic interpretation of transference dependence, introducing the risk of reinforcing the dependenceespecially oral dependenceof the patient on the analyst, and the latter's omnipotence. Otto Kernberg, working with narcissistic patients, describes their inability to depend on the analyst from the beginning of therapy, which can be compared to the fear of "giving in to dependence" described by Masud Khan.

In contemporary psychiatric clinics there has been a recategorization and clinical reassessment of dependence. The term is no longer only applied to drug addiction, alcohol or tobacco dependence, and so on, but tends to define a biological-psychological-behavioral syndrome that is very broad and includes those states as well as pharmacodependence. The concept of "addiction," which is very similar to that of dependence, is an indication of this broadening. Thus the pathological behaviors in which an act of incorporation (often but not exclusively through use of a toxic object) allows the subject to relieve the internal tension by short-circuiting a threatening mental condition are grouped under the term "addiction." These include alcoholic and drug-related behavior, bulimia (and anorexia), as well as addictions that do not involve the ingestion of a product (games of chance, shopping sprees, sexual addiction), and even relational dependence.

BÉnÉdicte Bonnet-Vidon

See also: Addiction ; Helplessness .


Balint, Michael. (1968). The basic fault. Therapeutic aspects of regression. London: Tavistock Publications.

Freud, Sigmund. (1911b). Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning. SE, 12, 218-226.

Jeammet, Phillippe. (1989). Psychopathologie des troubles des conduites alimentairesà l'adolescence. Confrontations psychiatriques, 31, 177-202.

Lebovici, Serge. (1991). La dépendance du nouveau-né. (pp. 29-39). In C. Dechamp-Le Roux (Ed.), Figures de la dépendance, autour d'Albert Memmi, colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1965). The maturational processes and the facilitating environment; studies in the theory of emotional development. New York: International Universities Press.

Further Reading

Coen, Stanley. (1992). The misuse of persons: analyzing pathological dependency. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

Searles, Harold. (1955). Dependency processes in the psychotherapy of schizophrenia. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 3, 19-66.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1963). Dependence in infant care, child care, and the psychoanalytic setting. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 44, 339-344.


views updated May 11 2018

dependence, dependency The state of being connected to and subordinate to someone or something. The opposite of self-reliance, this term may be encountered in a variety of sociological contexts. In the study of economic growth and the sociology of development, it describes a situation in which the less developed countries (LDCs) literally depend on inputs from the advanced industrial states, in order to achieve growth. This can take the form of financial and technical aid, expertise, or military support. Dependency is judged by so-called dependency theorists and others to be a limiting condition which is detrimental to the long-term economic and political interests of Third World states. In a medical context, the term is synonymous with addiction, the most common forms of dependency being associated with drug addiction and alcoholism (see DRINKING AND ALCOHOLISM). Individuals are sometimes described as being emotionally dependent, financially dependent, or politically dependent on others. Much research has also been done on the social consequences for relationships between the sexes of the financial dependence of many married women on their husbands (especially if the former are not involved in paid employment). See also COMPADRAZGO; PATRON-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP; DEPENDENT VARIABLE.


views updated Jun 11 2018

de·pend·ence / diˈpendəns/ • n. the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else: Japan's dependence on imported oil. ∎  reliance on someone or something for financial support: the dependence of our medical schools on grant funds. ∎  addiction to drink or drugs: alcohol dependence.


views updated May 11 2018

dependence (drug dependence) (di-pen-dăns) n.
1. the physical and/or the psychological effects produced by the habitual taking of certain drugs, characterized by a compulsion to continue taking the drug. physical d. dependence in which withdrawal of the drug causes specific symptoms (withdrawal symptoms), such as sweating, vomiting, or tremors, that are reversed by further doses. It may be induced by alcohol, morphine, heroin, and cocaine. psychological d. dependence in which repeated use of a drug induces reliance on it for a state of wellbeing and contentment, but there are no physical withdrawal symptoms if use of the drug is stopped. It may be induced by nicotine in tobacco, cannabis, and such drugs as barbiturates and amphetamines.

2. a state of reliance on others for aspects of self-care, sometimes used as a measure of nursing workload.

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