Concept of the Month -- July 2003

Dependence versus Exploitation

I have had family members consult me about their grown offspring's dependence upon them -- a dependence that they found deeply distressing and suspected was unhealthy. They were uncertain as to how much they should be helping their son or daughter? A differentiation must be made between people who have difficulty helping themselves because of a genuine disability and those who refuse to help themselves because they want to take the easiest path in life they can. I saw one young man who truly was handicapped. He needed people to do things for him because of his very liimited social skills and physical handicaps. His parents were doing their utmost to help him do as much for himself as possible, but giving plenty of encouragement and actual assistance along the way -- driving him to job interviews, helping him select his own clothes, and so forth.

This is very different from another situation in which a 20 year old was lying around, refusing to look for a job, hanging out with his friends, and smoking marijuana. I encouraged his parents to give him an ultimatum -- give up the pot, get a job, and turn his paycheck over to them so they could be sure where his money was going and help him save so he could eventually be on his own. He was healthy, intelligent, but totally irresponsible. For his parents to assist him in any material way would have only enabled him to continue on a path that would be destructive to him. Dependence and exploitation often appear the same. The problem is to accurately assess what the individual can truly do for himself or herself. Sometimes the best "help" is to refuse to tolerate the behavior that is nothing but exploitive -- to completely refrain from doing for someone what he can do and must do for himself!

Return to Dr. Samenow's Homepage