Deutsch: Abhängigkeit / Español: Dependencia / Português: Dependência / Français: Dépendance / Italiano: Dipendenza

Reliance in psychology refers to the extent to which an individual depends on others for emotional support, decision-making, or overall well-being. This term can describe both healthy interdependence and unhealthy dependency patterns, impacting one's mental health and interpersonal relationships.


In psychology, reliance encompasses the behaviors and attitudes related to seeking and depending on external sources for support and guidance. Healthy reliance involves balanced, reciprocal relationships where support is given and received appropriately. In contrast, unhealthy reliance, or dependency, can lead to issues such as codependency or excessive dependence on a specific person or group.

Reliance is a fundamental aspect of human relationships and social interaction. It reflects our need for social connection, support, and affirmation. However, the degree and nature of reliance can vary widely among individuals and can be influenced by personality traits, past experiences, and the specific context of relationships.

Historically, reliance has been studied within various psychological frameworks, including attachment theory, which examines how early relationships with caregivers influence patterns of reliance and attachment in adulthood. Social learning theory also explores how reliance is learned and modeled through observing others.

Types of Reliance

  1. Healthy Reliance: Characterized by mutual support and independence within relationships. Individuals maintain their sense of identity and autonomy while seeking and providing support.
  2. Unhealthy Reliance: Manifests as excessive dependency, where individuals rely heavily on others for emotional stability, decision-making, or self-worth, often leading to imbalance and dysfunction in relationships.

Theoretical Frameworks

Several theories provide insights into reliance in psychology:

  1. Attachment Theory: Proposed by John Bowlby and further developed by Mary Ainsworth, this theory explores how early relationships with caregivers shape patterns of reliance and attachment styles in adulthood. Secure attachment leads to healthy reliance, while insecure attachment can result in problematic dependency.
  2. Social Learning Theory: Developed by Albert Bandura, this theory emphasizes the role of observational learning in developing reliance behaviors. Individuals learn to rely on others by observing and modeling the behavior of those around them.
  3. Self-Determination Theory: This theory, formulated by Deci and Ryan, highlights the importance of autonomy and competence in healthy reliance. It suggests that fulfilling basic psychological needs leads to balanced reliance and well-being.

Application Areas

Reliance is a critical concept in various psychological contexts:

  1. Clinical Psychology: Addressing issues of unhealthy reliance in therapeutic settings, such as treating codependency and fostering independence.
  2. Counseling: Helping individuals develop healthy reliance patterns and improve relationship dynamics.
  3. Educational Psychology: Promoting balanced reliance among students to enhance learning and personal growth.
  4. Organisational Psychology: Encouraging healthy reliance and collaboration in workplace environments.
  5. Developmental Psychology: Studying how reliance evolves across different stages of life and its impact on development.

Well-Known Examples

Examples of reliance in psychology include:

  1. Secure Attachment: Children with secure attachment styles display healthy reliance on their caregivers, leading to balanced relationships in adulthood.
  2. Codependency: Involves excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, often resulting in dysfunctional relationships.
  3. Therapeutic Alliance: The relationship between therapist and client is built on trust and reliance, crucial for effective therapy outcomes.
  4. Peer Support Groups: These groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide a context for healthy reliance and mutual support among members.

Treatment and Risks

Addressing unhealthy reliance involves various therapeutic approaches and considerations:

  1. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Helps individuals recognize and change reliance patterns and develop healthier ways of relating to others.
  2. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): Focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and addressing issues of dependence and reliance.
  3. Psychoeducation: Educating individuals about healthy reliance and promoting self-awareness and autonomy.

Risks associated with reliance in psychology include:

  1. Loss of Autonomy: Excessive reliance can lead to diminished independence and self-efficacy.
  2. Relationship Imbalance: Unhealthy reliance can create power imbalances and dysfunction in relationships.
  3. Emotional Distress: Dependence on others for emotional regulation can lead to instability and increased vulnerability to stress.

Similar Terms

  1. Dependence
  2. Interdependence
  3. Attachment
  4. Support Seeking
  5. Codependency



Reliance in psychology refers to the extent and nature of dependence on others for emotional support and decision-making. While healthy reliance involves balanced, reciprocal relationships, unhealthy reliance can lead to dependency issues. Understanding and addressing reliance is crucial in various psychological contexts, from clinical therapy to organizational dynamics. Effective management of reliance patterns can lead to improved mental health and well-being.