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The need to define dependence arises out of accumulating evidence that it contributes to depression-proneness. Its accurate definition is therefore a prerequisite for the development of valid methods of measuring it.

Because dependence is more a feature of childhood than of adulthood, a dependent person may usefully be viewed as an adult behaving as though he were a child. Dependence is best understood therefore in terms of those developmental deficiencies from which it results. These are failure to separate successfully from the principal parent figure and from the family as a whole, failure to establish a secure personal identity, failure to acquire a general feeling of competence and a realistic assessment of self-worth and failure to feel deserving of the status of adult and to feel on equal terms with other adults.

Consequently, adult dependence is characterized by the need to stay close to others, the inclination to be primarily the recipient in interpersonal transactions and the tendency to relate to others from a position of inferiority and humility. The dependent person receives from others a borrowed identity, guidance and direction, compensation for those areas in which he is incompetent and, most important of all, acceptance, approval and affirmation of worth.