Breaking Free from the Myth of Independence

“Love comes quietly; finally, drops around me, on me, in the old way. What did I know, thinking myself able to go alone all the way.” — Robert Creeley

In the early years of my relationship with Charlie, I was plagued with a constant nagging voice inside my mind that said, “Why do you need him so much? You ought to be able to fill your needs by yourself. You are so hungry for love; you should be content with yourself. You should be more self-sufficient. What is wrong with you?”

The inside of my mind was not a safe place to reside. It was inhabited mostly by the voice of my inner critic who believed that my dependence meant that I was childish, neurotic, weak, and needy. I did eventually manage to recover from those critic attacks, but even today, she can show up unexpectedly. The difference is that nowadays I can fight back. The most effective weapon that I have in my arsenal is my recognition that there is such a thing as a healthy amount of dependence as well as such a thing as hyper-independence, which isn’t particularly healthy.

Because we live in a culture that worships independence, many of us tend to demonize any degree of dependence and see it as a weakness. In order to avoid the judgments of others (and ourselves), many of us try to conceal the dependence that is intrinsic to our nature as humans. We are, after all interdependent, social beings that require involvement with others in order to meet our intrinsic physical and emotional needs and to grow and thrive.

The definition of dependence is “reliance on something or someone.” The definition is neutral; but for so many, the word “dependency” is a dirty word. In our “me” centered, society, it is a popular belief that to achieve maturity, we must become absolutely autonomous, and self-sufficient. If we allow others to become dependent on us, or we are dependent on them, it is typically viewed as negative or even pathological.

We enter into relationships with others because relating to them enhances our life in some way. None of us is independent of the need for others; we are dependent on others to survive, thrive, and grow into our full potential.

Healthy dependency or interdependency characterizes every loving relationship. Many couples find themselves drawn to others who have complementary strengths and character traits that enable them to rely upon and learn from each other, becoming more whole in the process. There are areas where no matter how much we learn from our partners, they will continue to be strong and more fully developed than ourselves. To lean on the other’s strengths is a sign of intelligence rather than weakness.

From time to time in everyone’s life, we all depend upon the help of others. Our friend Seymour Boorstein says, “Sometimes we push their wheelchair and sometimes they push ours.” It is a strong visual image that reminds us of the reciprocal nature of relationships. When we fail to acknowledge how much we depend upon the support of others, we make our life more difficult. When we hold back from leaning on another due to fear or old habituated patterns, we rob ourselves of an opportunity for more pleasure in life. Denying our dependence is just as debilitating as excessive dependence on another where we don’t develop our own attributes. Both extremes weaken us.

The most successful relationships are those where both partners feel that they are with someone that they can depend upon. They trust that their partner can be trusted not to hurt them, who will be supportive, and who won’t use what was shared in an emotionally vulnerable moment against them. They feel seen for their positive attributes and know that despite their dark shadowy aspects, they are loved anyway. When we know that we are loved “as is,” we are free to delight in the joys of success and to risk-taking on the challenges and sorrows that every relationship goes through.

A mutually healthy dependency promotes self-esteem, self-confidence, and ease in life. In making an agreement to create an interdependent relationship, we open to the possibility of healing old wounds, healing dysfunctional family patterns, modeling a successful partnership for our children, and becoming the best that we can each become.

When I look back now on the suffering that I experienced out of my belief that I was weak, I feel sad that I was so ignorant for so long. I bought into the myth of self-sufficiency that is prevalent in our culture. We all need to hear positive messages about our abilities and accomplishments. We need “believing eyes” around us to reflect back to us our talents and unique gifts to give the world. We need to be seen, heard, touched, accepted, affirmed, understood, respected, included, welcomed, validated, known, and cared for in a myriad of ways. It is a lifelong need that is as basic as the need for food, water, and oxygen.

When we experience being deeply loved, we can begin to feel more comfortable in our own skin. Much of the frantic energy that drives so many of us has to do with running away from ourselves because we’ve never learned to free ourselves from the self-judgments that we’ve inherited from our families and our culture. As we come to accept and appreciate ourselves, warts and all, “rushaholism” diminishes and eventually disappears. We can experience the whole spectrum of connectedness from the deepest of intimate bonding to the peaceful tranquility that emerges in a solitary retreat.

The myth of independence is promoting isolation, and resulting in a growing number of lonely people. The feeling of being worthy begins with relationships with others. I feel that to the degree that I thrive in my life, it is because my feelings of security and well-being are built on a solid network of interdependent relationships.

For many people in our culture today, marriage is going out of vogue. Often I find myself saying, “Marriage is the best thing that ever happened to me.” It has been the corrective experience that has allowed me to trust that I can depend on someone to show up with and for me. Charlie has been able to hold my feelings with me without passing judgment, which has been a lifesaver when I have been challenged with my own self-judgments or the judgments of others. We have practiced for years how to move back and forth between times of merger to times of separateness. It is this dynamic connection with someone who truly values me values me that has allowed me to become more of who I can be.

It is a gift to our partners to acknowledge our reliance upon them and our gratitude for their talents, passions, gifts, good sense, and competencies. These are the ways that we honor their strengths. One of the greatest gifts available among the many that great relationships offer, is the assistance that our partner provides in the face of the challenges that life inevitably serves up to us. We can meet those challenges with confidence and can afford to take on those that are bigger, grander, and more exciting, resting into the assurance that we are fully supported.

As Robert Creeley reminds us, none of us can go it alone. And as it turns out, that’s a good thing.

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Linda & Charlie Bloom

Linda & Charlie Bloom

Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW, married since 1972, are experts in the field of relationships and have published four successful books.