This month’s Blog Carnival is about “independence” – thanks to Dr Kathleen of Treating Trauma for hosting.

When I was a little kid, my mother would tell me to “be independent” – “be strong,” she’d say, “be a survivor”. And so I did.

I learnt then that you had to be independent. It made you strong and helped you stay out of trouble. It meant other people couldn’t hurt you, though they did really. I thought being independent was a good thing. Of course, in some ways, it was. Being an adult, holding a job, paying the rent or the mortgage, keeping house… these are all hallmarks of independence in a social sense. And I mastered them all.

I kidded myself into believing that I was emotionally independent as well. I didn’t need anyone else – I’d learnt early on that relying on other people just meant you got hurt. Other people were definitely trouble (even though I’m sure there was some weird a$$ co-dependence with my mother going on, that I still don’t understand).

Of course, now that I’m in therapy I realise that being so independent wasn’t such a great thing after all. Being independent meant that I stood alone; I carried my secrets alone; and I fought the darkness alone.

In what sounds to me like a strange twist, therapy is helping me become less independent. Not in a needy way, but in a way that’s teaching me it’s ok to “need” other people. It’s ok to say you need other people; it’s ok to say you need a whole range of things. In fact, in can be enjoyable to need other people, and for them to need you. It makes you feel warm and loved and snuggly. It makes you feel special.

So what is the point of this ramble? Well, I think an important part of my healing is learning how to find the right balance with independence. Obviously in a practical sense – being able to support myself financially and make toast in the mornings are good things. But the healthy emotional independence is what I chase now. I’m not sure I’ve got it right yet, but I’m hopeful I’ll get there.


10 thoughts on “Independence

  1. Ah, I’m working on the neediness vs independence issue as well. My mother encouraged independence, or maybe I took it on myself, I don’t know. My sister is very needy and we have the same mother. It’s hard to find the balance, I always feel like having any needs is being too needy. It’s hard to change that way of thinking after so long.

  2. I have always been extremely independent myself. And I always thought that I was emotionally independent as well. Until I started therapy. My t is encouraging me to develop some f2f dependence with others besides her. The trouble is I fear that I would become too dependent. That I would swing from one extreme to another. It all seems rather tricky. This is such a big learning curve for me.

  3. @ Harriet – absolutely! Having needs = being needy which = being a pain in the a$$ and a blight on the entire world right? I hear it’s not really so, but I know how that feels.

    @ Lost – I think I’m in this club too, the swinging from too much independence to too much dependence. Thankfully I think my therapist bears the brunt of the dependence. I don’t think I’ve foisted that on anyone in the real world just yet LOL.

  4. I relate to this so much… I’m so sorry this is your struggle too (((Kerro)))

    What else are we meant to think and do, when we’re so young and told such strong messages? How were we meant to frame that in any other way than the self-reliant, self-destructive way we did? It’s another reminder that we were treated as little adults, rather than as children.

    Yes, it meant that we ticked all the responsible boxes regarding taxes, jobs etc. But the emotional cost is so much higher. I’m glad you’re now challenging those old ways… The power in your words is so good to see…

    If you get a chance, have a look at Dr Kathleen’s entry for the carnival… her concept of interdependence reminded me of what you’ve written here. That feeling of moving from strict independence, through to a healthy balance…

    Sending lots of positive thoughts…
    Take care,

  5. @ Castorgirl – you’re right, we were little adults, what else were we supposed to do? But why did it have to screw us up so much as big adults?
    Dr Kathleen’s article is excellent – exactly what I would have said if I had the training and the language. 😉 Thanks for the tip.

  6. hi kerro~~~ great post. thank you for sharing your feelings about this. they reflect my own. i learned early on, through indirect reinforcement, that i was better off not needing anyone, because that only led to disappointment and hurt. i decided very powerfully around 13 or so especially this idea, that i needed to turn my focus inwards from now on. i thought if i only depended on myself, i would feel safe and happy.

    but finding the first people who felt safe for me helped me see that there are some people you can need and depend on, and how that can be a good thing. especially when it’s mutual.

    when those first deep friendships didn’t work out when i went off to college, i tried not to go back into my shell. i figured it was healthier and better to be able to maintain an open heart. to get to the point where i can depend on people and be close and open emotionally, and also not fall apart when they’re unavailable, or even worst case scenario, when we don’t remain a part of each other’s lives.

    it’s fitting i’m reading your post on this today as i’m going through loneliness feelings this week. fighting the urge to withdraw into my shell, and facing the vulnerable feelings of neediness that i’m not enjoying…

    oh, but enough about me! 🙂 i’m so happy for you that you had a great CBT moment with your job interview the other day. i’ve been working on such techniques with myself this past year. i never had a therapist who practiced this, though i’d love to have more indepth work and practice in those techniques. i’ve recognized my own tendency towards irrational thinking this past year and am really helped by logical thinking. i’m so happy for you that the interview went well and that you were feeling so secure about it. you sound really good-humored and that even if it doesn’t work out, you sound good. that’s wonderful.

    and good for you for contacting the guy from before. i don’t think it was foolish at all. i am the same way. i like closure and i figure if i have any doubts or questions about a person and what would have happened if only i’d asked, i feel like i’m better off asking and trying one more time before letting go altogether, because otherwise, you might always wonder. i’m so glad to hear this resulted in a positive interaction. i hope things are still going well there~

    safe hugs! 🙂

  7. Hi Katie – thanks for commenting. I’m so impressed that you were able to get in touch with your inner self relatively early in life, find people who were safe, and keep your heart open. I also thought depending only on myself would keep me safe and happy. It did for a long time, or at least I was able to pretend that it did. Unfortunately for me, I closed my heart long ago so the process of opening it up now is incredibly difficult and excruciatingly painful.

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling lonely and vulnerable. I understand the withdrawal… once a friend, now not, right? I’m impressed that you’ve been able to try some self-care. Even if it hasn’t worked entirely, it’s been good to try, and good to pass the time more enjoyably.
    A lot of the CBT material about changing your thoughts is covered in a book my therapist recommended – funnily enough it’s called Change Your Thinking!

    I’m not so sure about the contact with the guy, but yes, I really needed to know. I also feel I’m better off asking and trying rather than spending the rest of my life wondering. Things aren’t going anywhere on that front as he cancelled on me again yesterday. I don’t know what’s going on, so am feeling lost and hurt.

    Safe hugs to you as well.

  8. Pingback: July 2010 Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse: Independence « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  9. Wow! This is a great post! Thanks so much for sharing it with us for the BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE.

    This is a big issue. And with so many things, you are right that we need to find a balance. I have always considered myself very self-sufficient, resourceful and independent. I pride myself on these things and I still think they have value. But, now I’m learning to balance them with being vulnerable and trusting again. Great concept!

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