This month, several countries, including Colombia, celebrate their Independence Day. Around the world, we also see political change in the name of “independence.” Yet independence is another concept with varying definitions, for nations and cultures, and person to person. It’s a topic that comes up often with clients and is more multi-faceted and complex than it may appear on the surface.
At one end of the distinction spectrum, we find “dependent”: emotionally or physically relying on someone or something for aid, support, favor; something that individuals can not provide for themselves. We’ve all been dependent: as infants we’d die without others physically tending us -providing food, shelter, protection, and, we hope, love. Even as adults, we may have fleeting times when we wish to be dependent for a period of renewal and nurture; perhaps we develop physical limitations that require us to be dependent, in full or in part; but most healthy, responsible adults do not choose to be permanently dependent on others.
Along the spectrum, we find “co-dependent”: consistently placing a higher priority on the needs of others than your own; needing approval to such extreme as to become a martyr, neglecting to take care of self. Codependence applies to the degree one’s behavior or feelings are excessive to an unhealthy, self-destructive, self-neglectful level. It does not mean all healthy caring behavior or feelings. Of course, at times, it’s good to be considerate and put the needs of others above our own, to compromise or have compassion. But it’s dangerous to feel responsible for, and to take on, another person’s feelings or responsibilities, especially when it leads us to neglect our own. It’s deprives one of finding their own solutions, and especially in long-term relationships, it becomes increasingly easy for the co-dependent to lose a sense of self and confuse their pain or desires with another. Should a person become stronger and out-grow their need for the co-dependent person, the co-dependent feels unsure of who they are, wounded, maybe even desperate.
Farther along the spectrum is “independent”: Thinking and acting for oneself; not influenced or controlled by others in conduct, opinion, etc.; not subject to another; not dependent or contingent upon someone or something; making choices without consideration of others; emotionally and physically self-sufficient to the maximum of one’s ability. Being independent need not preclude giving and receiving or depending on others at times. In healthy relationships, depending on others, especially to meet their responsibilities, can strengthen individual identity; It allows us to choose if, when, and to whom we want to be dependent or interdependent.
“Interdependent”: depending on each other; reliant on and responsible to each other. Note it says responsible “to”; not “for.” Interdependence occurs most successfully between two or more “independent” entities, sharing common ground, devoted to and counting on each other. People, generally, need other people. Cooperation is key to success. Healthy individuals make relationships without giving away personal authenticity. When relationships change, we feel pain, but not the confusion that comes with realizing we’ve given away pieces of ourselves. Interdependent relationships include essential contributions, one to another, necessary for us to realize our own value, as well as the value of others and accept the uniqueness of each other, nurture each other, allow self-nurture, and promotes mutual love and respect.
Cultural norms become deeply ingrained in our psyche. Personally and culturally, people place different values on the trait called independence. To some the concept of independence is shocking, indicating loneliness, depression, isolation. Others believe it an indication of strength, autonomy, freedom. Studies say, culturally, people from the U.K and it’s former colonies, and those from Europe, generally value independence; typically expecting more control of themselves and more likely to alter things to accommodate themselves, be it personal, home, or work space; expect to be alone and to be left alone; show their individualism; dream of living the good life on their own terms; more likely to move away from family of origin.
Studies also say cultures in Central and South America, plus most Asian and Middle Eastern countries, generally value interdependence: more likely to follow cultural rules; more likely to reinforce familial connections; more responsive to sharing space and resources and to change whatever needed to accommodate themselves to personal-work-home-spaces; more likely to stay with, or return to, family of origin, and if they do move away, are likely to lend financial support to family and extended family.
Some think personal independence means a person has no needs. But many “independents” also experience inner conflict; insecurities, feeling their personal lives are based on others expectations; unable or unwilling to ask for help. This syndrome afflicts people from every strata of life. Even if they spend their lives being educated, building powerful careers in which they are fully in charge, some continue to feel “something” is missing, and long for authentic friendships and stronger sense of belonging. Despite other life successes, sometimes people fail to get to know themselves; seeing themselves only as defined by family, friends, jobs. Yet some only want connections when or if they want it, preferring not to be around others unless they are in the mood.
Support, nurture and caring one for another is not always convenient. The issue is most people want both intimacy and independence. It can be a fine line to walk; yet both are important in relationships. Inevitably, we all need assistance, sometime, somehow, for some reason. To freely, lovingly choose what we do for ourselves and for others, without being ruled by “shoulds”, is an important aspect of independence.
What do you think? What does personal independence mean to you?