The Psychology EDIT September 2023

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I recently had three separate conversations, that got me thinking about the meaning of independence. In the first, a young adult spoke about her strong desire to be completely independent of her parents. In the second, an older woman shared her fears of losing her independence as she ages, and in the third, a divorced man proclaimed the importance of being so fully independent of others that there is no risk to him of being hurt again.
In these, as in many conversations I have on this topic, people conceptualize independence as ‘all’ or ‘none’—either you are independent, which is a ‘good’ thing or you are dependent, which is ‘bad’. In reality, fostering relationships on which you can depend is not the same as dependence.
Vulnerability is difficult and can be risky but allowing oneself to depend on at least one or two people allows us a safety net to explore deep emotions and feel nurtured. Depending on others doesn’t replace independence, in fact, it enhances it because it is easier to take risks when someone has your back.
We see this in adolescents—when a teen feels secure in their relationship with a parent, they are better able to become independent because they feel emotionally safe. This need for a secure relationship continues, helping us to grow throughout our lifetime.
Are you secure in your independence while still healthily depending on others? If you’re not sure, then here are a few ways to ensure that you are:
  • Be a dependable person for someone else. You will soon find that this person reciprocates.
  • Take small emotional risks. By sharing selectively, you will learn who might become a person you can rely on—then take slightly bigger risks.
  • Try to quiet your inner self-critic. It is difficult to imagine someone else being dependable when you don’t feel that you’re worth it. If this seems too difficult, it might be worth seeking professional help.
  • Don’t confuse dependability with dependence. It is important to feel that you cultivate at least one or two dependable relationships; it is not okay to feel that you can’t function without this person’s input in your life.
  • Independent thoughts and emotions are a critical part of being a high functioning person. However, they don’t replace the need for dependable relationships as you move through life. In fact, the two must co-exist side by side.