Mutual Dependence

Independence. There are so many experts out there telling us how important it is to be independent. Babies should be independent and able to self-soothe. School aged children should be independent and able to do their schoolwork on their own. Teens should be independent and able to make decisions about their health on their own. Twenty-somethings should be able to be financially independent and live on their own. The elderly should be able to live independently (alone), with as little help as possible for as long as possible. Independence, referring to the ability to take care of oneself, is certainly a desirable quality, and is linked to high self-esteem. We feel good about ourselves when we can do something on our own. However, it seems to me that we have, as we do in so many things, taken this to an extreme. There is so much talk about the need for independence that we seem to have forgotten that we are mammals, and by our very nature we are social animals who depend on the group for our survival.

Independence is defined as freedom from outside control or support. The question is, from a human perspective, is this independence truly possible? If it is, is it desirable? Complete freedom from outside control is a frightening concept to me. Could society function without traffic rules, health codes, sanitation codes, monetary regulations, car safety regulations? Would we really be better off without the Bill of Rights? We might argue regarding the degree of regulation needed, but (hopefully) no one is arguing that all laws should be abolished. Control, including self-control, is an important part of happiness. With each step towards self-sufficiency we take, a certain sense of accomplishment and contentment follows. Yet, very often, hidden behind that step toward self-sufficiency is the physical or emotional support from someone else that enabled that step to be taken. When a toddler takes a first step, the support of a hand is welcomed. A young adult recovering from an accident welcomes the support of a physical therapist. An elderly person welcomes the offer of an arm to hold to cross a street.

On a daily basis, I see the power of emotional support. A word of encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, a person to laugh with – all of these make a huge difference in our lives. With emotional support, people get through unimaginable tragedies – the death of a child, the devastation of war. They get through more common tragedies – the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the loss of health. People who go through such things will often say that friends and family members enabled them to do so “just by being there.” When I see the power of such support, I question this movement toward the idealization of independence. Why would we want to encourage people to opt for independence, from freedom from support, when support is so powerful? Complete freedom from outside support separates us from each other and from our humanity and only adds to our pain.

So why is independence held out as such an important quality to achieve? I think, in part, it comes from a misunderstanding of the word dependence.   Dependence refers to a quality or state of being influenced by another. Somehow influence has come to mean that we are not independent thinkers; that we do not think for ourselves. But being open to what others have to say is important; it allows us to grow. It allows new ideas to be introduced to us. The other “problem” with dependence is that it often refers to addiction and the overreliance on someone or something. So, people will encourage us to “never need anybody” and “you have to be able to take care of yourself”. We say these things but never ask why this needs to be so. We rarely question why it is considered better to be independent than to be able to live in the comfort of being dependent – of being able to rely on or trust in someone other than ourselves. Why is it considered unhealthy to know that we can count on someone else? We have created an ideal of independence and self-sufficiency that is both unrealistic and, in my opinion, unhealthy. We have come to think that any sign of needing others is a weakness to be avoided at all cost.

It seems to me that we need to recognize the importance of both independence and dependence. And we need to recognize that depending on someone, being able to depend on someone, is very different from being dependent on someone or something in a weak, needy, “crutch-like” way. Knowing we can count on each other is fundamental to our strongest relationships, and is part of the very essence of friendship and love. We need to recognize what we can do, and enjoy doing, for ourselves. We need to embrace the joy of doing for others. We need to appreciate the gift we give someone when we accept their support. We need to recognize that we cannot truly survive without the support of others. In reality, having someone we can depend on, count on, is the most important source of stress reduction that exists. Knowing we can call that friend to tell us what the homework is because we lost our planner, or give us a ride to school/work because we missed the bus or our car won’t start, or to share a joy, a heartache, a wish, a dream – these are the moments that matter to us. Isolation is not the goal, sharing is. I prefer striving for interdependence, which means “mutual dependence.” This phrase reflects a healthy balance between independence and dependence. It signifies a state of mind where two emotionally healthy people know they can take care of themselves, but choose to take care of each other as well. Mutual dependence reflects the ability to function with limited outside control or support along with a willingness to be open to the influence of another and a trust that you can rely on them. It takes courage to admit we depend on someone. It means we have to let down our guard, show our vulnerability. Mutual dependence means the other person does the same. No one holds back, attempting to gain power or control.

In the physical world, we recognize that when one installs a supporting beam, the entire structure is strengthened. Perhaps we would all be happier if we recognized that emotional support strengthens us as individuals and as members of our family and friendship network; it strengthens our humanity.

~ “Being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure”

Bob Marley ~

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12 thoughts on “Mutual Dependence

  1. Well said!!!
    Today people have wrong assumptions of what independence means. The problem is not if people are able to be independent, the problem is in how people view it. Some people view independence as LIBERTY, liberty to do whatever they want, but it SHOULD not be like that, instead it has to be seen as an opportunity for then to learn new things and be able to depend on themselves. On the other hand, I like what you say about recognizing emotional support as a strengthen. Even thought if a person can be independent, still they have to know that they will need the support from others either family members or friends. They will need that person that will say “here I am” to help you and to be with you in your happy, sad or any moment that you need me.

  2. I completely agree that the term of “independence”, to many, is looked upon as a weakness and people are to look out for themselves, no one else. People should be able to depend on others and be proud that they have others that they can depend on. I understand that every one of us can be independent and look out for ourselves only, but what’s the point of that? There are over seven billion people in this world and there is a reason that the world population continues to rise. One should be able to believe that if their world comes tumbling down, there is at least one person that will offer them support or help. No one should have so much pride that they feel like they will never need someone or have to deal with a situation all by themselves. Furthermore, I like how you introduced the term of “mutual dependence” as an alternate way of looking at relationships between individuals and how relationships should be looked upon.

  3. This post speaks the truth. It is really important to be independent but not in the way we’re we don’t get support. Sometimes we need a shoulder to cry on. If it wasn’t for my friends and family I don’t how I would get over something as small as a breakup or as big as a death in the family. We shouldn’t feel ashamed to reach out for help. It takes more courage to ask for help then it does to not ask for anything. We should know the support we get and be thankful for it. Your post really open my eyes too that.

  4. I both agree and disagree that being more dependent is beneficial. I feel it is not so much society as it is people’s personal experiences with relying on others. I have been both helped emotionally through hard times and burned/let down more times than I can count. I am always conflicted as to whether I should get assistance and support or troop through the situation on my own steam.

  5. Like you stated the key is balance and it is a hard thing to learn to do. Some of us struggle with balancing our check books, let alone balance being dependent and independent at the same time. Your are correct choosing the right person to share the balance with is extremely important, the two have to share the same belief systems around dependency and independence. There goes another thing we have to master and also become comfortable discussing with the individuals in our lives; transparency is the key
    Thanks Dr. Urban

  6. I think our independence is our advantage. This is because it provides us with the confidence we seek to pursue our financial success. However, everyone needs mutual dependence. I love the statement from this article which argues that, “we need to recognize that we can not truly survive without the support of others.” For, instance when we go the hospital, we have to provide an emergency contact. We all need someone for a full life , not on success but just knowing that someone cares makes everyday living feel wonderfully good.

  7. As much as I love been independence, I surely love someone to to help me when I need it. May be I am independent because my helper hasn’t come yet.Life without other supports sucks okay. It will make one overwork their lives and age early.

  8. I loved this post! One of the biggest problems fro me in high school was figuring out if I was independent, or lonely. Originally, being the young, feeble minded kid that I was, I thought I was just lonely. But, as I got older I started to realize that I was only lonely if I wanted to be lonely…if I want to be independent, then I can be independent. Once I started to follow this mindset, I realized how great being independent can be. Independence can lead to moments of true peace and clarity with ones self. When I’m by myself, I love to think about life, and being a musical artist, I love to compose my own songs and learn new ones in the process. Being independent is a great thing, and I don’t think anybody should ever mistake it for loneliness. It’s only loneliness if you want it to be! (Be okay with yourself!)

  9. This article is having me sit here and rethink my views on dependency. As I have gotten older I see some are more independent than others, but are they really? A few years ago I ran into a problem at work, where everybody knew of my situation but nobody seemed to care. I did not run around seeking for help, I was in shock for a few months and finally figured my way out of the problem.
    Recently there have been people within my old circle who ran into the same situation, and these are employees who I thought were independent. They reached out to me and asked for advice, and did not know how they would get through it. I now look at them differently, not in a negative way but more of the dependency aspect. They needed direction, and I was able to help them. More like a shoulder to cry on.
    But, I still do believe at certain ages in life we need to know the basics in life, such as balancing a check book =)

  10. Independence is an interesting thing. I agree with everything you mentioned. As adults we want our children to be independent. By that I mean learning to become an adult. Children are always learning and that the reason why they are dependent on the parents to feed them care for them educate them. As parents, we do to build a foundation that they can build from.
    As young adult’s we try to make ourselves to appear mature seeking acceptance and do thing wanting to be independent. It’s ironic parents and our children want the same thing. Independence can often be misunderstood buts the experience is necessary to become a responsible citizen in society.

  11. This is such a great post! It’s a refreshing take on the concept of dependency that has been engrained in my mind since I was a little girl. One of the biggest things that I remember hearing was, “Never allow yourself to be put in a position where you become dependent on a man. Always take care of yourself and have your life in order, so you don’t have to rely on anyone but yourself.” Now while I agree with the idea of having a plan for your life and trying to establish a level of financial security, so that you do not have to rely on anyone to provide that financial stability for you; I totally agree that it is completely unrealistic and illogical to think that one can be fully independent. Sometimes I think that’s where we lose ourselves because there are times that we may be going through something emotionally and we really should be reaching out to someone for help, but we don’t for fear of ridicule or being perceived as weak. I am definitely guilty of this because I never want to burden anyone else with my issues, but now that I have read this article it makes me feel better about the idea and it is definitely something that I may be willing to embrace more in the future.

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