On this 4th of July weekend, I found myself listening to this song. (Yup. And now it will loop in your head too. You are welcome.) Relational independence is celebrated and revered: “If I never loved, I never would have died. I have my books and my poetry to protect me … I touch no-one and no-one touches me … I am a rock … I am an island.”
Relational dependence, on the other hand, is held in contempt: you’d never want to be seen as needy, clingy, weak or “high- maintenance.”
Sadly, however, human beings do not thrive in severed, disconnected and isolated conditions. That’s like expecting a bouquet of cut flowers to thrive after being separated from the living plant.
When we depend only on ourselves, we wither.
As interdependent beings, we thrive best in relationships that allow us to both depend on one another and also experience the freedom and autonomy that we deeply value. We can experience attachment and intimacy without losing ourselves.
Interdependence is the natural outcome of our dependent and independent selves working together, and results in increased energy for both parties.
Much like breathing (in/out), or walking (right/left), or pumping a well (up/down): The dance of interdependence (dependent/independent) increases our capacities for empathy, self-responsibility, honesty and kindness with one another.
Think about people in your life with whom you feel most fully alive.
The people to whom you might say: “With you, I can just totally be myself.” (Doesn’t that feel awesome?!)
When I spend time with those people, I feel enriched and energized.
I feel freer to express my most authentic self.
I feel more playful; I laugh more; I am relaxed and open.
Feelings of connectedness, being seen, heard and accepted by another human being:these are all sources of strength, energy and vitality.
We are naturally social, intrinsically connected to one another; we find our strength and self-expression in relationships with others. We need to be plugged in to our tribes, our communities, our safe people.
I like Dr. Jean Twenge’s take on this:
“This is the dirty little secret of modern life: We are told that we need to know ourselves and love ourselves first, but being alone sucks…
The truth is that human beings DO need other people to be happy — this is just the way we are built… We gain self-esteem from our relationships with others, not from focusing on ourselves….
Study after study shows that people who have good relationships with friends and family are the happiest — these things consistently trump money or job satisfaction as predictors of happiness and life satisfaction.”
Want to cultivate more INTER-dependence in your life?
1. Love up all the dependent parts of yourself.
They are not clingy or weak or enmeshed or “too much.”
They are beautiful. Ask:
What would help them grow and thrive?
You are only as “needy” as your unmet needs.
Find ways of getting what you need now, so these parts of yourself can “status update” into maturity and interdependence naturally.
2. Love up all the independent parts of yourself.
They are not dismissive, disengaged, arrogant, aloof or cold.
They are beautiful. Ask:
What are they needing now?
What would help them re-activate into new kinds of relationships?
De-emphasize self-reliance, and focus on mutual support.
Embrace all of you. Work with yourself lovingly.
And, if you’d like a soundtrack song to counteract the one that I began with, I suggest this one for some Inter-dependence Inspiration.
Relationships are the foundation of well-being.
Growth is both a personal journey and a communal one: our individual growth benefits our whole community. Please join me in bringing more empathy, acceptance, and service into the world.
Want to learn more?
Feel free to join my donation-based, drop in live Q&A calls on Wednesday mornings, or make sure you’ve signed up for my weekly newsletter for inspiration and encouragement on your journey.