Independence is a quality that is much admired in modern society. From an early age we are encouraged to be independent and stand on our own two feet. At school and in further education we are taught to be independent learners. At work, although teamwork is considered important, self-interest often rules the day. In a competitive world it seems obvious that the best route to success and happiness is to retain our independence. The problem is that although we can indeed find considerable material success by being independent, it is a disaster for our personal relationships.
The problem is that we are not designed to be independent. On the contrary, we are designed to be in partnership with the people around us. As soon as we deny this we begin to have problems in our relationships and become unhappy. Independence is best seen as a stepping stone in our psychological development. We start off in life being dependent on our parents and other people (which we find unpleasant) and we therefore assume that becoming independent is the answer to a happy life. What we often fail to realise that there is another stage in our evolution – into interdependence. To reach this developmental stage we must let go of our need to be independent and start to embrace the natural connections that exist between all people, particularly our partners, family and friends.
Unfortunately most of us are heavily invested in our independence and are very reluctant to let it go. This is because independence is not just about standing on our own two feet – we also use it to avoid the intimacy in our relationships that would trigger some of our most painful hidden insecurities and emotions. By staying independent we never have to commit fully to our partners and therefore are able to protect ourselves from difficult or painful emotions. Such emotional independence can help us avoid having to face our emotional issues and fears for many years or even decades but this comes at a terrible price in terms of the quality of our relationships
In order to feel into all our emotions, both positive and negative we have to open our hearts and truly experience our relationships and life. This is what is lacking when we become independent – instead we shut our hearts down and increasingly rely on our heads to direct our lives. This makes us distant and cold and destroys the tenderness, intimacy and love that is the lifeblood of any relationship. After a number of years we may have been very successful in our work or in society but our relationship has become an emotional desert and we feel completely dead and lacking in passion.
Independence can take us a long way in life but it is vitally important to remember that it is not our final destination. We can move on to true partnership and become interdependent by re-opening our hearts and finding the courage to feel and maturely express all our emotions. This is a step change in our psychology and requires that we see and understand relationships in a completely new way. It’s no longer about looking after number one – it becomes about what we can do for others. Our reward comes in not what we get from others but what we give and then receive. I will pick up this theme in next month’s article when I will discuss the power of true giving in a relationship and how this is the best way to escape from independence.
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