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by David Truman

This article in Q & A format is, in fact, an intimate conversation about the deep need human beings have for each other and the many problems we encounter when we rebel against that need. A simple approach to solving those problems by accepting and filling our need for each other evolves in the consideration.
Q: I want another love relationship, but every time I am attracted to someone, I feel unready. I don't feel self-sufficient enough to relate to someone else that intensely.
A: Almost everyone I speak to has been involved in some kind of struggle to secure independence, at least on the emotional level, from other human beings. But, man is a social being. Even the simple experience of being touched by other humans is indispensable to our healthy development. It is no secret how much we depend on each other -- physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychically -- in every conceivable way. We depend on each other absolutely. Human love is the air we must breathe. We must.
How many people resent having to breathe all the time? In and out, in and out. We have no choice: our very lives depend on doing it continuously, with no reprieve, no vacation, no time off for twenty years good breathing, no nothing. Stop doing it for more than a moment and we're dead. But somehow we have accepted our enslavement to air, and you don't hear anyone complaining about it. It is just one of those things that can't be changed -- one of many such things. It goes to show that even we humans, who like to be able to take or leave everything, control everything -- even we can in certain instances adapt happily to necessity. In that light, it seems strange that we should get so riled up about having to be dependent on other people. What is so upsetting about that? Why all this fighting for independence, autonomy, separation?
Q: I had that experience with my ex-wife. When I got into the relationship, I kept wanting to leave her to prove to myself that I could get along without her. I was definitely unhappy with the idea of depending on her.
A: As soon as you meet someone who makes you feel good, you automatically tend to react with the notion, "Well, why haven't I felt this good all by myself? Why should I have to depend on this person for my happiness, my sense of well-being?"
Q: Exactly, that is exactly how I felt.
A: So you go off and try to realize that same happiness in yourself, you rebel, you run away, and you very much tend to resent the person, because by making you happy they have implied, to your way of thinking, that you are not happy in and of yourself.
Q: Right. That's what I did. I left her repeatedly, and I definitely resented her when I came back. I resented the fact that I did feel the desire to be with her and was not happy by myself.
A: I do understand that each human has to find security, happiness, wisdom, and personal strength in themselves. I do understand and sympathize with the rightness of that objective. Of course, no one can be happy feeling sniveling, weak, and negatively dependent on someone else. But we have observed that less and less security or real strength seems to manifest in those increasing numbers of us who have made a religion out of independence and are almost militantly so.
Experiments have shown that a chimpanzee will not grow up to be stable and happy if you raise him alone. There is a degree of strength -- even independence, if you will -- that comes from having proper nurturance in a normal social life. I believe we are always in need of this kind of support, not just in the so-called formative years. Or, look at it another way: ALL the years of our lives are formative. Real strength and autonomy actually cannot be achieved at all apart from a normal and healthy social life with human beings. In this sense, we are inescapably dependent on others. Such dependency is eminently positive, because it fulfills the human heart and provides the necessary strength to overcome what would otherwise manifest as neurotic fears in relation to life and to the existence of others. TOP
Occasionally you read in the paper stories about barnyard kids, right, kids who were actually raised with the animals, without significant human contact. What happens to them? They become extremely huddled, bizarrely uncommunicative; very loathe, in fact, to trust and depend on other human beings when contact is finally established. There is something of that same neurosis in all of us who have strategically rejected the dependence on others and tried so diligently to make it on our own.
I think you have found that during those periods of your life in which you substantially withdrew from others and holed up in your apartment without much social life, you felt quite ill at ease with your human contacts; you felt habitually ill at ease, suspicious and nervous with other people.
Q: Yes, I did, but I thought it was the way I was, and I felt I was getting it together.
A: But in a real sense, you were getting it untogether: it was your experience that human life was actually becoming more and more difficult. That's what I mean by the idea that all years are formative. There is no year or period of time in which the withdrawal from sources of communication and nurturance will not set you back and produce some degree of neurosis. TOP
Q: I do see that now.
A: The danger in the mood of our times is that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In our boundless and philosophically logical desire to avoid negative dependency, we are cutting ourselves off from the sources of strength. We are so enthusiastic about being independent that in many cases, we err dramatically on the side of suspecting and rejecting all that seems to imply dependency of any kind. Therefore all relations, particularly between men and women or between students and teachers, in which there is a stronger sense of dependency, are considered very, very threatening. So we have this immense pride about the fact that we have served the causes of autonomy and integrity by separating from everyone we thought we might tend to become dependent on. Meanwhile, on the down side, we feel very suspicious and threatened by all kinds of enemies. Life in many cases has become a virtual nightmare of vigilance against the imminent possibility of dependence that seems to lurk all over the place. We experience a neurotic fantasy that other people are about to subjugate us and take away our freedom.
Q: I have felt that, a lot, but I thought it was not them so much as me. I felt I was too dependent in myself and that the way to cure it was by becoming independent.
A: That conclusion is an integral part of this neurosis. Just like the chimps, all humans have inherent and irreducible needs for normal contact with others of the species. In humans, there is an even greater need for relatively sophisticated experiences of heartfelt communication and conscious love and love-acceptance. Inevitably, since these needs are in fact real, you will begin to feel them more urgently as you withdraw. You are then starving yourself on that level, and experiencing your hunger. Naturally, the more you separate yourself, the more hungry, needy, or unfulfilled you feel. TOP
This is the beginning of a vicious cycle. The needier you feel, the more you conclude that there is something really wrong with you because you feel so hungry and so neurotically lacking. A very negative self-image begins to appear, in which you hate yourself for your neediness and you want more and more to do something about it by separating yourself, and disciplining what you believe is this ugly dependent quality in yourself. Great dis-ease, even to the point of insanity, can result from following this circle around and around. Asylums are full of people who have pursued this circle of thought until they have become too chronically withdrawn and negative to be able to carry on even the semblance of an ordinary, non-paranoid relationship. They have moved too far in that direction to experience anything but withdrawal, paranoid fantasies regarding others, extremes of separation and guilt.
The only way to break this cycle is to realize that your needs are not bad; you simply are as dependent on human love as you are on air. All people need each other in every way, and there is nothing wrong with that. That is human nature; man simply is a social creature who has irreducible needs for his fellow man. Every sort of security depends on breaking this cycle of wholesale rebellion against dependency. We have to be much more discriminant, and re-embrace as fine, normal, healthy, wonderful much of what we have rejected and reacted against. There is no progress, happiness, or learning in chronic withdrawal from the human condition. TOP
Q: I know that now, but I still feel ill at ease with people and can't seem to be consistently comfortable with others. And I still have these flashes that I am doing the wrong thing, sometimes. Like when I feel myself getting involved, I still tend to question it and doubt that what I'm doing is ok.
A: All you can do is persist in reaching out more and more, and trust that the process of resocialization will move ahead naturally. It will. Remember, it takes a long time to reach those barnyard kids, and even the relatively smaller amount of habitual withdrawal you have created will take some time to undo. If you honestly throw yourself into the process of social life with intimate friends, you will feel at ease in short order. Your fears will diminish, and your sense of well being and inner strength will return inevitably. Trust in the rightness of your own needs, trust in the process of human relationship to iron out the kinks you could not iron out alone, and trust in yourself that you can endure and grow in the intensity of sustained contact with others of your species. The more you give up the dilemma about autonomy vs. dependency, the happier you will be to be a human being. The conflict in loving will be undone. There will be no problem. Love will be breathing.

by David Truman

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