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Scared Separate

by David Truman

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Chapter 5 - Healthy Dependence and Independence

Human wholeness vs. ego's ideal of self-sufficiency

Why it's impossible to get strong alone

Examining the evidence

Let's talk about a rare bird -- healthy independence

A complicating factor: unhealthy dependence

Two sides of one unhealthy coin

The wholly healthy way

How to have healthy dependence and healthy independence

Getting back to full health

One of the most pernicious symptoms of the epidemic of social fear is our obsession with being independent. We know, rightly, that healthy independence is essential to a good life -- that it's important to be who you are, and take responsibility for your life. But what we don't know is, what contemporary society calls "independence" is actually suppressing our true selves and ruining our lives.

Both dependence and independence have been tragically misunderstood in today's world. Most people who call themselves "independent" are really self-obsessed and anti-social. And dependency, too, is disgraced, having been associated with weakness, irresponsibility, and insecurity.

But in their true forms, both independence and dependence are beautiful, healthy, and good. And, they are not in opposition to one another -- as we so often think. In fact, it's impossible for one to exist in healthy form without the other. Just like the flowers need the bees, and the bees need the flowers, dependence and independence need each other in order to thrive.

And we all need both to be truly fulfilled as human beings. But before we can enjoy the true, soul-nourishing forms of independence and dependence, we'll have to rethink everything society has taught us about either one. And that is exactly what this chapter is for.

Human wholeness vs. ego's ideal of self-sufficiency

Ego places great value on what it calls independence. To ego, independence means: thinking for myself, doing things my way, not needing anybody else, being whole and complete on my own.

And ego will defend its so-called "independence" tooth and claw. As soon as something wonderful arises between two people, the ego in them feels threatened. It thinks, "Wow, this must mean I'm not complete in myself. Here I am, suddenly feeling so happy, so strong, so whole -- and it's all because I'm with someone? I resent that! No way do I want to depend on someone else for my happiness!"

Before love entered the picture, everything was going just fine from ego's point of view: he was earning his college degree, working on this and that project, getting his life together. And she was doing the same. Then, they met -- and there were huge explosions of fireworks, light, and bliss. But before long, they both went into shock over it and became upset. In various ways, they started trying to curb their sense of dependency: putting each other off, setting boundaries, toning down their real feelings, looking for faults in each other, etc.

People react violently against any implication of dependency, because dependency goes against ego's notion that we're supposed to be perfectly complete by ourselves. That's why, after a beautiful evening together, a man will sometimes disappear, or become distant; or a woman will give the cold shoulder. Even a friend will often become strangely aloof and unavailable, just when they had been getting closer to you. They didn't want you to make them that happy. They didn't want so much of their heart to belong to someone else.

And ego can make just as much hay with the opposite situation: A couple has been dating for a year or two, and one day, out of the blue, he confesses he's found "someone new." The girl is stunned, and heartbroken. And she's dismayed to find herself so bereft without her man. So, she resolves never to love that deeply again. From now on, she will guard her heart better. In fact, she's not going to let herself love at all until she's confident that she can feel whole and complete in herself, without a man. That's the idea, anyway.

Many people, wounded in love -- or afraid to be -- are eagerly pursuing what they call "healthy independence." But, they are mistaken. They don't understand what healthy independence is at all. The kind of independence they are pursuing -- and living -- is detrimental to their spiritual and emotional health.

The truth is, while it is important to be self-responsible, human beings cannot thrive on separation. We are naturally social. We are immutably connected. We find our homes in one another. An isolated person cannot be whole, because it is part of the nature of a human being to be together.

Our true strength and self-expression is found in relationship. That's what lovers mean when they say, "With you, I can be myself." That's why different people bring out different aspects of who we are. And that's why, when we are alone, we yearn for someone to give our hearts to. We each know, there's so much of who we are that strangers can never see. Only in the context of trust and mutual love will we share our most beautiful, personal, and touching qualities. The fact is, we depend on one another to be ourselves. Without anyone to inspire us, to need us, to make demands on us, and to bring out the best in us, most of who we are will not be expressed. We will remain hungry, empty, and relatively flat.

Why it's impossible to get strong alone

Whenever people get a sense being intertwined with another, society tells them that is a sign of weakness; that they're not independent enough, so they need to work more on autonomy.

But the truth is exactly the opposite: those feelings of connectedness are evidence of our strength. It is separation, actually, that makes us feel small, desperate, and insecure.

If you cut a rosebud from its stem, do you expect it to make a break for it across the lawn, and thrive apart from its bush? Of course not! That's absurd! It's not the way life works.

Well, human beings are the same:

A person NEEDS to be plugged in to be strong. If we go
it alone, and try to depend only on ourselves, we wither.

The popular idea of independence is just as absurd as expecting a rosebud to grow all by itself, without any roots. To be impervious and invulnerable, to learn to be okay alone, to depend on yourself alone? Impossible! Human beings can't be okay in such a severed, disconnected, isolated condition. Never.

Character strength cannot result from separation. Look at the people you know who are passionately committed to being independent. There are probably quite a few. How are they doing? How many of them would you call emotionally healthy? How many people do you know who have become truly strong by learning to be alone?

The truth is, most people who've resolved to be "independent" by society's standards are prone to anxiety and psychological insecurities. Though they may put on a strong, well-adjusted façade, inside they are usually hungry and desperate. We all know at least ten people like that.

Hyper-independence has nothing to do with strength, except that it prevents strength. That is clear as day.

"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."

- Jean M. Twenge Ph.D.

Down and out mode. When people pull out of relationship, they pull out of life. Thereafter, they run on much less energy. Well-being decreases. Consciousness and vibrancy fade. They start to feel duller inside. The most beautiful aspects of their being fall into disuse, because they have no one to share them with. Their heart has been thoroughly bypassed by their decisions. They are, in a very real sense, far less alive.

If they happen to go to a therapist, they might say, "Doctor, I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't feel like I used to. I feel numb. Like I've shut down. Something inside me has died."

Friends, isn't it obvious? As we cut ourselves off from others, we are cut down.

What's gotten into you? In contrast, remember what happens when people fall in love. Suddenly their friends say, "What's gotten into you?" They are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They have forty times the energy they used to have.

When we plug into relationship, we automatically feel happier. Being in relationship raises a person's vibration, expands their aliveness, enhances their well-being. That's true even when it's difficult. Even in the midst of struggling with the issues and challenges of relating, people are still extending their heart and stretching in ways that give them a greater strength and radiance.

Examining the evidence

So we see that to go into relationship generally creates a big boost in energy and well-being, while to pull out of relationship creates a huge drop in energy and well-being. Clearly, relationship plays a crucial role in people's health and happiness. And "independence," as ego defines it, diminishes both.

But in spite of enormous evidence against the healthiness and effectiveness of popular ego-style independence, people still cling to it.

As you know, addicts are people who do the same thing over and over, and expect a different result. An addict will keep taking the drug that's supposed to make him happy, even while he sees that it's making him more and more miserable.

Just so, people are addicted to the popular idea of independence. They keep adhering to it, thinking it's going to make them strong, even while it's clearly making them weaker and weaker, sadder and sadder.

What if someone told you this: "I've got a piece of frozen meat baking in the freezer, and every time I check it, it's still rock hard. But it's bound to be cooked any time now." You'd think they need their head examined!

Given the evidence, it's just as crazy to expect to grow healthy by pursuing unhealthy independence. "It's going to start working soon, I just haven't done it enough yet." ...Right.

No matter how long or hard we try, we will never get a different result from the unhealthy pursuit of egoized independence. The result will be the same as it has always been. The key is to have the courage to face what that result is. For almost everyone who is trying to go it alone, the truth is, "No, I'm not getting happy or healthy -- I'm getting sick."

Egoized independence as preparation for relationship? Many people think self-sufficiency is the first stop on the road to relationship: "It takes two strong people to make a strong relationship. So I'm working on being strong first." But are they getting any readier for relationship?

Independence, as it is commonly practiced, is not a viable preparation for a good relationship. If a person sticks to the hyper-independence script for long, they lose social functionality. They get out of practice. Their social fears are likely to increase, due to lack of experience; and their willingness to share their heart and life will likely decrease.

Also, people who are deeply committed to independence are more likely to adopt anti-social priorities and ideas. In this day and age, some extremely narcissistic attitudes have been celebrated as the epitome of "independence." There is a high value on "not caring what anybody thinks." You're supposed to put yourself first, and make sure you get what you want. You're supposed to please yourself, and curb your desire to please others. In a word, you're supposed to be selfish.

Now, is that really a good way to get ready for relationship?

Independence within relationship? And what happens if you do get into a relationship, while pursuing unhealthy independence at the same time?

In the practice of unhealthy independence, you be your own person, even within a relationship. You are passive and disconnected. You stand up for what you want. You insist on having your own life. You are uncompromising -- or nearly so. You give little or nothing to your partner. Why? Because independence is your top priority.

No relationship can thrive under those conditions, because no human heart can feel cared for by a partner who puts their own needs and desires first. Ego-style independence is the death of healthy, happy intimacy. Period.

Let's talk about a rare bird -- healthy independence

Healthy independence is entirely different than its counterpart -- hyper-independence. People with healthy independence will be socially responsible. They will care about their effects on others. They will take plenty of initiative in life and in relationship, and be a source of goodness in the world. They will be truly strong, and creatively involved. They will know themselves, and they will love.

People with healthy independence won't indulge in a reactive, irresponsible, victimized attitude. They won't turn away from love because they had a bad experience -- however painful it was. They won't see themselves as victims at all. Instead, they will maintain true independence, by taking full responsibility for positive responses and contributions to life.

And in all of that, they will be strong enough not to fear interdependence.

A complicating factor: unhealthy dependence

Of course, people's fear of dependence is not without its reasons. The ego's twisted version of dependence is just as harmful as egoized independence. And we've all seen how it hurts people. I'd be the first to advise people to stay away from unhealthy dependence in every form it takes.

Here are some of the more common forms of unhealthy dependence.

Two sides of one unhealthy coin

When people realize that they are negatively dependent, they often become very concerned to escape that trap. As a solution, ego convinces them to stampede toward ego-style independence -- the kind where you focus on yourself, and learn not to need others anymore.

Millions of people have fallen for this trick. They think they are going to be better off once they're more self-sufficient, but in reality, they've just switched from one unhealthy extreme to another. From the frying pan to the fire; no major improvement.

Neither egoized dependence nor egoized independence is the solution to our problems. They cannot rectify one another, because they are two sides of the same unhealthy coin: egoism. Ego twists everything it gets a hold of; and that is exactly what's happened in today's ego-dominated world with both "independence" and "dependence."

Heads and tails. That explains why, often, ego-driven people tend toward both unhealthy dependence and unhealthy independence. Egotistical people want to be irresponsibly dependent -- to live off others without pulling their weight pragmatically or emotionally. And at the same time, they want to do things their own way. They are hyper-independent.

As a vivid illustration of that, consider the "normal," narcissistic attitudes of many young people in America today -- the adolescents and young adults characterized as "Generation Me." The "MeGens" generally embody both unhealthy dependence and unhealthy independence in the extreme.

Wrongful dependence. Typically, their parents are worried because the kids are so dependent on them.

"My teenaged son depends on me for everything. He makes no effort. He has no skill, and no aspiration to get anything together that could support him in the real world."

MeGens expect their parents to forever fill the fridge for them, and pay their rent -- and they won't contribute. They feel entitled to everything, without having to do anything for it.

Wrongful independence. But if the MeGen form of dependence is excessive, so is the MeGen form of independence. MeGens brandish a fiercely self-centered independence.

"No one tells me what to do. I do whatever
I want, whenever I feel like it."

Often, they lack cooperativeness, care, communication skills, and even the willingness to communicate. They couldn't care less about healthy interdependence.

Clearly, it is possible to be egoistically dependent and egoistically independent at the same time.

A less obvious but equally painful version of this is the unhealthy middle way -- an insipid blend of 50% unhealthy independence, and 50% unhealthy dependence. A lackluster, go-nowhere, unsatisfying relationship -- the kind of mediocre relationship that any sane individual would like to avoid, because it is excruciating to the heart to be involved in it.

The wholly healthy way

What we really need is healthy everything, and not unhealthy everything. We need to raise everything up, out of the twisted ways of ego, into something truly good. So you see, I'm not recommending any extreme, and I'm not even recommending the middle. I'm proposing an entirely different model. The truly sane way is to find out what is really good and fulfilling, what will create beauty -- and do that.

How to have healthy dependence and healthy independence

I said at the beginning that both independence and dependence need one another to be healthy and good. Now I'll explain how and why that's true.

Why healthy independence needs healthy dependence. They say, "behind every good man is a good woman," and "behind every good woman is a good man." And for good reason! It takes a lot of nurturance to build a healthy personality. "All things grow with love." Everyone knows that a child who has adequate love and strong peer relationships will likely be more confident, strong, and independent than a child who is isolated and under-loved.

Well, that need never goes away. People of all ages need social nurturance to be emotionally happy and whole.

Anyone who wants to be powerfully independent, creative, proactive, and effective needs a tremendous amount of emotional nourishment. Musicians and artists call it "The Muse." And they rely on the simple fact that their creative outpouring is turbo-charged by their relationships.

Everybody needs their muse. So let's quit trying to become strong by being self-sufficient, and learn to take in the love and energy we need. Love and intimacy is what delivers fulfillment, and makes us spiritually/emotionally fit -- not pumping iron in isolation. To be hale and hearty, and truly independent, we need both the challenges and the nourishment human involvement provides.

Why healthy dependence needs healthy independence. Only a truly independent person can support mutual dependence. That's because only a strong, responsible, and reliable person -- a person of healthy independence -- can be dependable for another.

What if your partner has to be happy for you to be strong and okay? That won't do. That means, if one of you takes a dip, both will take a dip -- and neither one can be supportive.

In order to be really good for someone, and take care of them, you need to take responsibility for your own well-being. You need to generate strength and happiness in yourself, in order to provide strength and happiness for another. Without that kind of healthy independence, you are not a good candidate for mutual dependence.


It takes healthy dependence to have healthy independence.
It takes healthy independence to have healthy dependence.

Getting back to full health

There you have it. Both dependence and independence can be beautiful; and you can have both of them simultaneously. It is only ego that corrupts the two; and only the overthrow of egoism will redeem them.

The problem with egoism is that it precludes love. Love is the key to making both independence and dependence healthy and good -- even delightful. If we would become strong and independent because we want to be good for both ourselves and others, then our independence would not be toxic or destructive. And if we would rely on and be reliable for one another in a spirit of trust and love, then the dependence would not seem so dangerous -- but rather, glorious, wonderful, inviting, even empowering.

Put both these things through the purifying fire of love, and they will come out shiny and clean. And we can live sweet, happy, fulfilling lives together.

go to
Chapter 6 - How to Create Love that's Worth Living For

by David Truman

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