Tuesday, January 15, 2019



Recently, I had a pretty bad case of the flu. Living alone created a few problems for me when it came to transportation, food and a realistic sense of how sick I was. I actually put myself in a very dangerous situation by trying to "do it myself." As a result, two of my very close friends who continuously offer their help, let me have it for my "rigid independence." 

A couple of years ago, I was hospitalized with a blood clot. I drove myself to the emergency room, was admitted for three days and drove myself home. I only told one person, not even my family. I didn't want to bother anybody. 

This latest bout of flu, and the problems that went with it, has caused me to reflect on the fact that, at 75, I may be overly attached to my rigid independence. It may be time to rethink the whole thing. 

Why is it so difficult for some people to allow themselves to be helped? If there was a spectrum on which one end was total independence and the other was complete dependence, where would you say you fall? Ideally, it would be somewhere in the middle or fluidly moving back and forth along the spectrum as circumstances required. But many people get stuck at the independence end of the spectrum and only rarely dare to ask for assistance. That's me! 
We are all influenced by societal beliefs about independence and dependence. However, those of us who are rigidly independent may need to look more closely at our personal experiences as dependent children in order to uncover our deep resistance to accepting help from others. (See below - "I remember.....")
Independence is a healthy and important aspect of human development. It’s also supported by many popular beliefs:
  • Independence is freedom. You’re free to think for yourself, make your own choices, and do what you want without anyone stopping you.
  • Independence is powerful. You have the power to take care of yourself without having to rely on anyone else.
  • Independence is safety. It’s safer to rely on yourself than on people who could prove unreliable or untrustworthy. 
  • Independence is respected. Independence is venerated in movies and books. The iconic hero is the lone wolf: strong, silent, and alone.
All of these beliefs contain truth, but not the whole truth.
Rigidly independent people may be free to do what they want, but they have to do it alone. Healthy relationships require that we sometimes give up control. By relying only on themselves, rigidly independent people actually limit their lives. They cannot accomplish large tasks that require the assistance of others.  Rigidly independent people also limit their own emotional and intellectual growth by resisting the knowledge and input of others.
While taking care of yourself does increase your safety, your safety increases even more when you have a network of friends, family, and public services that you can rely on in times of need. The rigidly independent sometimes endanger themselves by being unwilling to accept assistance. Think of the elderly person who refuses to accept a caregiver and then accidentally burns the house down; the teen who drives drunk because he or she is unwilling to call a parent for help; or the woman who is too proud of her independence to ask a friend to walk her to her car late at night.
People respect independence, but not when it’s unyielding. People respect those who respect them back. Rigid independence devalues the contributions of others; it implies that they have nothing to offer you; and it disrespects their skills, wisdom and generosity.
However, even those who are aware of the benefits of letting go of their rigid independence may find themselves unable to do so. For these people, this may be the time to examine their own negative views and possible past experiences with dependency. A person who experienced shame, danger, or betrayal as a child may not have the ability as an adult to find safe, trustworthy people to rely on.

I remember the day when my life of rigid independence started. It was like the Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind moment, when she returns home to her beloved plantation, Tara, after the burning of Atlanta. Walking amid the ruins, she says, “As God is my witness, they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” I promised myself that day that I would find a way out of the madness of my life at home if it killed me and never allow myself be put in such a dependent situation again. 

I am coming to realize, with the help of friends, that its time to re-evaluate that decision and maybe moderate it a bit. 

We were all completely dependent on others when we were small children—and may need to be again as we age or become disabled. But even if we don’t require physical assistance, the fact is people still need each other. There’s no shame in it. Find safe people and let go of rigid independence … because we all need a little help sometimes.

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