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Healthy Dependency and Recovering from Self-Sufficiency | Memory of the Future Project
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Healthy Dependency and Recovering from Self-Sufficiency

By Sara Lovell | January 21, 2009

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osani-circle-sf“My life is not my own business.” –Anthony Hopkins


I was speaking with someone the other day about wanting to develop more healthy dependency and she referred to herself as a “Recovering Self-Reliant Woman.” That reminded me of an interview between Brad Pitt and Desmond Tutu in the Africa issue of Vanity Fair in 2007. Desmond Tutu spoke about the African concept of Ubuntu, a word from the Bantu language: “It is the essence of being human. We say a person is a person through other persons. You can’t be human in isolation. You are human only in relationships….we say, “I need you to be all of who you are in order for me to be all that I am.” Because no human being is totally self-sufficient. In fact, a self-sufficient human being is subhuman.” To which Brad Pitt replies, “I don’t think we have a single word in English that describes just that.” No, I don’t think we could have a word that describes that in English, just yet – not with our history of rugged individualism – and our western scientific view of a mechanistic universe.

Lately, I’ve been listening to some selections from Philosopher’s Notes, a kind of Cliff Notes on personal and spiritual development books. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them on my walks and during my workouts. Right now, they’re offering 25 titles for free, so check it out. There is a lot of good wisdom in these books, some borrowed from various spiritual traditions, and some good practical applications for manifesting your dreams. The best things I’ve found have to do with the practice of recognizing our blessings everyday, being in service, and overcoming fear with action. But I have a problem with a few concepts that are repeated in some of these books, especially when delivered in a one-sided way. For example, “You can’t love others until you love yourself”, with its subtle suggestion that we must sequester ourselves in a little room before we can venture out to offer ourselves to others. The implication being that before this private exercise we did not have anything to offer. Have we forgotten that we come into this world full of love, joy, and the desire to share this amazing life with others? Going back to Ubuntu, we need each other in order to be human, in order to learn what love is. I heard another author on one of these audio clips say “If I had a prayer, it would be this: “God, spare me from the desire for love, approval, or appreciation. Amen.” This hit me in an almost brutal way. I understand that if we’re stuck in a pattern from our survival mechanisms and reaching for a fix for our reactive ego, then that kind of desire isn’t going to help us grow. But this prayer throws the baby right out with the bath water, and from the second story window. This is an example of how our culture in the U.S. has been so entrenched in the separation, that even self-help books and spiritual teachings get processed through it, seemingly exalting the separation even more. We hear the words “we’re all connected,” but are not instructed as to what that connection looks like in our everyday life.

My problem with much of this is that it holds us all as having to do this work of love and human expansion, in isolation. Many of these interpretations have distorted the Buddhist principle of non-attachment, to mean de-tachment, not needing anything and not being vulnerable. The message is: work on yourself, by yourself, don’t have painful emotions, and certainly don’t have them around me. It’s almost as if some people are saying intimacy is a lower form of spiritual evolution, when I think it’s actually the highest form - intimacy being defined as being deeply present with another, knowing and being known.

If I came upon someone who was having a difficult day, I wouldn’t say to them, “well there must be something else you’re supposed to learn in order for things to be better for you…and now, I’ll be going to let you figure that out on your own.” That’s cold. It doesn’t mean not to look at challenges as opportunities to learn important wisdom, but it does seem to me that the kind thing to do if I came upon someone who was struggling, would be to ask how I could help. Is there any assistance I could give this person, could I offer them a hand, a shoulder, an ear, some food to eat? Wouldn’t that be more healing for this person than to tell them they just haven’t learned their lesson yet, and walk away? Sometimes when things are challenging, all that’s needed is a compassionate word, look or touch from another human being – simple human kindness is a powerful elixir. Would any of us want to be so independent or self-sustaining that we wouldn’t want to partake of this beautiful offering – or to give it?

We have a culture that has been the perfect laboratory to breed a very virulent strain of isolation. We know that infants can actually die without connection and touch. And this study reported in the Washington Post in 2006 talks about the shrinking number of close ties Americans have with people they feel they could count on in hard times.

How do we recover healthy dependence? Well, for me I’d have to stop the habit of handling everything myself without even thinking. If I’m around others I definitely like to get feedback and opinions, but if I’m alone and have been used to living alone, it’s a challenge for me to think about how to ask for help from others. Also I find that when I’m able to be self-reliant, I end up more isolated. If I can pay for transportation to the airport or hospital, I wouldn’t think to impose on a friend, but then I don’t get a chance to help them out either. I think people forget you’re even there when you’re too self-sufficient.

And then there’s having healthy expectations. Many self-help folks infer it’s unhealthy or unproductive to have expectations of others, as you’ll end up disappointed, and should just be taking care of yourself anyway. But I don’t see how we’re supposed to build sustainable relationships and community if we’re not working together to create something that we’re agreeing to show up for. So accountability is healthy. How do we hold each other and ourselves to a higher standard of connection if we aren’t having healthy expectations? We can’t be accountable in isolation. We can’t make amends in isolation. We can’t grow in isolation. We’ve lived in a culture for too long that has shared a collective agreement to not hold each other too accountable. Look at Enron, and our latest financial crisis, for example.

So here are my self-help rules – hey, maybe that’s the problem right there – calling it self-help in the first place. I believe we need to do the inner work and the outer work simultaneously; loving ourselves and each other, and that we actually learn how to love by being in relationship with each other, by being mirrored, and witnessing the effects of our words and actions. We can’t learn how to love in isolation. If a monk chooses to live in a cave, he may be taking the experience of his monastery with him, and he may experience no separation when he prays….but most of us live in the world, and that is where we are meant to serve. And we have young people to mentor. I don’t think we would tell a child “Go to your room, learn to love yourself, and when you’re finished, come out and then I will love you.” And here’s a wild idea, (and thoughts for a future post) - maybe we shouldn’t all be so set up with all our own stuff. If we lived in closer proximity we could share different appliances and equipment. We could need something from another person, and it would be considered a good thing. And we would honor the person who gives us the thing we need by fully receiving it. We would realize we are a seed and aren’t required to water ourselves, feed ourselves, be the Sun for ourselves, be the microorganisms for ourselves, because we are not on some island out in the middle of the ocean. We are here, living and breathing, very close to one another….almost touching. Now let’s get closer.

If you’d like more information on the photo at the beginning of the post see http://www.connectingdotz.com

One Response to “Healthy Dependency and Recovering from Self-Sufficiency”


  1. Strict Standards: call_user_func_array() expects parameter 1 to be a valid callback, non-static method GA_Filter::comment_author_link() should not be called statically in /home/saralo5/public_html/memoryofthefutr/wp-includes/plugin.php on line 166

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    Peggy Collins
    Says:
    January 22nd, 2009 at 7:36 am
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    This article is fabulous!! I’ll keep it and with your permission will read parts of it in my workshops.

    I don’t know if you ever use others articles or if you would review my book - I’ve written on this very subject - Help Is Not a Four-Letter Word: Why Doing It All Is Doing You In published by McGraw Hill. I’ve identified an epidemic behavior in our country I call The Self-Sufficiency Syndrome.

    Your language is beautiful, expressive and impactful in describing our interdependence! I love it.

    I’ll wait to hear,
    Peggy Collins
    Speaker, Trainer, Author, Job Search Coach

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