Beyond the Dark Side of Independence

“The biggest disease today is the feeling of not belonging”

Mother Theresa

At times we are fiercely independent and proud of it. And so we should be. This spirit of self-sufficiency has driven amazing achievements. People can at times pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and persevere on their own in the face of overwhelming odds.

But there is a downside to independence like experiencing 

Loneliness from isolation

A separation from all humanity

What are the roots of our drive to stand alone from others?

 The Reasons

The many explanations include,

 1. We felt isolated in our family of origin.

A painful family background leads some to retreat to the cave of their own minds. They  keep their painful feelings and thoughts to themselves.  And those are mostly feelings of worthlessness.  So they learn that to survive in life they must push people away or shut them out. The alternative to them is to experience deep rejection once again.

2. We adopted the cultural code of self-sufficiency.

The fierce independence of many in the USA as seen in frontier mentality (me against all odds) and an emphasis on rights (don’t take my gun from me) shapes a spirit of independence. This is both admirable (I can be anything I want to be) as well as isolationist (me against the world). Contrast that with the interdependent spirit in Mexico where “I am my family/community” or juntos es mejor.

The Results

And so in our drive for autonomy we,

1. Suffer with a sense of alienation and fear. We feel that we are not really worthy of    belonging.

2.  Live with the painful illusion that we are a separate self.

3.  Are mostly driven by negative emotions.

4.  Seldom experience connection with others because we keep them at an arms length.

 The Way Out

The escape from this state involves,

  1. Don’t believe your thoughts. What you believe about yourself is mostly an illusion. You and others have slapped a label on you that is untrue.  You came to believe that not only are you a separate being but that you are bad at the same time. It’s time to stop living your life by the painful storyline that independence is your birthright and only option.
  2. Stop the struggle. Fighting our drive for self-sufficiency is much like the struggle with a Chinese finger trap. The more you pull the more it tightens on your finger. Wrestling with yourself always leaves you wounded and in a tangle of emotions.
  3. Learn to practice mindfulness by living in the present. “Be here now”  involves  observing your mental gymnastics and dispassionately saying to yourself, “there it goes again”. Writer Pema Chodron sets the stage for mindfulness with the instructions, “Be fully present, feel your heart, and engage the next moment without an agenda.”
  4. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. You would not judge a disabled child for her lack of physical or mental abilities. By the same token quit judging yourself. Self respect = Showing kindness to your selfTry the simple act of putting your hand across your heart.
  5. Risk taking small steps of trust with others and not expect perfect responses in return. Allow yourself to experience common ground with them more than your differences.

And in the process find ways to access and celebrate your good essence and that of others.

You can learn that it is safe to dance through life with others and not tread on too many toes. As author Tara Brach writes,

We come alive as we discover the truth of our goodness and our natural connectedness to all of life”.

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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3 Responses to Beyond the Dark Side of Independence

  1. Karen says:

    I think that people isolate themselves out of fear of rejection or failure. It seems the most difficult task is to accept and love the mind, body and spirit given to us.

  2. Swan Workman says:

    Cedric, thanks for the post. There is definitely a fine line to be understood between independence for the right reasons and independence created out of fear. It’s easy to slip down the path of independence that is fear based. Independence that comes from the right place should be a stepping stone toward interdependence as you suggest.
    Dependence – Independence – Interdependence
    The natural progression of community.
    Thanks for the insight.
    Swan Workman

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