Many moons ago, a colleague described me as being FIERCELY INDEPENDENT.
She was challenging my modus operandi. She was kindly admonishing me. I knew this and I understood this. Yet, in some twisted corner of my mind, I construed her admonishment as a compliment.
I have always prized independence. ‘If it is to be, it is up to me’ was the motto that rested behind my eyes. It is how I looked upon the world, and it was what the world saw when it looked at me.
Independence has its virtues. But these virtues become obscured when this independence culminates in a tabooing of needing others, of tabooing this particular vulnerability. For reasons that remain mysterious to me, seeking help had always left me feeling riddled with guilt and shame. Being burdensome was a tax I could not bear. Perhaps this is a result of social conditioning. Perhaps these are the meanings conjured by a traumatized mind.
It is something that to this day I struggle with. Perhaps it is the echoes of my perfectionistic voice that criticises me for not having all my ducks in a row, and for not being 100% bulletproof. Silly I know. But this is a pattern that is well established in my psyche, and that is very resistant to eviction.
Exacerbating this is an avalanche of self-help and relationship advice that encourages us to be totally emotionally self-sufficient.
I’ve read many times in many places that I should remember that I don’t need anyone other than myself. The words ‘co-dependent’, ‘externally referenced’, ‘an outsourced locus of control’ swirl around in my mind and taste like wretched bile, filled with self-judgment and self-loathing. There is an instinctual reaction that these characteristics make me weak and needy.
The reality is that this simply isn’t true. And I am left to question and challenge these stories that have settled in my biology.
Last I checked, I was actually human, and human beings are social animals with highly evolved nervous systems designed for strong connection.
Our sense of connectedness in our relationships is extremely important for our capacity to feel safe in the world, and also to contribute to the world.
I am learning that our connectedness in our relationships is what allows for true independence, because we know we have a safe place to come back to and be soothed when we need it.
Perhaps there is subtle shaming of interdependence. Perhaps it is just me? Perhaps this, more than anything else, is why burnout had whipped my arse the way it had, and as frequently as it had. Perhaps this is why I have felt so universally unsafe even when there was no imminent threat?
I am learning to counter my conditioning with the assertion that it is not only okay to need other people, but that it is absolutely glorious to need other people. That it is one of life’s deep pleasures. That it is a reward that lies on the other side of the bridge to self-love and self-trust.
Learning how to be connected with trustworthy people can be hard work for traumatized people, but I have found it to be the most rewarding work of my journey to myself.