The idea of independence is associated with strength, self-sufficiency, and autonomy. While being independent is important for survival, we cannot function independently without interdependence. Interdependence is when two or more people rely on each other for support, and it is a necessary and healthy part of our physical, mental, and emotional development.
Interdependence is often confused with dependence, which is one-sided and typically involves one person relying on another. Our survival as humans requires both dependent and interdependent relationships.
“We are born driven to develop emotional bonds with primary caregivers to ensure survival; these bonds serve both as a safe haven from the world’s stressors and as a secure base from which we explore the world with open curiosity” (Couples Therapy Workbook for Healing, Lori Cluff Schade, 2020)
Infants and children depend on and form attachments to their caregivers to meet their basic needs, including love and emotional support. As we transition into adults, we feel pressured to become less dependent and more independent. If early attachment needs are not met, it inhibits the formation of healthy interdependent relationships. Children who develop unhealthy attachments are at risk of becoming either dependent or avoidant as adults.
Individuals who become avoidant are guarded and can sometimes be overly independent, believing they don’t need other people. They have learned to “take care of themselves,” dealing with their emotions internally. People in this category seem less responsive to the emotional needs of others and may have difficulty understanding and expressing their own emotions. They have learned to distrust others as a result of constant disappointment.
Being overly independent or avoidant negatively impacts romantic and other interpersonal relationships. These individuals are considered “emotionally unavailable” and often frustrate their partners who try to connect with them.
People who become emotionally dependent are viewed as burdensome and “needy.” Their dependence on others is often driven by a lack of self-confidence and anxiety. These individuals may need constant reassurance and have a hard time functioning independently.
Interdependence meets dependence and independence in the middle. Learning to be more interdependent in relationships can help people feel more secure. “Reaching out for support and receiving a favorable response makes a complex, stressful world easier to navigate.” (Schade, 2020). Knowing that there are people who are willing to show up in times of distress can help people who struggle to let down their guard and allow them to open themselves to vulnerability slowly.
Moving from being overly independent to interdependence can be a challenge. Self-awareness and a willingness to explore what attachment needs were unmet in the early stages of development is the first step to resolving this issue.
A willingness to give up some independence or learn to be more present in your relationship is also necessary for change. Since these traits often develop in earlier stages of life, changing these habits can be challenging and uncomfortable. Often these traits mask deeper vulnerabilities that are hard to access. This is why couples therapy is effective; it helps people uncover deeper vulnerable emotions with their partner that lead to long-lasting change in the relationship.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Suzanne Taluy is an LCSW and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She is also the founder of Embrace Psychotherapy, LLC, located in Norwalk, Connecticut. For more information, please visit www.embracepsychotherapyllc.com.
Want to read Couples Therapy: Workbook for Healing? Check out the link above!
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