Independence is typically viewed as a positive trait. We want our kids to be independent thinkers and doers. We want female-identifying people to be independent of men and the patriarchal systems that drive unfavorable wedges between genders so that cisgender men can maintain their edge. No matter how you identify, there is a drive (for most of us) to be able to stand on our own so that we can control our destiny—at least within the spaces we navigate each day. There is something to be said about not having to rely on anyone else to get what we want and need.
Yet, we are social creatures and are designed to depend on the physical and emotional resources we can offer one another. The goal is generally to find a healthy balance between being independent and dependent. Too much dependence comes off as clingy and needy. Being too independent can be just as unattractive and self-sabotaging. But both can be traced to our childhoods, relationships we have had, and relationships we witnessed as children. My drive to be overly independent stems from trauma.
While the desire to be self-sufficient in every aspect of my life was what I needed to survive for a long time, I don’t need this coping mechanism in the same way anymore. I recently saw words by Jamila White, via a Facebook meme, that spoke to my old ways of doing things. “Ultra-independence is a preemptive strike against heartbreak. So, you don’t trust anyone.” I know this and sometimes I still struggle to identify intuition vs. reaction to old wounds, but White’s succinct words about the connection between trauma, trust, and independence made me pause. It took me a long time to realize that my desire or push for independence stems from trust issues. Because if the people who were supposed to have protected me didn’t, then who besides myself was going to?
It has taken me nearly 40 of my 41 years to truly trust not just other people, but myself. This is not because of skepticism or lack of confidence, but rather a fear of being hurt accompanied by a lack of self-worth. After experiencing so much abuse and disappointment in my life, I created walls around myself. Since I didn’t feel loved, I didn’t believe I was worthy of it. I set boundaries that limited how close others could get to me while restraining the distance I let my heart wander. If I stopped trusting people or depending on them, I couldn’t get hurt or be disappointed. If I didn’t ask for something, I couldn’t be told no. If I didn’t expect anything, then my hopes couldn’t be shattered. If I kept bouncing back, then no one can hold me down.
When I found out I secured a second interview for a job I’m seeking, I was thrilled — then I went to a place that didn’t allow me to believe the job could be mine. If I don’t get my hopes up, I can’t be disappointed. If I don’t get the job, then it’s because I never really wanted it. Except I do. I really do. My partner called me out on this psychological dance I was doing with myself. She told me to go after this job as if it’s already mine. She knew why I was hesitating but encouraged me to lead with confidence and desire instead of letting the past sabotage my future. I needed to put all of myself into the interview even if it meant it may hurt worse if I don’t get the job.
Since being in my current relationship, I have learned that letting my walls down sometimes means falling apart, but it also means I can heal. Being in an emotionally safe and supportive partnership has allowed me to practice asking for the support I want and need. One of the most affirming phrases my partner says to me is I’m here. And then she stays. For a long time, I was afraid of emotional and physical abandonment. I was terrified I would lose her and the safety she provided, but she didn’t give me proof that was going to happen, so my choices were to trust her or push her away. When she pushed me to give myself permission to really want this position I applied for, I knew she was pushing me to believe in myself.
We jump through so many mental hoops to avoid pain, fear, or even general discomfort. We wear resiliency like a badge and throw our fists in the air in the name of independence. But the real magic doesn’t happen in those places. I didn’t fall in love with my partner through walls. And I won’t get this job without wanting it so badly that I will already feel the pain if I don’t.
During the interview, I was asked how I handle roadblocks when I’m up against them at work and in everyday situations. I told the team members that I knock them down. I can steamroll my way through any obstacle. I have set goals and achieved them. I have found workarounds. I have willed my way through some nasty shit. I also told them I am most successful when I know when to ask for help. I used to think vulnerability was weakness, but I have learned just how fucking tough it is to ask for what you need.
I am still stubbornly independent, but I am also becoming more comfortable in depending on others. The goal is no longer to avoid heartbreak; the goal is now to live knowing heartbreak will happen and that I will survive it when does, because I won’t try to get through alone.