What about Interdependence?

This post was inspired by the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, which I am hosting this month! You still have until midnight tonight to submit your own articles for inclusion.

Thanks to a suggestion by Marj of Survivors Can Thrive, the theme this month is Independence.

Like I stated briefly earlier, thoughts about independence soon lead me to thoughts about dependence, unmet dependency needs in trauma survivors and ultimately interdependence.

American culture is really big on independence. I think it goes hand in hand with the whole pull yourself up by your bootstraps line of thinking. Some psychological theories also seem to highlight independence as the goal for well functioning adults, with the reverse, dependence seen as something negative or even pathological. In truth, I think functioning too much at either either extreme can be unhealthy and less than optimal.  I see another alternative, that of fully functioning, autonomous and yet connected individuals. That alternative is interdependence.

Interdependence is the best of both worlds. It acknowledges the value and necessity of both our independence and dependence upon each other. To me it speaks to the importance of not only taking care of ourselves but of each other. It addresses the power of connection and community. As Gandhi said:

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being. Without interrelation with society he cannot realize his oneness with the universe or suppress his egotism. His social interdependence enables him to test his faith and to prove himself on the touchstone of reality

Every child has “normal” dependency needs. Meeting these is what secure attachment is all about. I really like how Dr. Marsha Lucas describes the benefits of secure attachment in her recent blog post about this very same subject:

One of the key outcomes of healthy, secure attachment between a child and his parent is that it creates a level of organization and integration in the brain that bodes well for the child’s entire life. It supports greater emotional resiliency, more attuned communication, response flexibility, improved empathy, and better insight, to name just a few.

Too often a child’s dependency needs are not adequately met, for example in the case of the ineffective family environment. When this is further complicated by experiences of trauma, such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse, the brain does not develop optimally;  the skills and capacities outlined above may instead be lacking.

In adulthood, this lack of secure attachment and unmet dependency needs can look like either extreme independence or dependence. Trauma survivors may adopt a fiercely independent stance. Some ways this can show up  are social isolation, focusing on meeting the needs of others instead of your own or a relationship pattern of picking emotionally unavailable or distant friends and/or partners.

The other end of the spectrum is unhealthy dependency, the ongoing search for someone to meet one’s childhood dependency needs. This can take the form of trusting too soon/over sharing, losing oneself in a relationship or expecting needs to be met in ways that are unrealistic in adulthood. Dependency is often a tricky subject in therapy. It is certainly common for trauma survivors to re-experience dependency longings and the emergence of their unmet needs in the context of the therapy relationship. At different points in therapy it may also be necessary and part of the healing process to be able to depend upon your therapist in some ways. Sorting all this out is the work of forming a good enough therapeutic alliance!

The good news is that it is possible to experience interdependence even if you missed out on a secure attachment in childhood.  You can develop what Dan Siegel refers to  as an “earned secure attachment”  through experiences such as therapy, mindfulness and/or positive relationships later in life.

In closing I’d like to share this Declaration of Interdependence by Tom Atlee:

We hold this truth to be self-evident:
We are All.
In This.

Therefore we live this truth
in our lives, communities and societies,
and thrive together into a long future
that we create together.

We are the world
that is awakening
to both the fact and the opportunity
of our interdependence —
fully, finally and beyond a shadow of doubt.

We are the world
who are making
ourselves a good world
that works for all people and all life.
Because we know the Greatest Secret
of All:

“We are All
in this

Thank you for reading this and participating in this month’s Blog Carnival, it is in fact a powerful example of how we can be in this work of healing together.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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9 Responses to What about Interdependence?

  1. katie says:

    that is terrific!!! thank you so much for writing this and for hosting the carnival this month. i always enjoy reading your posts and they always seem to have more than one “zinger” for me. something that rings really true and feels very resonant. this one feels especially helpful. i’ve worked hard to forge my own middle path of healthy dependence and independence balanced together.

    thank you so much~

  2. Pingback: July 2010 Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse: Independence « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  3. Excellent post, Dr. Young! I wrote a bit about interdependence, too, as you inspired me!

    This post is also timely for me, as I have been talking a lot with my own therapist lately about attachment issues. I love the Tom Atlee poem, too! Thanks for all you do!

  4. Kathleen – it’s great to see this issue brought up here…..Susan @zebraspolkadots

  5. Josephine says:

    This is such a timely topic, especially the piece on Interdependence. I am in therapy right now for PTSD (trauma) (abuse) and the hardest part was first to trust my therapist, and now a seemingly harder part is how not to be so independent and isolated. Unfortunately I made a promise to myself years ago that I would never need anyone or anything again. However during therapy the process has started to melt my walls and defenses and I have started to feel connected and close which fills me with fear, but at the same time with a feeling of finally being alive inside. But I am terrified of becoming dependent upon my therapist, so much so that I refused to do our usual weekly check-in call last week, and I really messed up and was self destructive and numbed out without that secure, stable force because of that decision to not call my therapist. I don’t know the middle ground of dependence and independence, and thus feel lost and at times want to run for the hills right out of therapy. Other times I miss my therapist, seeing him as a stable force in my life right now, but then I become afraid of dependence, and pull back. I am hoping that perhaps both a therapist and a client would comment on finding the middle ground in therapy between dependence and independence, kind of like developing a healthy dependence and a healthy independence. Along with those insights I would appreciate reading about the therapeutic relationship from both a trauma/abuse client and therapist viewpoint, especially a relationship that is filled with intense feelings on both sides of the room related to trust, mistrust, longing, warm feelings, feeling understood, respect, vulnerability, anger, hate, and yes, even love. By love I am referring to an agape kind of love related to willing the good of another, respecting the other person, admiration, and just plain caring about someone, and not erotic love.

  6. Pingback: Freedom and Trauma Survivors | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma

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