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.
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.
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
“We are All
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.