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The Cost of Self-Reliance

A big part of healthy community and satisfying partnership is a consistent experience of collaboration and interdependence.  Self-reliance can be engaged in in a way that is at cost to these.

You know you have shifted into costly self-reliance when you find that you don't notice others as potential sources of support, in fact, you often just don't notice others.  You find yourself so busy taking care of things on your own that you forget to look up and invite others into your world.  When someone asks if they can help you, you often say "I got it" rather than seeing an opportunity for support and connection.  

This needs costing strategy of self-reliance usually arises from early life experiences in which you were left on your own when you needed support.  A common scenario is that older children often find themselves encouraged to give up their needs for the sake of younger siblings.  If your needs were ignored, you likely developed a core belief that people would never be there for you and so you stopped seeking help and worked hard to be competent on your own.

Left unchecked this core belief remains as the filter through which you experience all your relationships.  The result is that, while you may enjoy a sense of competence being self-reliant, you also hear yourself complaining that you have to be responsible for everything, that you and your partner live parallel lives, and that you often feel alone in the world.

Letting go of the strategy of self-reliance as a reaction to early life experiences, requires you to risk trusting others.  This can begin in the smallest of ways like letting someone hold the door for you or asking for help carrying in the groceries.  You can also take on particular practices for a day or week at a time, like:

  • Say "yes" to every offer of help
  • Make one request for help each day
  • Write down the support you received at the end of each day
  • Instead of asking yourself if you "need help", ask yourself if it would be fun and connecting to have help.
  • When you are accepting help notice what's happening in the moment - Are you worrying that you are burden?  Does the other person look pleased?  Is there more connection?  Are you hurrying through it?
  • Rather doing "divide and conquer" grocery shopping with your partner, stay together.
  • Reflect on times where you did enjoy collaboration and make a note of how you got there.
  • Review various parts of your life (health, money, career, parenting, creating, housekeeping, play) and ask yourself where more collaboration could happen.
  • Once a day, when you have the impulse to be alone, do the opposite and move toward connection with someone else.

One of the biggest gifts you can give yourself and others is acknowledging the truth of interdependence and living in accord with it.  This week look for opportunities to flow in the circle of giver, receiver, and gift.

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Offering “too much” Empathy
Previous Gem
The Caretaker Partner


2 Responses

  1. Aug 02, 2012
    Cathleen

    LaShelle, this week's gem on self-reliance had a powerful effect on me. I was that older daughter who was given so much responsibility for the younger siblings. In a large family it seemed the only need met was for survival! The clarity of your writing on this topic is so helpful to me as I have struggled with letting others into my life for various kinds of support.Thank you.

  2. Aug 05, 2012

    Dear Cathleen,

    I am very happy to hear this was supportive. I hope you continue to find ways to let support in.

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