Relying on Yourself and Relying on Others
A Connection Gem reader recently wrote with a question about being self-reliant versus looking to others and making requests. This is a question I hear often.
Perhaps the most important thing to examine when contemplating this question is interdependence and self-responsibility and the relationship between them. First, every facet of your life relies on the functioning of others. You might like to think of yourself as independent and capable of handling most things on our own. Thinking this way can give you an illusion of control and security perhaps. But from the air you breath to the many hands that bring you food and water you are interdependent. And not just for these concrete things. Research is ever more clear that without others around, you will soon become emotionally and psychologically dis-regulated (go a bit crazy) and with loving others around you become ever more healthy and resilient.
The question then isn't whether you are self-reliant or independent enough, but how you are interdependent. Looked at in this way, when you are asking yourself if you should be more self-reliant, you are really asking if you are engaging in this web of interdependence in responsible ways. Knowing what's responsible behavior and what's not requires careful reflection and consideration. Here are three ways to reflect on your decisions that will help you live responsibly:
CONTEXT: Ask yourself with whom, where, and when are you attempting to meet which needs? For example, if you are assuming that you are in a partnership to meet needs for ease, comfort, and affection and your partner thinks the relationship is about growth and collaboration, you might find yourself in a disquieting number of conflicts with your partner.
Discerning with whom, where, and when you are attempting to meet which needs requires your consistent attention and reflection. This is how you build internal reliance and wisdom. When you don't take the time to reflect consistently on your experience, toxins like alienation from self and others or codependence seep into your relationships.
IMPACT & MUTUALITY: How does the way you go about meeting your needs impact others? Are you attending to mutuality? That is, are you offering as much as you are receiving in a particular relationship or in the larger scope of all your relationships. Ask for feedback about the boundaries of what works and doesn't work for others to assess impact and mutuality. This takes you out of doubts and persistent thoughts about whether you should or shouldn't make requests around particular needs, and into actual experiential data. Here are some examples of asking for feedback:
Hey, I was wondering if bringing up that topic with you was a little much last night? How did it land for you?
I am not quite sure if this is an okay request in this group, does it fit here?
I want to check in about our time together, is it feeling mutual to you? Are you having the space you want to be heard?
I've asked for reassurance a couple of times this week, do you have space for that?
How was it for you when I asked for advice about finances, I don't want to feel like you are at work when we hang out?
TENDER NEEDS. You likely have one or two needs that come up more frequently than others. Usually those one or two are some version of safety, belonging, support, autonomy, appreciation, acceptance, being seen/heard, love, and inclusion. I use the term tender needs to refer to needs that are surrounded by limiting beliefs (e.g., the world is a harsh place, I will always be abandoned, people only love me for what I do for them, etc.). These beliefs and the mental, physical, and emotional habits that go with them create a sense of tenderness, sensitivity, or reactivity each time the need arises. When you are unconscious about these needs, they often get expressed through demands, criticism, anger storms, or withdrawing. Whether you approach these tender needs consciously or unconsciously it's not fair to your partner to only work with these needs within the relationship.
This brings us back to step 1. It's up to you to discern with whom, where, and when you get support to shift the limiting beliefs around particular needs. In other words, you might look for support outside the relationship to create healing around these tender needs, rather than trying to get your partner to act in some perfect way so you don't get reactive and feel the pain of unhealed wounds.*
As a student of Compassionate Communication (NVC), it's also helpful to remember that most who are attempting to really integrate NVC go through a stage of development that the founder, Marshall Rosenberg, called "obnoxious giraffe". This is a stage in which you might find yourself or someone else reclaiming neglected needs with a robust energy that isn't always skillful and considerate. Learning to relate subtly to yourself and others means making lots of mistakes and bumbling around a bit.
As you consider the question of relying on yourself on relying on others, I offer that you could use that as an opportunity to shift paradigms completely. I invite you to consider that even when you are "alone" at home or doing something on your own that you find nourishing, you are still relying on others and you are experiencing infinite layers of support. I think of one of my spiritual teachers who was with me at a pivotal time in my life. Because he was able to remain so deeply present for me during that time, I now have access to meeting particular needs by sitting "alone" in meditation, for example. And, as he has told me many times, I repay his kindness and bring meaning to his life by thriving and contributing to others and so the circle of giver, receiver, and gift moves round and round.
This week as you are alone doing something nourishing for yourself, take a minute or two to reflect on the many beings, both past and present, supporting you in that activity.
*For more on this topic go here: http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/post/767