From Dependence to Independence to Interdependence, Part 2

One aspect of our psychological growth is the movement from dependence to independence to interdependence. In this second of a three-part series, we look at what independence is, how we develop it and how it prepares us for interdependence.

Part 2: Independence — Developing Our Own Style

Part of the story of our aging is becoming more of ourselves — developing our own voice, our own way of seeing, and a distinct way of acting in the world (our style). To be dependent on our parents’ approval when young is natural (though children often put up startling resistance to their parents’ evaluations) but in adulthood would be very restricting.

Independence is more than rebellion. It can be part of independence to voice disagreement and demonstrate our difference, but this is far from the whole story. The rebellious are often dependent on those they rebel against. To automatically disagree with the other person means that the other can control what we will say — and this is not independence.

How do we develop independence? I think there are at least four elements.

  1. Acknowledging our need. Our interest is captured by what matches our needs and desires (from a drink of water, to serenity to spiritual transformation). From this our action emerges. To pretend that we are self-sufficient (entirely independent) would mean that the process never begins. Independence includes our dependence and goes beyond it — it doesn’t deny it.
  2. Try out different options for meeting it. If we have a simple need (e.g. to quench my thirst) the options for meeting it may be straightforward. If the need is more complex (a marriage of delight) then much more experimentation is likely to be needed. (For a marriage of delight there may be things like: a mix of spontaneous and planned sex, sharing of chores, suitable diet, exercise, sufficient income, evaluating how hobbies and recreation will be shared, relating to existing friends and making new ones…and so on.)
  3. Gaining a sense of which way works for us — our own way of going about things. As we try out different options we find the ones that work. And, if there is more than one, we select what works for us. (There are many ways to paint a tree — this is my style. There are many ways to be married — we choose to go out to work and come home to the same house. My way of relating values clarity.)
  4. Gradually we develop a sense of our overall style or lifestyle. Having worked through options in a number of areas we have a sense that they add up to something. For me it is things like: concern for the core issue or idea and not worrying so much about the details (whether in philosophy or talking through a relationship problem), and a sense of authenticity (I dislike fakeness in both relationships and art).

In my experience people with a firm sense of who they are, and what they may be able to contribute, are easier to work with. Independence is the ground from which interdependence may grow.

Do you have a sense of your independence — your own uniqueness and style? Do you feel like this is a work in progress or that you have become reasonably settled with it? Are there particular people and places where it is easier or harder to be independent for you? What would you say is your style? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.

Part 3 of this three-part series focuses on interdependence.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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