Accepting Our Dependence

Accepting our physical dependence is easy. We rely on oxygen, nourishment and so on without a thought. Accepting our dependence on other people can often be much trickier.

We live in a culture that values independence and self-sufficiency. It is hard to feel good about our dependence.

This can lead to problems in our relationships. For instance, it means that we value being relied on and able to help but aren’t so comfortable asking for help. This is a set-up for exhaustion and quite possibly burnout.

Accepting our physical dependence is easy. We rely on oxygen, nourishment and so on without a thought. Accepting our dependence on other people can often be much trickier.

One reason we dislike being dependent on others may be that people have let us down in the past. People are less reliable than the air around us. Even if they are well intentioned, they can do things that hurt us.

Perhaps it is to do with needing to grow away from dependence on our parents. There aren’t a lot of rights of passage in our Western cultures to help make this transition.

We know we are vulnerable to others and their opinions. We know we can be hurt by what others say to us and about us. We will often go to great lengths to fit in with what others think about us. I don’t mean to say that this is a bad thing; I mean to point out that it is a big part of our life — and yet, we often seem uncomfortable with it.

Our response it seems to me is often to attempt to harden ourselves, to attempt to become self-sufficient — at least emotionally. This will often make us less receptive and so we will have a larger emotional deficit, which is likely to have us more emotionally dependent — not less.

Even if we could become indifferent to others’ feelings, and I’m not sure that we can, I’m not sure it would be desirable. Compassion seems a valuable thing to me. And compassion does need to take account of others’ feelings I think. (Much else too, but I think sensitivity to feeling needs to be included. Otherwise it is likely to be ‘cold charity’.)

What does it take to accept our dependence?

I think it takes a safe place. We won’t want to be dependent where it is dangerous. This means working on our relationships as we can, so that we do have people that we trust in our lives.
I think it takes a willingness to see that we are dependent, and to see this in specific detail — not just that I am affected by others in general, but that I need to complimented on how well I cooked that meal, or typed that letter at work.

I think it takes a willingness to ask for what we need and want. There is a myth (I think) that if someone gives us something because we asked for it, then it doesn’t count. It can be a delightful surprise when people discover what we need and give it to us spontaneously — a smile or a hug or an offer to help us with a job we have taken on. But if they are willing to help when we ask, then I think that this counts too. If we aren’t willing to ask, we can become resentful that people don’t offer (effectively resenting that they can’t read my mind).

What are the benefits?

I think there are at least two:

  • Relaxation. Maintaining the attempt at self-sufficiency is awfully tiring.
  • A more intelligent appreciation of ourselves and our environment. We can become more aware of our own needs, and so more aware of what is available in our environment to meet these needs. This brings us the possibility of more effective action.

If we know that we need support to achieve a particular goal, then we can look around for the support we need (expertise in designing a house, help with making a meal, instruction in how to play an instrument, whatever it happens to be). We can then use this support, find ways to compensate if it is not available, or choose not to pursue what we don’t have the resources to do.

If we are willing to accept our dependence, I think that we will live with less stress and more effectiveness.

I would like to hear about your feelings about dependence. Do you find it easy or difficult to accept? Perhaps you feel that I’ve got it wrong and that emotional self-sufficiency is a worthy goal. I would like to hear your experience in the comments.

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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