Self Improvement — 03 October 2009
Overcoming the illusion of self-sufficiency

Autonomy and self-sufficiency are highly promoted values in our culture. Many people feel pride in achieving autonomy and shame or dread when they find themselves needing others. This idealized view of self-reliance is an indulgence of self-superiority that is untrue and can be damaging.

Good parents foster independence, autonomy and personal accomplishments in their children as preparation for effective adulthood. Children are praised and esteemed for learning to tie their shoes, make their bed, read, and become more self-reliant as they mature.

Dependency is disrespected in our culture. People who are predominantly dependent on others may be viewed as weak, ineffective, needy, burdensome, and to be avoided.

These cultural values may preprogram some self-reliant individuals to view themselves as being healthy and safer in not needing the assistance of others. Some even feel belittled when they encounter a situation that they cannot conquer on their own.

John Donne, the sixteenth century writer/poet, taught us that, “No man is an Island, entire of itself” Philosophers have long urged us to believe that all humans are interconnected and interdependent.

Research Psychologist, Carol Gilligan wrote: “To see self sufficiency as the hallmark of maturity, conveys a view of adult life that is at odds with the human condition”. Most people do depend on many others to merely survive.

Personal autonomy, the ability to care for oneself, be financially responsible and run one’s affairs autonomously is sometimes misperceived as not needing others. Emotional needs for support, love and friendship are often overlooked as people refer to their self-reliance.

Realistically, even the most competent people find in their day-to-day life the need for practical assistance and emotional support of friends and family. From the arrival of a newborn, to shuttling children to their various activities, to making parenting decisions, to managing home, careers, and family, couples are quickly awaken to the realization that even two people are insufficient in juggling it all alone. In times of stress, injury or illness those needs are further accentuated.

Many individuals feel belittled by their need to receive the helping hand of others. They perceive this inevitable state as a sign of weakness, powerlessness, incompetency, or even failure. In many situations, those who resist help make life harder for themselves and may even jeopardize their own or their family’s health.

To be able to ask for help requires the acceptance of our limitations, which is not synonymous with weakness or ineptitude. The Buddhist perspective in the “DailyOm, addresses this issue in ‘The Wisdom of Surrender, Relying On Others’, “It takes wisdom and strength to surrender to our own helplessness, and accept that we, just like every other human being, have limitations. The gifts of surrender are numerous. We discover humility, gratitude, and the deepening understanding of the human experience that enables us to be that much more compassionate and surrendered in the world.”

Those who are more receptive to expressing their needs, asking for help and feeling gratitude for receiving it, are more connected people who understand that that our connection to each other is a blessing.

If you are an individual who avoids asking for help,

• Understand that needing others is not a sign of failure or incompetence. It is a universal state of all capable and self- sufficient individuals.
• Distinguish the difference between ongoing neediness and shared assistance.
• Offer and provide help to those who seem to need it with compassion, respect and kindness.
• Abstain from feeling superior when you offer help or shame when you receive it.
• Accept help with gratitude as you enable others to be kind and generous.
• View giving or receiving assistance, love and friendship as a gift to both parties. We are social animals acculturated to being interconnected.
• Be grateful for the tenderness you develop with others as a giver or receiver. Sharing human intimacy is the highest state of our being.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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