I saw a quote posted on Facebook the other day that read, "The smartest thing a woman could ever learn is never to need a man."
I'm all for female empowerment, I advocate against co-dependency, I do think a woman should always try and maintain some financial independence, and I definitely know what it feels like to be pathologically dependent on a man.
However, dependency (along with its close cousin independency) is very often misunderstood in our culture, and within the personal growth movement we're all engaged in.
It becomes even more complicated when you try and understand it within the context of gender roles and love relationships.
In general we turn our backs on dependency, and look at it with repulsion and disgust.
Dependency is considered a weakness, immature and unevolved. Needing someone makes us needy, and neediness is simply unattractive.
We're taught to be strong, independent, and capable which too often transforms into pathological self-sufficiency.
This is true for both men and women because it's a cultural phenomenon that doesn't discriminate.
Like most of the conditioning we receive as part of our development, the messages around avoiding dependency lead us down a path of isolation and alienation.
We're afraid to express our needs because it's too risky and exposing.
As a result, we feel unsatisfied and frustrated struggling to survive as the independent souls we're expected to be.
The origins of dependency
In order to understand the true and healthy version of dependency we have to go back in time to when you were an itty-bitty baby where you experienced the most primitive form of dependency.
We are all born with a built in survival mechanism that only works if there is someone in the environment we can depend on.
At the bare minimum every child needs to be fed and held in order to survive. The lucky ones also get to be changed, talked to, sung to and played with.
Over time this dependency organically lessens as you grow more independent, but the deep-rooted need to be loved, held, seen and fed never goes away.
You may not need someone to hold the spoon or rock you to sleep, but you definitely need another person to tenderly embrace you and lovingly nourish you.
These are some of the most fundamental needs we have as human beings.
In this way the dependency you experience as an adult is very much rooted in your experiences of dependency as a young child.
An Inadequate Environment
In many cases an inadequate environment thwarts healthy dependency.
If you were not attended to and were unable to rely on your caregivers, or if a proper support system wasn't in place than you would have had to adapt in one of two ways:
1. Cry more loudly (become needy)
2. Withdraw (become pathologically independent)
These ways of relating get carried into our relational world as adults and create dissatisfaction and struggle in our love relationships.
What many people don't realize is that you have to have a healthy experience of dependency before you can become fully independent.
Where does one get a healthy experience of dependency when the original environment didn't provide it?
You have to find it in the same form that you originally needed it.
You find it in relationship to another trusted human being.
When healthy dependency has not been experienced it needs to be healed and trust needs to be repaired.
What is healthy dependency?
What adult women (and men) need to understand about healthy dependency is that:
It doesn't have to mean self-sacrifice.
It doesn't equate with helplessness.
It doesn't make you weak.
It doesn't mean you're incapable.
When you can choose dependency, and approach it as a necessary part of your human development it becomes something to welcome and embrace; not something to fear and avoid.
When you allow yourself to be dependent you're opening to your own need of the other, and you're building a sense of intimacy and trust.
You're saying, "I'm going to let you support me because I trust that you will be there when I need you."
It's more than likely that you have had some negative experiences with dependency even as an adult.
You may have learned through experience and throughout your life that people let you down.
You've tried to lean on family, friends and lovers only to be disappointed and hurt when they fail to be the rock you need.
The truth is that being in relationship to others is risky because humans are prone to error.
I'm not perfect, your not perfect, your parents weren't perfect, thus you can't expect everyone in your life to be and do everything you want all of the time.
Dependency comes with risk, but risk brings growth, and growth brings healing.
The key to finding a healing experience around dependency is rooted in making good choices about on whom you depend.
Some people aren't reliable and cannot be trusted. It's often hard to tell, but by testing the waters slowly you'll learn over time whether someone is worthy of your dependency.
You cannot will yourself into independence or into being more dependent in the same way you can't will yourself to love.
The ability to comfortably and safely depend is a capacity that grows through positive experiences and outcomes.
Here are 3 practices to help you move toward dependency with the person you love:
Ask for help. If you struggle with dependency than you probably hate asking for help from anyone. Allowing yourself to ask for the smallest favor will push you out of your independent comfort zone. The response isn't nearly as important as the act, so just be proud of yourself for trying even if your need goes unmet.
Be Vulnerable. Asking for what you need from your partner is a form of dependency because you're admitting that you can't fully satisfy yourself. We're taught to meet all of our own needs, but the truth is that our partners want to feel needed and they thrive on providing us with something we don't already have. Whether it's more time, more sex, or more alone time, don't be afraid to go after what you want.
Assign a task. Give your partner something to complete or take care of. It's easy to handle everything on your own so you don't have to worry about being let down, but take the risk of delegating. You can't build trust and learn how much you can depend on your partner unless you let them show up for you.
As you begin to notice where and how you depend you'll come to understand where you might be protecting yourself from being hurt and where you allow yourself the freedom to need another person.
Work toward freeing yourself from old wounds so you can pave the way to deep and trusting relationships with the people who care about you and want to be there for you.