How do you know when you are fully grown up as an adult? Some psychologists use the term, “fully self-actualized” to describe this achievement. I take a different approach to the problem. I don’t think we are ever fully actualized, or fully grown-up. I think there is always something more to learn about yourself and more to learn from others. Even the act of dying is a learning experience that you only do once. I don’t think you stop learning until you take your last breath.
You can certainly make the case that success in life may be measured by the quality of your relationships. They are the vehicles that carry forward all that you believe and are imprinted with your contagious emotions. They are the vapor trail of your life.
Strong relationships can act as a benchmark of the psychologically mature adult because there are many complex tasks required to achieve lasting relationships. You must understand how to listen, how to achieve the balance between care for self and others, and how to learn and grow. You must learn to be humble and how to heal your mistakes. You need to appreciate the power of a role such as a parent, grandparent or in-law and learn how to be yourself in that role. Relationships require many social skills and certainly can be a measure of the person.
Not all relationships are an equal test of psychological maturity. Love relationships act as the ultimate litmus test. Superficial relationships based on circumstances like work friendships or neighbors make limited demands for shared experiences. Love relationships like marriage or family demand extensive shared experiences and are the most complicated.
Love makes things complex because it is based on the rules of attachment that the people you first loved, your parents, taught you from a very early age. They are confounded by your parent’s imperfections and fears that were passed on to you and repeated in all your love connections. They are the basis for high levels of fear, shame, and guilt.
These fears don’t surface or aren’t as strong in casual relationships. The relationship doesn’t require the same level of emotional investment. It’s the reason why a powerful CEO of a company can be aggressive at work and passive at home. Business relationships are based on power. Marriage is based on sharing. The rules are different. As a result, marriage and family provide the most difficult emotional test to build healthy and independent connections.
But I think there is something more to the story. Good relationships, especially love relationships are based on something else. I believe that something else is self-reliance.
Self-reliance is the foundation for independence. At first glance, independence may seem at odds with attachment. Independence seems more self-oriented than other-oriented. I do not believe that is true. Self-reliance does not mean that you dismiss everyone else and only listen to yourself. It means that you look for the truth in your own position and in the beliefs of others. Self-reliant people judge the world around them based on a set of principles that are under continuous review for the truth. Differences are addressed through negotiation and compromise rather than dismissal. They look for the larger truth that enables them to take a piece of each person’s position.
Self-reliance is the ability to listen to yourself in a crowd, especially your family. It is the capacity to stand up for what you believe, knowing that it may not be well received, dismissed, or rejected outright. Fear of disconnection or abandonment is never the basis for attachment. You form relationships where the investment in emotional intimacy is mutual and emotional learning takes place.
Once you adopt this perspective, you can now form healthy relationships. You attach to others based on mutual values, striking a balance between your own needs and the needs of others. You are not dependent, co-dependent, or excessively independent. You form independent connections based on a mutual search for an honest answer. Rather than dependent relationships of obligation, real relationships become bonds of shared values, validation, and mutual respect.
Developing self-reliance is not an easy task. You are born into dependency, reliant on your parent’s for survival. You get love and affection for following the rules. You get punished for being disobedient. You become trained to be dependent.
Teen years introduce new ideas and ways of doing things. You see how the families of your friends act. You compare the rules in your family to the rules in other’s families. You start to question, talk back, and do things your way. You begin to rebel.
If you have the good fortune of being in a healthy family, your parents try to listen and not take your rebellion personally. They overlook your potentially bad style and try to address the reasonable portion of your opinions. They try not to shame you or guilt you into surrender.
In an unhealthy family, your parents try to put you back into place. They discount what you have to say, and focus on your style rather than your substance. They make you the problem and attack your character as selfish, weak, lazy or stupid. They try to make you doubt yourself and give up your stand. Worse, they confuse you even more by justifying their dishonesty. These unhealthy parents claim it hurts them more than it hurts you when nothing could be further from the truth.
Standing up to your parents forges your independence and enables you to become self-reliant. You develop pride in your ability to manage life on your own. You don’t depend on them if you can help it. You get your own job and source of money. You make your own decisions about career or interests. You date whomever you want to date and live where you want to live.
These are not selfish choices, but choices that you have a right to make, just as your parents hopefully did. You are merely asserting your right to”…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are natural rights that all people share in common.
Once you give yourself the right to pursue your goals and dreams be self-reliant, you realize psychological rewards.
Here are the top 5 benefits of being self-reliant and independent:
The phrase, “Know thyself” was inscribed in the Oracle of Delphi by the Greeks several thousand years ago. That phrase is as true now as it was back then. Human behavior has always been complex, especially when it comes to integrating thinking and feeling. Emotion is especially tricky. You develop the ability to suppress your emotions as a child and continue to hide your emotions as an adult.
The result of hiding emotion is that you truly do not know how you feel at any given moment, but you know how you think. You can hear your own self-talk in your mind, including competing thoughts that are very confusing and distressing.
You need to identify the emotions behind the thoughts to truly understand your reactions. However, without knowing the feelings that give rise to your thoughts, you can’t identify the emotional base for your beliefs.
Identifying the emotional root cause for your thoughts is necessary to discern what emotions reflect the real you and which ones reveal what you have been taught. The risk is that you can’t tell who you are or what you believe from the way you were raised.
Self-reliance requires that you make this distinction. You must learn which emotions are telling you the truth that you believe and which emotions tell you the truth according to others, from your parents to your teachers to your religious and political leaders. Only you can know your own truth and forge your own beliefs. Insight and introspection bring self-knowledge and enable the birth of your independence.
Benefit #2: Standing alone
Too many relationships are held together by fear. This happens because the first relationship you experienced, the parent-child relationship is based on fear. As a child, you learn to do what you are told to avoid the rejection of your parents. You experience this rejection as an emotional distance from them, a form of emotional abandonment. You need them so badly that any distance from them feels threatening to your emotional well-being. You need to stay in their good graces or risk being on your own. This state is terrifying to a small child. The threat of disconnection from their parents will make most children instantly start to cry.
Everyone is born dependent on their parents, so we all know what the experience of emotional rejection feels like. That fear follows you as an adult into your relationships and presents a challenge anytime a difference of opinion surfaces.
Conflict brings the threat of disconnection. You can hopefully resolve differences through compromise or negotiation. However, the fear of emotional distance causes many people to automatically surrender, forging dependent connections where imbalance reigns. The fear of disapproval or rejection causes many to abandon their cause. Independence is surrendered to avoid being alone.
Self-reliance is forged anytime you choose to hold onto your position in the face of disapproval from another. With each time you withstand the test to the relationship, you grow less afraid of being alone. You learn that these tests are growing pains to claim your independence.
One vital point of learning is that you learn to tell the difference between being alone and being lonely. Being alone in the service of yourself is a good thing. You grow your fighting spirit. Feeling lonely is never a good thing. If it comes from feeling sad that you are unwanted, you are experiencing separation anxiety and need to reorganize your approach to your own emotions.
Hopefully, the time spent alone is not forever and is only temporary. Sometimes people need time to resolve their emotional reactions to situations and come around to accept your position if given time. In some cases, the damage to the relationship is not repairable, and permanent distance is the result. Coping with either outcome without surrender gives you the ability to be alone without being lonely.
Benefit #3: Increased confidence
Confidence is created through success. I am not talking about success in the usual manner. I am not talking about success through achievement. I am talking about success in coping with your own emotions, especially the core fear of separation. Each time you stand up for yourself and risk rejection, your ability to be independent grows. The history of self-reliance grows your confidence and belief in yourself.
The greatest challenge to self-reliance and confidence comes from your family. Every family is some good and some bad. In healthy families, the bad is admitted. In unhealthy families, one or more people are targeted as the cause of the problem. Problems are denied, leaving the family members who are the messengers to be isolated and ganged up on.
Family denial presents the strongest test of your independence and self-reliance. On some unfortunate occasions, you need to stand up for what you believe in regardless of the potential for rejection and family ridicule. This conflict with the family creates the greatest challenge to independence and confidence. Face the challenge and your confidence grows. Avoid the challenge and you swallow emotions that poison your self-worth.
Benefit #4: Strong, independent relationships
Self-reliant individuals build strong bonds with others. In those kinds of relationships, each person openly shares their opinions and values. They come together to share mutual values and honest emotions. They attach through shared ideals and connect through strengths.
That is the easy part and creates the honeymoon period of a relationship. The next part is the harder part. In a strong relationship, you must also connect through weaknesses. Weaknesses emerge when a person says one thing and does another. When words do not match actions, some emotional dishonesty has occurred. Some conflict inevitably emerges from this situation. One or both of the partners are disappointed. They must determine where the emotional dishonesty originated and take responsibility to fix the problem. Once identified, they must now heal the situation through contrition and reparation.
Contrition is the act of sorrow, an apology for one’s actions. There are sadness and humility present. There are no excuses made (“It wasn’t my fault”) or explained away (“I didn’t mean it”). The sadness is obvious. This is different than the hollow apology like “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “You are entitled to your perception”. The offended person is expected to be angry and not required to stop being mad (“Give me a break. I said I was sorry”).
Reparation is the process of restoring trust in the relationship. The person recognizes that they must rebuild trust. It begins by stating the work the person must do to understand better their own actions, and admits to the emotional root cause of their actions. Hope for a different future is restored by the awareness and admission of emotions that were previously denied.
Benefit #5: Leadership
Self-reliance creates the capacity to lead others. Leaders are alone at the top. They must be comfortable with that position and not feel lonely because they are left alone. They must have a clear vision for what they want to do and convince others to adopt their view of the problem. They must have expertise in addressing the resistance of others to their ideas without alienating the dissenters. They must know when to be angry, when to be humble, and when to withdraw.
Leaders cannot take conflict personally. They must be able to understand that groups naturally test the leader, and they are not being personally attacked. They must be able to focus on the content and ignore the style.
Self-reliance comes from self-knowledge. To handle all the tasks of the leader, you must be able to read your own emotions and admit your own personal insecurities. It’s easy to know your strengths. It’s even harder to admit your weaknesses, especially in front of a group. Acceptance of the limits those weaknesses bring you is important to know and manage as a leader. It opens the door to need others to help you, and to accept their help without feeling diminished.
Learning to be independent is one of the keys to developing strong relationships and one key to a successful life. If you can measure success by the quality of your relationships, being self-reliant is vital to creating independent connections. Self-reliance enables emotional honesty, a cornerstone of loving relationships where shared experience is required.
Self-reliance has many other psychological benefits. A self-reliant individual knows the difference between who they are and how they were raised, and how to recognize their natural emotions. They can use this knowledge to stand up for themselves in a crowd and develop self-confidence. They become more independent and able to assume the responsibilities of leadership.