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Here’s a question I often ask clients. As I tell them, it’s really a trick question: Is it better to be independent or dependent? If you’re like many of my clients, I bet you answered with “independent.” The answer is that being independent is not better than being dependent. They are of equal value. We need both qualities to live long and prosper.
As Kenny Rogers croons in his hit song, “The Gambler,” “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” He’s saying that both strategies are essential to winning. The same is true in the game of life. You need to employ both strategies, knowing when to be autonomous and do things yourself because you’re resourceful and capable. And, equally, you need to know when to solicit and accept help when you’re trying to solve a problem and are unable to do it or do it well alone.
You may struggle against dependence because you’re hung up on “doing it myself” and are uncomfortable seeking help. You may insist, “I don’t need help. I can do it myself. I hate asking for help.” This attitude indicates that your childhood likely made it difficult for you to comfortably ask for or receive help. Maybe you were burdened by having to do too much as a child—caring for siblings or an alcoholic or mentally ill parent, or you were forced into the parental role because a parent was absent or neglectful. Or you received praise for being self-reliant, but shaming or criticism when you sought assistance. An “independent” only mindset comes from having had no choice but to go it alone, so that seeking help seems futile and weak and makes you uncomfortable.
It is far better to tailor problem-solving strategies to resources and situations. If you can’t get something done without help, then it’s time to ask for and get it. Having a rigid stance of independence (or dependence, for that matter) is counterproductive. If you insist on solving every problem alone, you’re more likely to fail and blame yourself. Then you’ll try again and fail and perhaps eventually even stop trying. If you had asked for help—medication, a loan, whatever—you’d have had a stronger chance at succeeding.
The point is to get the problem solved or the job done, period. If you have a flat tire, it doesn’t matter if you change it yourself or call AAA or accept help from a passer-by. The goal is to get the tire changed and get you to your destination. Consider whether you’re out of balance and so uncomfortable with dependence that you generally neither seek nor accept assistance. If you want to reduce stress and unwanted eating, move out of your comfort zone and ask for help. Learn to be both independent and dependent.
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