In a previous post, we looked at two opposing forces in each of us – the need for intimacy and the need for independence. The need for independence is a healthy sign and a normal part of the human development process. In order to truly bring out our unique human potential, independence is crucial. We cannot bring out our innate capacities, if we behave like the crowd. And since contentment and peace in life results from the creative expression of ourselves, independence is of prime importance.
It is important to understand at this stage that independence does not mean being indifferent to the needs of others – an obsessive need to refuse any sort of help from others. This is not true independence. Such behavior often results from being disappointed – being let down – by someone we love. We see this in young children, who have not had a chance to form a secure attachment with at least one of their parents. Such people, tend to compensate this early deprivation by over asserting their independence. They want to live independently. They want to manage everything on their own. They find it extremely hard to ask or recieve help from others. Since such independence is a reaction to a lack of love, it is not built of self-comfort. The best way to notice if we have such traits is when people are kind to us. Do we feel ‘weird’? Is there a squirming feeling in our stomach and chest? Do our minds say ‘why is this person doing so much to me?’. People with such an overbearing need for independence are usually afraid. Afraid that the other person will bring back the memories of disappointments. And that this would make one weak and helpless. This makes such people build very strong emotional walls to keep themself safe. And as we know, the stronger the walls, the greater the fear of them collapsing. Obsessively independent people are also looking for love. But they just cannot overcome their past. They do not trust in the fact that they are deserving of love and that there are people who care for them.
A person who is truly independent is also free. Free from what? Free from the need to constantly assert one’s independence. Such people are not afraid of being open, honest and vulnerable to others. They offer and take help easily. They acknowledge that nobody is perfect and they learn to rely on others when there is a specific need. However, they are quite capable of managing things themselves when no one is around.
The other need is the need for intimacy. What does intimacy mean? Is essence, it is the feeling of being completely open, honest and vulnerable to someone. It is the feeling where one can come home after a hard day and just cry or unload one’s troubles. Intimacy works both ways. The person at the other end must be capable of non-judgemental listening. They must truly listen – without distraction and with the intention that one wants to be there for the other. On the other end, we must be open, vulnerable and be capable of communicating our feelings and emotions with clarity. Good intimacy is based on open communication. Communicating what one thinks, what one feels – without filters of any sort.
But hold on! Aren’t these seemingly contradictory? If I am truly independent, then I do not need to go to anyone to express myself. Therefore shouldn’t we strive to be fully independent? No. In fact these two needs are not contradictory. They are complementary. Why?
When we are truly independent, it means we are comfortable in being who we are. When we can be secure in our own bodies, in our own thoughts and feelings – we are home. When we know this home well, we accept its flaws. Lets say, I am slightly overweight. If we can accept ourselves for being overweight and are comfortable with it, then even if someone says “you are fat”, it doesn’t hurt us. We can smile and say, “yes I know!”. In fact, I would argue that if one can fully accept oneself, only then one can begin to change. If we keep running away from our obesity, we will never address it. We will simply end up avoiding people who call us obese. The same goes with our dark emotions and dark thoughts. If we can accept them and tell ourselves, “Ah I feel jealous at my neighbor’s new car”, this in itself is courage. And with courage, comes the ability to stand on one’s own ’emotional feet’.
True independence is born out of a full acceptance of who we are and where we are now. When we accept ourselves this way, then external things will stop having severe impacts on us. If somebody treats us badly, we will not personalize it. We choose to smile at it and let it go. We aren’t insecure. And when we have freedom from what others think, this is true independence.
As we become established in our values, in who we are, we begin to notice that we are comfortable with our own flaws. This makes us kind and compassionate at other’s flaws. And when we give space to our partners for their flaws, true intimacy can begin to be established. We do not get perturbed by the other’s flaws – the yelling, the crying, the tantrums. All this is okay, because we see that we too are like them. This is the basis of empathy.
That’s precisely why – only truly independent people can be truly empathetic. Both these are one and the same. They are two wings of the same bird – the bird of introspection, enquiry and self-reflection.