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My independence is making me lonely!

My independence is making me lonely!

Dear Amy,

I pride myself on being an independent woman. I am capable and competent and have learned to rely on myself and not other people. But sometimes, like all of us, I need support— and I have a hard time asking for it and accepting it. In the past people have let me down, which is why I’m reluctant to depend on others. But I can see my insistence on ‘not needing anyone’ is verging on unhealthy. As much as I want to be independent, I do not want to be alone. How do I maintain my independence while also being able to accept love and support?
Kelly

Dear Kelly,

Needing people is a strategy, not a weakness.

For those of us who pride ourselves on our independence, we can see needing others as a weakness or a liability. But what if you reframed that narrative to think of needing people as part of your life strategy? Think about life as a business. A business with a sole contributor can only get so far before it needs other people. If a business is limited to the skills and capacity of a single person, then the success of the business will be limited to that singular output. Whereas if you have a team of people offering a multitude of skills and competencies, your business can increase production, ideas and opportunities tenfold. It’s the same in life. If you continue to see your needing of others as a weakness, you’ll silo yourself and limit your growth as a result. Making room for others to invest in your success is strategic. Trying to do life alone and then being confused when you end up alone, is not.

Are your barriers helping or harming you?

For this part I’m going to focus specifically on romantic relationships, but you can apply the same logic to work or parenting or friendships. Most of us, at some point, have had people treat us in ways that have made us believe that it is dangerous to depend on others. We’ve trusted someone with precious parts of us and they’ve thrown them in the trash. And when this happens, a part of us hardens and we adopt the attitude of: ‘Fine then! Fuck you! I’m good on my own!' I don’t know what this phase is like for men, but I do know that for women, some of us navigate this period by going out with our girlfriends looking hot and knocking back tequila, hoping that alcohol and attention will absolve how shitty we feel. Which is a fun bandaid, but not a sustainable cure. When this becomes tiresome we start to soften again. We realize that in order to love and be loved, we have to let ourselves be vulnerable again—because vulnerability is the catalyst for connection. But for some of us, that hardness calcifies and we become brittle. We become jaded and cynical and have decided that everyone is going to hurt us. We confuse this false sense of strength with independence—but it’s really the opposite. Strength and independence is not letting someone else dictate how you value yourself and how you conduct yourself in the world. I am not discrediting the impact that people can have on our ability to trust others, or the damage people can have on your spirit, and I am not discrediting how much work it takes to repair those wounds. But you have a choice to repair those wounds.

It will happen again.

At some point you’re going to get hurt again. But it will hurt less than being lonely for the rest of your life. Putting up barriers so that no-one can get to you does not come from a place of strength—that comes from a place of fear. And more to the point: your job is not to control how others behave or how others treat you. All that you have control over is how you treat yourself and how you treat others. Focusing on that truth is what will get you closer to making space for both independence and connection in your life. True independence is knowing that by opening yourself you may get hurt, but the reward you get from the people who won’t hurt you is worth it. Strength is knowing bad things might happen and smiling anyway. So yes, you might get hurt. But you also might be loved.

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