In the fast-paced society we live in, it’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up in the idea that we must manage our problems alone. We live in a society that prizes independence in all arenas, from career to familial success. We’re most motivated to continue building proficiency when we overcome a challenge independently. Have you ever heard someone say “I feel like an island” to express feeling alone? In recent years as a therapist, I’ve found myself exploring this notion often. Isolation is often a self-perpetuating cycle, making people feel as if they must solve their problems alone and further weakening their self-worth when they’re incapable of doing so.
Let’s explore the opposite view. Is it okay to depend on other people, too? This thought alone might make us fear that dependency on others will inevitably result in disappointment and foster neediness.
With Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), founder Marsha Linehan promotes the equal balance of sides (called “dialectical thinking”), which states two opposites can both be true at the same time. In this context, both independence and the act of depending on another person is okay. Typically, we tend to function on one side because of habit and what we think is the right choice at a given moment. However, when we think about each side, the important lesson is to let go of the judgment surrounding the behavior in question — in this case, self-sufficiency vs. relying on others.
One example of this balance focuses on external vs. self-validation. We all have our own love languages, i.e. what we need from others in order to feel seen and heard. These expressions of warmth — for instance, hearing “Good job!” upon accomplishing a challenging task or receiving physical affection — help motivate us through the day. However, if we solely rely on acts of external validation to fill our cups, we also lose sight of what makes us happy as individual beings.
It’s okay to let these forms of validation into our lives! Think about experiences in which a helping hand was comforting. Maybe it was a concrete favor from someone else (for example, a ride home), a necessary delegation of tasks in order to complete a project, or even a moment when a loved one lent you their shoulder to let out your ugliest cry on. If those examples brought to mind even a single moment, then dependency has enriched your life in one way or another.
Before you return to whatever you may be doing today, consider this thought: in the same way that islands may seem like they’re floating, but are actually just the visible tops of underwater mountains, even the most seemingly self-sufficient people rely on support networks to keep themselves afloat. Maintaining a healthy balance of individuality and willingness to trust in others is necessary to nurture both ourselves and the people around us!