The more common reality in relationships is co-dependence between the two parties involved; a mutual leaning on one another for a sense of security. Many of us emerge from childhood having learned that to be independent and self-reliant is highly dangerous both emotionally and socially; cleverly, we conformed to the projections of the adults in our lives – we either leaned on them or allowed them to lean on us. In protecting ourselves from the threats of rejection, criticism, ridicule, even violence, we subconsciously fashioned a persona that primarily operated from the outside- in rather than from the inner stronghold of the inside-out. We necessarily conformed to the dependent behaviours of our parents, teachers and other significant adults and, sometimes, we rebelled; conformity and rebelliousness being opposite sides of the same coin of dependence. Conformity – the development of a false form, a con-form – means that the self masks its true and powerful nature and goes about the business of people-pleasing. Rebelliousness, on the other hand, is also a false form; its purpose being to counter-control those who are attempting to impose their dependence on you. Rebelliousness also operates from the outside-in because it attempts to get others to conform to your ways. Indeed, both conformity and rebelliousness operate from the place of “you” – “you’re right” and “you’re wrong”. Self-reliance operates from the place of “I” and does not attempt to appease or control others; it takes responsibility for self and all expressions of self and is open to listening to others and giving due consideration to what they are expressing while keeping the final decision for self.

Leaning on others or on achievements or on wealth or success or on the body beautiful, creates a profound level of uncertainty; an uncertainty that necessarily tugs at us emotionally because we are out of touch with our true nature which is our basic oneness, our basic unconditional worth and lovability (our al-one-ness). When we lean on others either in explicit, implicit or obscure ways, we expect others to supply what we have hidden about ourselves – strength, security, intelligence, direction, even life itself - and when our expectations are not met we go further off-centre. Leaning on others, we tend to interpret any signs of unavailability or inattention as a rejection or a defeat mirroring earlier such experiences; we re-experience the pain of not being able to conquer the hearts and minds of our parents through our unique presence.

Individuals who are dependent will tend to rubbish any attempts to get them to stand on their own two feet, but they do this because they know too well, albeit unconsciously, the hazards of being independent, of being an individual, of being separate. People who are dependent have not had the safety to enjoy the peace and power of their own solitude – this runs contrary to their story of enmeshment with others. Indeed, they can sometimes be overwhelmed by the unbearable fear of aloneness.

It is a major challenge to create environments - within homes, schools, churches, communities, workplaces, social systems - that provide the safety for members of these holding worlds to be themselves, to self-reveal, to live out their own individual lives. The difficulty is that often the individuals who are in leadership and managerial positions do not inhabit their own individuality and do not model self-reliance. I believe the focus needs to be on these people because if those in charge do not resolve their dependence, it is very frightening for those who are their charges to challenge their immaturity. The alternatives are either to conform or rebel. Other people are not responsible for us but they certainly have responsibilities to us – the key responsibility being to not bring their insecurities to our door. We are all fundamentally on our own, and even though this is a natural state – the acceptance of which releases hidden creative resources – it can be a hard fact to take on board because of the threats to independence that exist for all of us, adults as well as children. All human systems – familial, social, economic, educational, legal, political and religious – stand to gain enormously from the modelling, encouragement and support and practice of self-reliance and the inhabiting of individuality by each person, most especially those who govern these systems.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of several books on practical psychology, including Whose Life Are You Living?