Independence or interdependence: What is a healthy balance?


Dear Ted: I thought this would be a good time to ask you a question with the Fourth of July coming up and the celebration of Independence Day. I am a 15-year-old from Albuquerque. Every year, a lot of our country celebrates Independence Day, a historical time of when the United States of America broke ties with England and stood on its own, making the United States what it is today. This is celebrated as great success and a theme that many people strive for as totally independent. It seems in the last decade or so, many people have been talking about interdependence. This seems to contradict independence. What do you have to say about my quandary? Thanks, William

Dear William: Your timing is well thought out and I'm sorry this will be a couple of days after Independence Day. Your history serves you well and as a metaphor, it is a great example of the individuation process of emerging to a place of self-sustainability. As an individual, this process happens over the first 25 years or so of our lives.

At birth, you are completely dependent on your caregivers for food, shelter, water and protection. Without this care, you would die. As you develop, you slowly become more and more independent and yet still dependent on your caregivers. This can lead to levels of friction and discomfort as you feel you are able to leave the nest and your caregivers may disagree. They have usually also set parameters in which you live your life, also known as rules! As you are learning the world around you, there is the need for what they call an "external locus of control," where rules are set upon you to try to keep you safe until you move those parameters into your internal thinking process - also called "internal locus of control." This process emphasized independence and yet, as a species, we are clan-oriented and social beings.

You soon find yourself wanting to partner up in your personal life, as well as other aspects of your life. You may find that life can be easier as you share responsibilities, talents, intelligence and experience to try to make life easier. In other words, through working together, quality of life can be improved. This is where interdependence comes into play - as you work together, you are in need of the other person to do their part as you do yours, for the better of all involved and maybe for others.

We are all dependent on one another. For example, follow the external locus of control called "traffic lights." By paying attention to traffic lights, we have the potential for safer intersections instead of everybody being independent and just hoping for the best.

You started your question to me mentioning the United States and England and it is obvious you are aware the American Revolutionary War redefined the relationship between England and the colonies. This was a messy and disruptive individuation process in which there was war. Today, England and the United States are interdependent on each other on many levels. However, each country is defined by its own values and beliefs while working with the other one. This is when interdependence works wonderfully. To not be dependent does not mean you have to be isolated and completely independent, but it is a delicate balance of working with one another while having your autonomy.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

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