Independence Day the Psybersquare Way
by Mark Sichel, LCSW and Alicia L. Cervini
Ironically, developing a greater degree of independence is crucial to maintaining healthy relationships with family and loved ones. To be a strong member of a family unit, you must first be a strong individual. Achieving greater independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency is also a central goal of recovery. Since the ability to be independent is so important in so many areas of our lives, let's discuss how we can overcome obstacles to develop our own autonomy. You CAN break free from unhealthy dependencies and declare your own Independence Day.
The quest for psychological independence comes in many forms. Each of us has struggled in unique and personal ways with breaking free from all kinds of dependencies. The first "battleground" of our individual War of Independence is, of course, the quest for separation and individuation from our mothers. In our mother's womb dependence is total. Our first act of autonomy is that initial breath of air. Hence, when we are feeling that another person is trying to thwart our independence, we often say that they are "smothering" us, or that we are feeling "suffocated." When any of us are struggling to break free of dependency, we often say we are trying to "cut the umbilical cord."
Acts of independence are an ongoing re-experiencing and re-enactment of early struggles of separation from our mothers.
Childhood, in many ways, is an on-going battle we fight within ourselves to master ever growing levels of autonomy. From the first time we feed ourselves until our first paycheck, the tasks are manifold and the struggle filled with anxiety, doubt, and sometimes shame. When we succeed in a given task, the surge of feeling successful is where we draw the strength to attempt our next act of independence. Sometimes, however, the feelings of anxiety and doubt linger longer and are easier to remember than the feeling of accomplishment.
The anxiety surrounding stages of independence -- the echo of our early struggle to separate from our mothers -- is called separation anxiety. Regardless of our age, or our current relationship to our mother, we are always vulnerable to separation anxiety when we tackle new challenges of independence. Sometimes, in all of our lives, "curve balls" are thrown our way that reawaken old separation anxieties: death of a loved one, divorce, or relocation can all be experiences fraught with separation anxiety. It is at those times that we are at our most vulnerable, and must contend with fears, doubt and anxiety.
Being aware of the origin of fears caused by separation anxiety, can help to assuage the emotional distress of trying times. When you feel "desperate" or "clingy" or "needy," try to sit back and think about why you feel that way. What are the circumstances that are causing you to lose your confidence in your own independent spirit? Are your feelings of helplessness symptoms of separation anxiety? How can you prevail in the face of unhealthy dependencies, despite the emotional and psychological duress of separation anxiety?
Personal Declaration of Independence
All the milestones and markers from infancy and early childhood right through adolescence and young adulthood can each be seen as trophies of our personal Revolutionary War. Choosing to commit to sobriety, let bygones be bygones, manage anger, make new friends, switch careers, learn new coping mechanisms, remodel the house, be kind to yourself -- these can all be manifestations of psychological independence. Our resolve in adult life to master new skills and overcome dysfunctional and self-destructive dependencies are ongoing amendments to our Personal Declarations of Independence. Your Personal Declaration of Independence is a living document. It changes as you do. Learn to treat your past successes as the foundation for your future triumphs and you will free yourself. Independence can be yours.
Perhaps it is time to draft the first version of your own Personal Declaration of Independence. Think about all the times in your past when you have stood up for yourself, followed through with a resolution, stuck to a tough decision, honored a commitment, or achieved a goal. You are an individual with will and desires. You have steeled your will and pursued your desires in the past -- and you can do it again. Use the successes from your past to draft your own Personal Declaration of Independence and your newfound resolve can help you to forge ahead - independent, self-reliant, self-actualizing.
Still feeling patriotic? Why not ratify your Personal Bill of Rights while you're at it?
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