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How to End Your Dependence on Other People

Photo by Eduardo Izquierdo
The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm. ~Swedish Proverb

A couple of months ago, I made the decision to end my financial dependence on my mother.

I had on eighty-four cents in my bank account, no place to live and the only income I had was from a part time job and a couple of freelance projects.

Though the timing may have been a bit dramatic, there was a sense of urgency in my decision. I was desperate to free myself from the cycle of repeatedly leaving home only to return with my tail between my legs and no money to speak of.

Each time I came home, my mother would offer to pay my bills and I would accept though we both secretly resented it.

I realized that I wasn’t living up to my greatest potential because I didn’t have to. I never stuck with anything for very long because I knew my mother would always be there to bail me out if I failed. When things became too difficult, boring or routine I could quit.

I did quit.

Not only was I taking advantage of her, I was sabotaging my own growth and personal development.

Establishing my financial independence from my mother meant no longer accepting her offers of assistance. It also meant pursuing my writing career in earnest to generate additional income. I walked the three miles to or from work to save money on gas and transit passes.

I slept on a terribly uncomfortable futon in someone else’s living room. At times, I didn’t eat for several days until my next paycheck arrived.

It was such a humbling experience and a lesson I hope I don’t have to repeat. But, I learned so much about who I am and what I’m truly capable of by challenging myself to become independent.

Establishing Independence

The relationship between a child and a parent is only one of the many relationships that may require one or both individuals to develop independence. Other examples include relationships between romantic partners and friendships.

Although every relationship has its own complexity, what I’ve learned is that there are three general steps on this path toward independence: declaration, separation and reconnection.

1. Declare It

The first step in the process is to declare your independence. Think of the declaration stage as severing the emotional umbilical cord. In this stage, you share your intent to become independent from the other person.

This declaration might be met with confusion, anger, sadness and a variety of other responses and emotions. Here are some things to remember when declaring your independence:

  • Communicate your message confidently and assertively.
  • Keep your message short and to the point.
  • Use “I” statements to communicate that your decision is not about them, it is about you.
  • Don’t feel the need to justify or apologize for your decision.
  • Release the need to take responsibility for the other person’s response.

The actual content of the message can be relatively simple. Consider this example.

“I’m making some positive changes in my life though they may not be easy for me to make. I’m trying to take more responsibility for myself and my life. I want to be more independent and to discover who I am. I’ve been dependent on you for (insert specific information) and I need to step away from my dependence on you and step more fully into myself. My decision is not a reflection of you. It’s a statement about me and where I am in my life. So, for a period of time, I’m going to have less involvement with you.”

It is likely that they may ask you for a specific time frame; simply state that you will take as long as necessary to develop your independence and discover who you are.

2. Separate Yourself

To separate means to form a distinct boundary between yourself and the other person. This can be done by separating physically, sexually, financially, or emotionally—what’s needed depends on the nature of the relationship.

If physical separation is not possible, limit the amount of time you spend talking to or interacting with this person.  Focus on defining healthy emotional boundaries and living according to them.

Ultimately, the purpose of separation is to allow you to see yourself more clearly and to discover what is necessary for your own wellbeing. In the space created by the separation, you allow your inner self to speak. The distractions once created by the needs, opinions, thoughts and feelings of the other person will begin to clear away. You are finally able to distinguish what is authentic, true and honest for yourself.

You become aware of the needs that were once fulfilled by your dependency on the other person and discover ways to meet those needs for yourself. Maybe you were dependent on the other person to motivate you, soothe you, distract you from your problems or make you feel loved.

What do you do when this other person no longer plays that role in your life?

You learn to take responsibility for motivating, soothing and loving yourself. You can also begin to address the issues you once avoided and ignored. Separation allows you to truly experience your independence and to regain power over your choices, behaviors, beliefs and the emotional footprints you create and leave behind.

Paradoxically, the more responsibility you take, the more freedom you will have—the freedom to be yourself and to live your life purposefully.

You’re probably asking, “How long should I separate?”

This depends on the circumstances and the nature of the relationship between you and the other person. However, it needs to be long enough for you to identify and understand your own needs, opinions, thoughts and motivations independently.

For some this may take days, weeks, years or even decades. Others may determine in the course of separation that reconnection is not a healthy decision no matter how much time has passed.

A simple test is this; tune into yourself.  What feelings emerge when you think about or interact with this person? If they are still predominantly negative or confusing, you may not be ready to reconnect.

If it is not possible to interact with the other person without losing yourself, evaluate whether this person deserves a place in your life at all.

3. Reconnect When You’re Ready

The final stage is reconnection. This stage involves making new agreements and re-negotiating the roles within the relationship. These roles should be clearly stated and agreed upon by both individuals.

Questions to consider:

  • What behaviors are acceptable? Unacceptable?
  • What expectations will you hold of one another?
  • What consequences will there be if these agreements aren’t honored?

Having consequences in place is not an attempt to control or manipulate the other person. Rather, it is a matter of being extremely clear about what works and what doesn’t work. Once you communicate these expectations, the other person then has the power to decide whether they agree or not.

This process requires you to be completely authentic and to act with integrity. If something isn’t working for you and you accept it anyway, you are being dishonest with yourself and the other person. This often causes confusion and repressed anger.

~

Clearly state your intentions.

Take time to discover your authentic self.

Re-negotiate the roles in the relationship.

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About the author

Alana Mbanza is the Content Editor of Reology (formally known as, Green Psychology), a site dedicated to effective communication skills, healthy relationships and personal development. Connect with Reology on Facebook or follow on Twitter @reology.

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19 thoughts on How to End Your Dependence on Other People

  1. Great story! I loved this post, one of the best.

    How are you today? Do you have financial independence? Are you still freelancing? Or are you working full-time and/or part-time in addition to freelancing?

    Cutting the chord may not be easy, but it can be done. Sometimes, you just have to do it, SWOOSH! And move forward, quickly. If you believe you will be all right, you will be.

  2. Thank you so much, Amandah!

    Actually, this article was originally written a year ago. Reading has been such an amazing reminder of how far I’ve come! When I first wrote this, I had just made the decision to move to Chicago. My purpose for moving was twofold. First, I had just graduated from a Master’s program and wanted to put some space between myself and my hometown and begin my career in academic counseling. Two, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this writing “thing.” It has UNDOUBTEDLY been the most difficult, humbling and painful period in my life. However, it has also turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

    For the past year, I have been working with high school students and absolutely LOVE the work I do. My favorite part is helping them craft their personal essays. They are amazing writers and their powerful stories constantly inspire and energize me.

    I am still freelancing here and there and hoping to do more when the school year calms down a bit. I will be guest posting here on Think Simple Now so be on the look out for future posts!

    Alana

  3. I am was so into your post I decided to check your blog out. This post hit home for me because I have been struggling on letting go of someone for so long. We were in relationship that started wrong and ended as if I was run over by a train several times. Its a part of me I cant seem to get past.

  4. It can be so hard to break free from dependence, especially when some people make it so easy to fall back on them. Fair play to you – you found it in yourself to find the strength within yourself to break free from your dependence on your mother – without any action from her, tough-love etc…you made the decision yourself, which is very commendable. Well done:)

  5. Hi Alana – thank you for sharing your story and the courage towards independence. I experienced something similar with my parents where I had to declare my emotional independence. The lessons you present here, especially separating yourself, resonates. Unfortunately, I may have taken it to an extreme and distanced myself from them completely for a couple of years.

    I’ve had to heal, forgive and re-establish my relationship with them since that time. We’ve reconnected and our relationship has improved but it was a rocky journey to get there.

  6. goodwill

    I declare change.. thank you for your help…

  7. The most important thing is to live separate – alone.. To have your own place where you decide if you’re going to share it with somebody or not. If you don’t obtain such place – you can call it home – it’s hard to be independent.

  8. Alicia

    Truely a timely article! I need this is in my life right now with my mom as well. It kind of hard because im a single mother and do depend on her support but i also feel i need to push myself to independency. How do i email this article to myself? I want to use this for future reference.

  9. As you declared the decision for yourself. Every ready has to declare that this article is really great and inspiring. What makes the post great is not just the story elements that attach the reader, but your writing style. Again, great post!

  10. Alana,

    Dependency stunts your potential and personal development because of the fear to let go our comfort zone and the unknown if we go face the world by our own. No one wants to start facing obscurity especially crippled and unprepared.

    Also be conscious that you need to start protecting your own self and stop letting others protect you. The more they protect you the less your immune system for life will weaken. Take risk, get hurt and let your independence grow a grow immune system to face life alone and free.

    Good Post.

  11. Camii,

    Thanks so much for your comment and for visiting my blog. Letting go of someone (or something!) can be an extremely difficult but necessary process. The question to ask is always, “What do I want for my life and is this person or experience in alignment with that vision?” If not, we must all have the strength and courage to let go. It may not seem like it now, but it does get easier as your self awareness and confidence grows. You will become to attract experiences into your life that support and uplift you rather than hurt you and tear you down. I know this to be true because I have experienced it for myself.

    Many blessings,

    Alana

  12. fantastic.

    my father lent me 10,000 in 1982 to become a professional trader.

    I went down to my last $600 and knew I had nowhere to go from there. There was no more hanging on to him for support financially.

    I lasted the next 20 years

    thanks

    sw

  13. Thank you everyone for your kind words and support! I’m so glad my post spoke to others. My mother actually just came for a visit and it felt great to be in a position to host her in my own space, take her out to dinner and not have to rely on her for financial support.

  14. cris

    Isnt sleeping on someones couch still depending on other people? Human beings are some of the most dependent creatures on Earth, have some kids and you will see just how much is needed to get from birth to self sufficency. It really is a miracle we have made it this far as a species.

  15. Sometimes breaking free by separation is the only option but most of the time we need to be strong and assertive in the relationships we have so that we are not consumed and restricted by them.
    We all depend on other people and need to be able to function as individuals despite our dependence.

  16. lamont adair

    Great article and great to learn how such a fascinating experience caused you to become a greater person to yourself and to society keep up the good work cheers

  17. i looove this post! it came at a point i am tryin to figure myself out too. it has not been eazy.

  18. Empowering post! I am moved by the powerful moment when you make up your mind to make change. There is something so exciting when experience times in our lives when we take charge, declare our intention and make a clear decision to move forward. I feel that when we do this, things begin to fall into place organically.

  19. Hi , great post. sometimes it is really very difficult to break free from dependence, especially if we know that there will always be somebody to lean on. But, learning who you are and being confident of what you can achieve by yourself will enable you to be truly independent. Thanks for sharing your experiences. really Great!

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