Photo by Eduardo Izquierdo
By Alana Mbanza
“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.
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.
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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