I suffer from it. I know several people who do. It is hard for me to ask for help...always has been. I am better at it today but still I prefer to not include others in my tasks...reserving for myself the risk and the reward.
Someone posted something yesterday and it was the kind of statement that made me stop in my tracks. Its truth completely peeling away the feeling of satisfaction of my previous behavior. This one statement radically and fundamentally changed the way that I view myself and others...
EXTREME INDEPENDENCE IS A TRAUMA RESPONSE.
Let that sink in a minute...
Now give it a minute more.
I never thought of this before! I always felt that my independence was this amazing asset that I had. I didn’t “need” others so much and I could handle so very many things on my own. It was such a great skill to have. In fact, I pretty much thought myself superior to those that I deemed needy and dependent.
I have seen throughout the years that my independence does get in the way of things...relationships, friendships, working dynamics. When you take everything on yourself, it does kind of make other people a bit superfluous. It also makes it hard for people to see you as ever needing anything. And it makes it really fucking hard to ever ask for things because your entire identity is caught up in needing nothing. Which isn’t true of any human anywhere. All of us need something, some of us need more than others.
So I have always known that my independence is an asset. But pride did get in there and make it something else entirely. I used my independence to keep you out - to push you away. To hold you at arm’s length then, super unfairly, hold you accountable for never meeting my needs. It was a Catch 22 - neither of us could ever really be satisfied...
I have been successful in allowing some of that independence to fall away - ask for help, tell people how I feel when they hurt my feelings, enlist insight from others, tell people the truth even if it makes me look bad. All of these have begun to ventilate my self sufficiency in a way and manner that allows for a more authentic and real intimacy with others.
But when I read this yesterday, I was frozen. I knew that this statement was fundamentally true and I knew that where it landed in my body made it completely true - my extreme independence was a trauma response.
When one has a significant traumatic event, especially early in childhood, one either learns to lean into others or away. In my case, I learned to lean away. I learned that life would be safer if I just handled things myself. I would be better off if I kept you out and myself in. I am not sure when exactly I made the decision, but I do know that it was made and then promptly forgotten, except for the fact that the whole of my life was then oriented toward making sure that I needed little and asked for less...
I am still unpacking this most revolutionary statement and would normally let this percolate a little longer before sharing it with you. But I felt like it needed to be shared...NOW. I now have another lens with which to view my independence - that of a traumatic response. And I can see others in this view also...when someone is pushing me away or refusing to let me in. I now can ask myself the question, “are they in a trauma reaction?” I may never really know if I am right or wrong about my conclusion, especially about people I do not know well, but asking the question, gives rise to another possible reason for their conduct. And if I assess that perhaps it IS a trauma response, perhaps I can give them a little more grace and understanding.
And similarly, I can do that for myself also. I can view each assertive extreme independent stand with a new filter. Am I really being independent or am I being extremely independent because I am in a traumatic response? Is the other person just doing that also? Perhaps it isn’t personal...I know when I am being extremely independent, it isn’t you (well sometimes maybe it is) but mostly it is me feeling unsafe and unprotected. The only way for me to gain ground is to push you out and away from me so that I can regain some sense of stability and foundation.
I am not sure this will change everything in my life. But I know when I read this yesterday I knew that it was life changing. Because the moment before I read it, my thought process was that independence and self-sufficiency were good for me and I had no motivation to change. And the second after I read the sentence, I knew I had to change. I had to make some alterations to the way I am doing things in this regard.
Where I go from here, totally up to me. I don’t think I can ever become unwillful and un-independent. But I do know that I can notice when I am in the extreme, and I can begin to ask myself questions about why I am there and what is going on with me. And I believe that if I do this with myself, I can do it with you too. I can see your struggle and when you are in extreme independence and I can ask similar questions about you and to you. All in an effort to understand you and me and how we relate to each other. Because if I can see myself and you as injured and reacting from a place of pain, I can love you. I can give some grace. I can allow you to be just as you are and stand right there beside you even if you push me away. I don’t have to force or demand, I can just let your trauma response pass and then be there if and when you might need a hug, an encouraging word, a little tenderness. And I know that because I have spent enough time with myself, seeing how I do it, why I do it and what I really need which is usually contrary to what my actions and words state.
When I am standing in life’s ring, fists up and ready to fight, what I really need more than anything else is for someone to let me box it out a few rounds then rub my shoulders and tell me that I do not have to get back in the ring...that duking it out in there is only one way to deal with the pain. If I am willing to step outside the ring, there are a myriad of other ways to manage the pain and I do not have to do it alone.