By Lauren Freier, MA, AMFT
Amidst Fourth of July parades, barbeques, and fireworks shows, what can sometimes get lost this month is the meaning behind all of the festivities. Independence. Synonymous with freedom and self-sufficiency, independence is a symbol of empowerment and choice. It is particularly sought after in today’s culture, where we are taught to value self-reliance, self-control, and personal strength.
I wonder, however, how often we overlook our own defining moments of independence. In what ways do you celebrate your personal successes and triumphs? Have you reflected on the turning points in your life – processed the likely mixture of pride, fear, and resilience? While these moments may not feel worthy of fireworks, they still carry significant weight in molding your personal growth.
As a therapist, I see independence manifest itself in many different stages and forms. Some of my clients seek to establish their independence as they transition out of their parents’ homes, others want to reassert their independence after an unhealthy relationship, and still others look to rebuild their independence following any number of major (and often unexpected) life changes.
Independence is tricky; if we place it too high on a pedestal, we grow increasingly susceptible to isolation and loneliness. “I can do it” shifts to “I won’t allow anybody else to do or be a part of it.” It is human nature to view things in absolute terms, and because of this, help can easily (and mistakenly) be associated with weakness. When I encounter these situations in my work, I find myself exploring the idea that just because people can do something alone doesn’t mean they have to do it alone; that it is okay to allow people into your experience who can provide support, whether that be a therapist, friend, partner, family member, or the like. Independence, weirdly enough, does not always have to be practiced alone.
Conversely, if we place independence too low on the totem pole, we are at risk for power struggles, resentment, enmeshed boundaries, and insecurity. When these experiences come up in my office, I explore concepts and goals around assertiveness, individuation, and self-worth. Part of owning your truth involves daring to live out your own values—not everyone else’s.
The challenge, as with most things, is finding a healthy balance—a balance between trust and confidence in yourself, and trust and confidence in select others. Interdependence. Synonymous with mutual reliance, reciprocity, and equality, interdependence is a healthy way of relating to others while still preserving an individual identity.
So this Independence Day, take a moment to reflect on your own values of independence, how you embody and act on these values, and what goals you have for yourself moving forward.