We all know now that women have a tendency, in greater or lesser degrees, to be emotionally dependent in their relationships. But how do we free ourselves from the trap and enter into loving partnership instead?
I love the Irish proverb that says, “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.” It’s true. We will do our own growing eventually, so let’s not let fear seduce us into inaction. An excellent way to overcome the paralysis that often accompanies fear is to join a group of women who are working on issues similar to our own. If you are unable to find the help you need among your friends and family, there are co-dependency seminars and other support groups everywhere. They can be found by inquiring at your local mental health department, checking with churches that often have lists of community services, or by asking friends.
In the seminars my partner, Bonnie, and I gave, the most important thing the women in them learned was to talk openly about their feelings. As we shared our shortcomings, secrets, fears, hostilities, joys, and disappointments, we realized we were not alone. Breaking out of isolation gives us permission to fully experience our feelings and then work through them.
Katy, a sweet, soft-spoken woman, sheepishly told me I couldn’t possibly guess what she had discovered in one of our seminars. She was certain I’d be shocked and horrified to know that the main stress in her life related to her husband. Of course, I was neither shocked nor surprised. I know her husband, and he’s a good man; but I also know that many women who are in relationships with good men feel stressed out. In Katy’s case, the mere reassurance from another woman that she wasn’t alone in her unrevealed feelings, and that she wasn’t a terrible person for having them, gave her the freedom to accept what she was really feeling.
Knowing and accepting our true feelings is an essential step in moving beyond emotional dependence toward the ability to be ourselves. It takes an enormous amount of courage to
be emotionally independent because we have been taught to believe that our natural role is as an adjunct to other people—a constant support, a helpmate, not an equal. However, with the advent of the partnership paradigm, the concept of inequality is obsolete. Having the courage to be who we really are is our natural birthright. If this is the case, then why is it so difficult for many of us to be ourselves, enjoy emotional independence, and have satisfying, equal relationships?
Establishing new patterns of beliefs and behaviors is always difficult. We seem to gravitate to the familiar even when it is uncomfortable. Giving ourselves permission to move into the
uncharted waters of emotional independence and create new patterns for our lives takes courage and commitment. Though it’s often hard for us to give up the old habit of asking,
“Mother (or Father, Husband, Boss, Child), may I?”, we’re living in an age when we have unprecedented opportunities to make our own decisions to be ourselves. As we embrace an expanded vision of ourselves and unravel our emotional dependencies, we learn that no one can fill us with confidence, independence, and a sense of inner worth but ourselves, with the help of whatever we interpret as our Higher Source.
Another very important piece of the courage-to-be-yourself puzzle is the awareness that the most essential and important connection we can make is with ourselves. We have heard this
so often that we know it in our heads, but it is still difficult to believe it in our hearts and guts, because we have been socialized to conclude that our commitment is to others and our job is self-sacrifice. A pervasive underlying belief women grow up carrying is that they come last. Yet, without a deep commitment to and connection with ourselves, we cannot truly relate healthily to others.
Yearning to have my inner dependent and insecure feelings match my outer independent and successful demeanor, I began to search for ways to free myself from the tyranny of fear and learn how to express who I really was. It has been a great adventure—sometimes terrifying, often exciting, but always educational. Only since I began my quest to find Sue have I felt truly alive.