Our Impossible Goal: The Myth of Independence
So many people have independence, particularly psychological independence, as their goal; it is seen as the logical and inevitable end-point for the maturation of an adult. However, this ideal – and what ‘independence’ might actually mean – is worthy of some critical examination before we pursue it.
Being our own person
We would certainly like to be our own people. As adults want to be accountable to ourselves and to be able to have our own thoughts and feelings. We don't want to be judged for them or criticised or forced to act in ways which we don't want to act. Moreover, for those of us that have been dominated in the past by other people, the need to establish independence is primary. It is only when we have this independence to think, feel and act that we start to live our lives for ourselves.
Our history of dependence
Yet there is something of a paradox here. When we are infants we are almost totally dependent on our caregivers. We need them to meet many if not all of our physical needs in our early months and years. We would not survive without them. However, our caregivers are crucial to the development and maturation of our psychological selves. The relationships with our caregivers are critically important as it is largely through relationship with another that we learn about ourselves. So how does this happen?
We learn about other people through intense, mutually responsive interactions with our caregivers, in many cases our mothers. Baby and its mother will gaze intently at each other, each responding to the other, and each seeing that the other responds to them. Through many such interactions the baby learns and develops.
Our lives are intertwined
This is the start of a pattern that continues throughout life, as we continue to learn and develop. We almost always do this in conjunction with other people or in indirect response to other people. These relationship experiences “are absolutely necessary for facilitating, consolidating, expanding and sustaining the development of individualised selfhood during the entire life cycle” (Brandchaft 2010 p.76). A life without other people is a life of stagnation.
An alternative goal for many people might be interdependence. This is where we are free to think and feel whatever we like we like, but we also recognise that our world is made richer through our relationships with other people.
– Tim Hill
Brandchaft B., Doctors S. & Sorter D. (2010) “Towards and Emancipatory Psychoanalysis” Routledge, New York