A Soft Place To Land

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A Soft Place To Land

Be independent and stand on your own too feet. Don't be weak. Don't be needy. Pursue your own way and your own happiness. DIY!

This message of toughness and self-reliance has always been the message for men, but now it is sent loud and clear to women, as well. Our society values strength, capability, and personal success. Self-help books about individual growth and personal effectiveness fly off the shelves. We're told that asking for help is a sign of weakness, unless we're paying a professional (plumber, electrician, cleaning service, babysitter, etc) for it.

Even in supposedly close relationships, we're told we shouldn't allow ourselves to get too dependant on any one particular person to help us meet our emotional or sexual needs. After all, there are all sorts of products we can discretely purchase to help us achieve sexual release and therapists we can pay to listen, validate, and attend to our emotional needs. Romantic partners and meaningful relationships are nice but not necessary. Special people are invited into our lives because we want them there and kept around for the same reason, not because we rely on them for anything in particular. After all, we're big boys and girls capable of looking out for ourselves, right? If we choose to share our lives with a partner, it should be because we want to, never because we are depending on that person for anything substantial. Otherwise, we are being "needy" and "clingy" and way too vulnerable. We are giving too much of our power away and aren't truly being adults.

According to common wisdom, if we have to ask for help from family or friends, we shouldn't do it often and it should only be under extreme circumstances. When we absolutely can't get around it, we should make sure we're not going to one particular person too much. That's just too risky. They might think we're incapable or not self-reliant enough. They may decide we're too high maintenance, think less of us, or take advantage of the vulnerabilities we reveal. They might feel overwhelmed or burdened or pressured and seek out someone more independent and less demanding.

Of course, there are some damaged people out there looking for a "rescuer" or "Savior" because they truly can't ever seem to get themselves together. Their needs get more and more complex and they are always in crisis and in need of immediate attention. Such relationships are exhausting and leave partners feelling depleted and frustrated. These extremes of unhealthy dependance are the exception, not the rule, though.

In reality, none of us can be strong and independent all the time. None of us thrive in isolation. We don't need complete independence or unhealthy dependance. We need healthy interdependence.

When developing her treatment model for couples, called emotion focussed couples therapy, Canadian psychologist Susan Johnson studied previous research conducted on how people form secure attachments as infants and young children. Babies are absolutely vulnerable and dependent, obviously. They need food, shelter, water, and a warm safe place to sleep. They need to be bathed and changed and for their health needs to be addressed. But they need more than that to thrive. To develop normally, babies need to be held and rocked and talked to. They need to be responded to when they cry and to know who to look to when they're distressed about an unmet need.

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