One of my greatest struggles in life is finding the appropriate level of dependence on others in relationships. I tend to be very independent, not so much out of a true preference, but for fear of depending too much or on the wrong person.

I have spent many years allowing people to become too dependent on me. Much of this is from learning in childhood that I was more loved when I carried the burdens of others. I’ve come to believe that I am only of value, and therefore worthy of love, if I allow others to be dependent on me for carrying their burdens for them. But the strain that this has placed on me has left me reluctant to lean on another because I know how heavy that responsibility can be, and I shrink from doing that to another. And the greater my need for help from another, the greater my tendency to refrain from depending on another for help because I am all the more aware of the size of the burden I would be asking them to help me carry.

At the same time, of those few people who have become close enough for me to allow myself to lean on them, none have stayed around long term. I have so many losses and betrayals that have taken place that it’s hard to place my trust in someone else – especially at a time when I need help. Therefore, I tend to remain fiercely independent – and thereby isolated and alone – out of fear.

This independence, and the resulting isolation, leaves me without the kind of support I need when times get rough. This has stunted my growth as a person and leaves me easily discouraged. I know that the true answer is interdependence. My head knows this well. My heart is not entirely convinced, but my biggest hurdle is an inability to imagine what real interdependence looks like. Every time I try to live in a space of interdependence, it tends to wind up being more a wild swing back and forth between dependence and independence. I become overly dependent on someone, then when I sense their withdrawal or unavailability, I head straight for independence out of fear. Then when the isolation becomes more than I can take, I swing back to overly dependent again.

I watch myself do that constantly now. I have a very dear friend who would like to be a support to me, but she has very limited time, energy, and availability to do so. I find myself leaning on her more than I should until I hit a time when the support I need is more than she can give (not out of a wish on her part not to support, but just that life circumstances get in the way of her being able to be present to me). As soon as this happens, I find myself trying to steel myself to not lean on her at all rather than being able to graciously accept the limited support she can give. It must be exhausting for her to deal with my swings from one extreme to the other. Fortunately, she has (so far) been extraordinarily patient with me, but it is still something I need to get under control in some way.