How Can We Say We’re Independent?

US constitution sitting on flagThis month, Americans nationwide celebrate our becoming independent from the rule of Great Britain in 1776. Yes . . . I know we have things to celebrate – our families, our friends, our health, the freedoms we share that others may not. (I could say more about the freedoms … another time.) But there’s so much that we think, believe, feel about independence that is so distorted – subtly and obviously, and severely.

With all these distortions . . . How can we say we’re independent?

Independence. Many people grew up in what is often labeled as “dysfunctional families” – families with parents who had been wounded in their families. As a result, their children are wounded. This happens again and again because when we have been wounded, if we don’t heal our wounds we wound others, whether we intend to or not, whether we are aware of it or not.

Many people who are wounded are enmeshed in their families. They have not had the parenting they needed to support their growing up as the unique individuals they were and had the potential to be. Perhaps their moms (or dads, but we’ll use mom here as an example) got mad if they colored outside the lines or jumped in puddles. Their moms couldn’t be ok with the child’s aliveness enough to support their own daughter’s becoming a Georgia O’Keefe or their own son’s becoming a Gene Kelly, dancing and singing in the rain.

So these children followed mom’s rules and requirements and took care of mom’s fears by not being themselves. The children were trying to make sure mom wouldn’t be mad at them or abandon them. And they are still doing that today, whether they live it out in their lives or come to get help with it.

Others who are wounded, instead of following mom’s or dad’s rules, rebelled against their parents, deciding and insisting that “nobody’s gonna tell me what to do!” Or “you can’t make me do anything.” And because they rebelled, they really truly believed that they were independent of mom. They didn’t realize that by the driven rebellion against mom, they were just as tied to her as if they complied with her rules . . . maybe even more since the reality that they were tied to her was hidden beneath the rebellion.

If this can happen on an individual level, it can also happen on a communal level. Both in the United States of America and all over the world.

If we don’t explore within ourselves – individually, as a country, and as a group of countries – what’s going on inside us when we think we’re independent . . . we may find ourselves acting out like little children or teenage children, without even being aware of it. And being so unaware, we may come to believe that is maturity. When it is really not. When we are really not independent. When we are not really mature. When we are not really productive or constructive, but instead are destructive while believing we are not.

With this as a start, here are some of the limitless questions we need to ask ourselves about our being independent . . .

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
We lie and try to hide our lie behind something – ignorance, protection, or even the 1st amendment?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
All we want is to prove someone else is a failure?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
We blame others for our own shortcomings?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
We claim God is on our side and against everyone else?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
We’re so unconscious of ourselves
but believe we’re so conscious?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
We insist “they’re” bad and we’re good;
Or the other way around,
that we’re bad and “they’re” good?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
We insist the darkness is outside us
and only the light is within?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
We falsely believe independence is rebellion,
a fighting against instead of an individuation from within.

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
Our stance is to war against . . .
and we know so little about collaborating with –
or if we do know about it we refuse to develop our ability
to live it?

How can we say we’re independent when . . .
The most fiercely independent women and men I know
use independence to defend against the deep pains and fears of real connection?

Even independence can be misused and abused.
When it’s a fight resulting from a splitting apart –
Us from others and us from ourselves –
We end up wounding others as a result of our own wounding.
That’s a misuse of independence.
When it’s a dedicated working toward wholeness
within each of us, within ourselves –
wholeness that comes from healing –
us with others and most of all us within ourselves . . .
That’s an exquisite use of independence.
That is us being our individuated selves.
And that is the prerequisite to inter-dependence.

Sadly, we believe independence is the finish line.
And sadly, the consequence of this is devastating for us,
individually and communally.

Independence is so very far from the finish line. . .
If there even is a finish line.
Believing we’re independent when we’re not and
living the distortions of independence
keep us from the ever-unfolding process that is truly possible for us –
the process of growing, healing, evolving, transforming
to truly fulfill our potential – individually and globally.

Related articles:
Independence? Not As Long As…
Even a King Needs Help…
When Someone Really Listens, We Heal

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brookfield, Connecticut

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Isla


    July 6th, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    I can say that I am free because I chose to break the shackles of my dysfunctional family so that I did not have to be a part of their madeness anymore. See, that’s the great thing about grwoing up. You can make these life decisions about whether you choose to stay bound to the idiocies of the family that you were raised by or whether you choose to break away from all of that and cut all ties. I chose to leave all of that behind me, and I can’t think of a better decision that I have ever made. So yes, I can say that I am free and have never regreeted it a day in my life.

  • carroll farmer

    carroll farmer

    July 6th, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    I never realized just how far from that proverbial finish line independence could be until I thought that I had achieved just that.
    What I did not take into consideration was how my own upbringing, no matter how far removed I felt that I had moved, just how that continued to affect me in the way that I treated my own immediate family.
    Even though I did not want to be close to my parents anymore, it was scary to me that I had become them and was doing the same things and saying the same things to my own children that I hated so much when they did and said them to me.
    I realized that often there is no escape from this, it just makes up who you are. It is not an excuse to repeat the past, but it should show you that it is a lot easier to say that you don’t want to lead that kind of life than to achieve that in actuality.

  • Benji


    July 6th, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    Reading this article makes me realize just how thankful I am to have had the family that I was lucky enough to have.

  • Toby


    July 6th, 2012 at 10:24 PM

    Wonderful post! Just as there is no well defined idea of perfection, there really is no finish line when it comes to independence. It is a constant endeavor that drives us to choose things that are good for not just us but for everybody, independence is not about not being dependent on another person or being controlled by another nation but it’s about you being liberated in your mind. And that is a constant struggle, a constant war we are at with ourselves. To defeat the bad in us and helping the goodness in us win.

    Once again, a very very nice post and apt for a fourth of July weekend. I am going to share this with all my friends.

  • Rae


    July 7th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    I for one thought that this article was such a downer. I think that it probably just encouraged even more people to think oh well I will never be free from whatever that situation is that they deal with, so they become resigned to keeping it a part of their lives and staying enmeshed in the mess it has created for them. I don’t think that’s a very healthy message.

  • nana j

    nana j

    July 8th, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    You write as if we have no control over who we are and what we choose to become. Yes for a while our families can identify us and mold us, but isn’t that what growing up and learning to make your own decisions is all about? I wanted to foster this kind of growth in my children. I told them that this was how I was raised and how I chose to raise them, but I did want them to feel free to make their own choices about life when they were old enough to do so. It is only when you remain complacent that you can use htis excuse that you are not free or independent. I think that anyone with half a brain and a little determination knows when the time is right to make that move away from being wrapped up in their family and has enough faith in who they are to begin making some decisions on their own.

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    July 10th, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    Thank you all for your responses to my post “How Can We Say We’re Independent?” Each of you has expressed yourself in your comments, and by expressing your own thoughts and feelings, perhaps you have also echoed the thoughts and feelings of others who haven’t commented. So by responding, you have given me the opportunity to clarify and restate the essence of what I was saying. . . to you and to anyone else reading.

    I’m so glad for those of you who really connected with the essence of what I was saying. For example … It truly is about our being liberated within us – not only in our minds, but also in our bodies, in our hearts, and in our souls – and not only individually but also communally.

    And I am deeply saddened by those who experienced the post as a downer or as my saying we have no control over who we are and who we can become. If this is what you have experienced, you have misunderstood me and my heart. I was not at all saying we will never be free from what haunts us from our childhood wounding. I was not at all saying we have no control over who we are and who we can become.

    I was saying it is absolutely possible to heal to the root and really free ourselves. I was saying it is absolutely within our control to commit to, pursue, and follow through on this healing and become all we have the potential to be. I was saying let’s not settle for either deluding ourselves into believing we’re free when we aren’t or doing work on the surface levels that take care only of the symptoms instead of doing the real healing. I was saying let’s not settle for band-aids and quick fixes. I was saying let’s not refuse to do the work to become truly free for some reason we don’t yet understand. I was saying let’s go through what we need to go through to truly, deeply, really heal to the core . . . individually and communally. I was saying instead of resigning ourselves to what we think is all there is, let’s do the healing. I was saying that I have helped and witnessed people healing to the core of their beings. I was saying that the truth of our ability to truly heal to the root brings hope, offers hope, gives hope, is the hope.

    I hope this helps you understand the truth of what I was really saying.

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