Letting Go of Rigid Independence: Why It’s Good to Have Help

Man alone Why is it so difficult for some people to allow themselves to be helped? If there was a spectrum on which one end was total independence and the other was complete dependence, where would you say you fall? Ideally, it would be somewhere in the middle or fluidly moving back and forth along the spectrum as circumstances required. But many people get stuck at the independence end of the spectrum and only rarely dare to ask for assistance.

We are all influenced by societal beliefs about independence and dependence. However, those who are rigidly independent may need to look more closely at their personal experiences as dependent children in order to uncover their deep resistance to accepting help from others.

Independence is a healthy and important aspect of human development. It’s also supported by many popular beliefs:

  • Independence is freedom. You’re free to think for yourself, make your own choices, and do what you want without anyone stopping you.
  • Independence is powerful. You have the power to take care of yourself without having to rely on anyone else.
  • Independence is safety. It’s safer to rely on yourself than on people who could prove unreliable or untrustworthy.
  • Independence is respected. Independence is venerated in movies and books. The iconic hero is the lone wolf: strong, silent, and alone.

All of these beliefs contain truth, but not the whole truth.

Freedom at What Cost?

Rigidly independent people may be free to do what they want, but they have to do it alone. Healthy relationships require both partners to sometimes give up control and put the other partner’s needs first. By relying only on themselves, rigidly independent people actually limit their lives. They cannot accomplish large tasks that require the assistance of others. They limit their life experiences by missing out on camping trips, concerts, hobbies, and other shared life events. Rigidly independent people also limit their own emotional and intellectual growth by resisting the knowledge and input of others.

Are You Really Safer?

While taking care of yourself does increase your safety, your safety increases even more when you have a network of friends, family, and public services that you can rely on in times of need. The rigidly independent sometimes endanger themselves by being unwilling to accept assistance. Think of the elderly person who refuses to accept a caregiver and then accidentally burns the house down; the teen who drives drunk because he or she is unwilling to call a parent for help; or the woman who is too proud of her independence to ask a friend to walk her to her car late at night.

Who Feels Respected?

People respect independence, but not when it’s unyielding. People respect those who respect them back. Rigid independence devalues the contributions of others; it implies that they have nothing to offer you; and it disrespects their skills, wisdom, and generosity.

However, even those who are aware of the benefits of letting go of their rigid independence may find themselves unable to do so. For these people, this may be the time to examine their own negative views and possible past experiences with dependency. A person who experienced shame, danger, or betrayal as a child may not have the ability as an adult to find safe, trustworthy people to rely on.

We were all completely dependent on others when we were small children—and may need to be again as we age or become disabled. But even if we don’t require physical assistance, the fact is people still need each other. There’s no shame in it. Find safe people and let go of rigid independence … because we all need a little help sometimes.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” —H.E. Luccock

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rena Pollak, LMFT, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Val

    March 11th, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    I would suspect that there are a whole lot of older people who struggle with this on a daily basis. They remember the abilities that they used to have but do not now think about the limitations that face them today. I think that it can be very difficult to give up that independence because most of us do hate to feel like we are dependent on someone else. There is a certain amount of guilt that goes along with that, for me anyway.

  • Claudia

    March 11th, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    I will willingly admit that I am a bit of a control freak so the thought of having to give some of that over to another person is very scary for me, and I am sure that it will be very hard for me to accept if it ever comes to that.

  • sted

    March 12th, 2015 at 6:06 AM

    There’s always the point of view that sometimes it’s nice to let someone else take control so that you have less to worry about

  • Rena Pollak

    March 12th, 2015 at 10:05 AM

    Yes, Sted, it can be nice to let someone else take over, especially if it’s not scary, as Claudia suggested it might be, because you can trust your caregivers and you aren’t subject to the guilt, that Val stated is sometimes attached to receiving help.

  • Jill

    March 12th, 2015 at 12:23 PM

    Where does that shame stem from? I mean, if it’s a a good thing to rely on others, and most of us feel good when other people rely on us, then what makes it so wrong?

  • joanie

    March 13th, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    Going through this very thing in my family right now!
    My mom has and always will be so fiercely independent but she recently had a car wreck and we have had to take turns staying with her and helping her through some of her therapy and stuff.
    Well you would think that this was the end of the world, like we are intruding on her space and stuff and sometimes I just have to smile to keep from crying.
    All any of us do is want to help her through this but all she wants to do is be angry about it all.

  • Rena Pollak

    March 13th, 2015 at 5:28 PM

    It is unfortunate that many people have such negative feelings about being cared for by another. Unknowingly, the painful feelings that can arise for the person needing help can also hurt the people who are trying to care for them.

  • lillian

    March 14th, 2015 at 8:24 AM

    I agree with you 100% Rena!

  • Jimmy

    March 16th, 2015 at 3:08 PM

    I think that we must understand that certainly for older people, they feel like once they give up this little piece of independence that they have been holding onto then they will never get any of that back and that has to be a very sad feeling. I know that the rest of us stand back and say that we would love to have someone help us out, but when you are accustomed to doing everything on your own you know that in some ways it has to feel very demeaning to now have to ask others for assistance. All I ask is that we give these elderly citizens the same respect that we would ask for if this was happening to us.

  • claudette t.

    March 17th, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    It would be alright to give a little of this up if you ever thought that there would be some to regain in the future, but for most of us who are older, we understand that this is going to be a permanent letting go of our freedom and you have to realize that this will be difficult.
    I am 80 and know that I need more help than what I may have needed in the past but that does not make it any easier to ask for it or even accept it at times.

  • Jillian

    May 5th, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Being rigidly independent is negative when it comes to help … but don’t confuse that with someone who would rather spend time alone. As someone who has always enjoyed eating alone, going to movies alone, attending things alone, and not needing the gross sense of connection to others that I am told I need to be “happy”, I feel a bit more prepared for my senior years. Finally, some peace and quiet.

  • Sonja

    May 5th, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    I don’t think rigid independence necessarily limits emotional or intellectual growth, but it does limit us in many ways. mostly because those of us that are rigidly independent often struggle with the feeling of being overwhelmed. I know my childhood is the basis of my issue, but I do not blame my rigid independence solely on that. But learning to accept another’s help difficult when it past experiences have been unpleasant, hurtful, and manipulative.

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