Real Life: Dependency Is Not a Bad Word
Written by: Crystle Lampitt
Like many of you who endured these recent weeks' storms, I had the pleasure of experiencing a flooded basement. Twice. On both occasions I was out of town. Aside from stressing over the damage that would be done to my house and the money it would cost to repair, I also began stressing over how utterly helpless, frustrated, and dependent I was on other people to manage the situation while I was away.
During the first flood, I was at a journalism conference in Philadelphia, shaking hands with Pulitzer Prize-winning legends, and trying to be a professional while frantically making phone calls home over every break to obsessively check on the carpet, the drywall, the appliances, etc. My networking game face was faltering, and, having a classic Type A personality, I was struggling to accept that somebody else was going to have to handle this situation. Because here's the thing: I want to be able to handle everything, all the time, with perfect hair, heels, and lipstick, and without breaking a sweat. Turns out, I am a sweaty human being.
Many of us hate being out of control and relying on other people. We want to believe we don't need anyone. In fact, we celebrate independence: we want to be financially independent, we want to make our own decisions, and we go nuts with fireworks every 4th of July. And with good reason too— who doesn't want freedom and autonomy? But don't confuse independence with self-sufficiency. We can run our country with our own rules, but we do need to foster good relationships with global leaders so they don't, you know, bomb us. We want their goodwill, we want their business, and we need allies for our own security.
So, why does "dependency" get a bad rap in our close relationships? And I'm not talking about codependency by the way, an oft-misused word that many people equate with couples who are attached at the hip 24/7 (fun fact: "codependency" actually originated from addiction treatment terminology, used to refer to the overly-reliant, enabling spouse of an alcoholic). We come into the world completely dependent on others and we will likely leave the world the same way.
I rely on people every day at work to make sure my segments get recorded, to make sure my outtakes don't get aired (or used as blackmail), and to help me solve problems when our graphics program is down. I literally trust and depend on other people in so many ways, but as soon as I need a favor from a friend or even a romantic partner, the guilt comes: “I should be able to handle all of this on my own. I'll be bothering that person. I will be ‘needy' if I ask for help." Um, what? I asked my brother and some friends to help me move from one house to another a few weeks ago, and I felt awful about it until a friend of mine mentioned in conversation, "Actually, I appreciate when people ask me to move, because it means they feel comfortable relying on me." Wait, what? I was literally feeling guilty because I, a single human, cannot lift a couch by myself. Could I have hired movers? Sure, but let's be honest, my dad, brother, and friends made the process much easier, more fun, and affordable— plus they put together my bed frame and my TV (thanks guys)!
What is this obsession with independence? I do pride myself in being financially independent. I feel confident in my abilities to navigate a foreign country on my own, having spent years solo traveling. Whatever I am not an expert in, I can hire out (back to that financial independence piece). Great! But what about when I want someone talk to when I'm going through a tough time, to hold my hand when I need a little reassurance, to show up when I've gotten in a car wreck, or to take me to the ER when I'm debilitatingly sick? Well, needing someone would make me weak. Right?
Then I read about the dependency paradox. It states that the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent they become. Seems counterintuitive, right? Well thanks to the groundwork laid down by renown psychologists like John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, researchers have been able to demonstrate time and time again how this is true in close relationships. In a more recent series of studies by Brooke Feeney at Carnegie Mellon University (2007), participants indicated through questionnaires that those who considered themselves responsive toward their partner’s needs also felt greater independence— likewise for their partners. In another task, Feeney had the partners solve difficult puzzles, and found that the more participants reported being responsive to their partner’s needs for support, the more likely the participants were to want to solve the puzzles without hints from their partners. In a third instance, participants’ acceptance of their partner’s dependence needs led to greater independent accomplishment of the partner’s own personal goals six months later.
Do you ever notice when an actor accepts an Oscar they literally never go up there and say, “I’d like to thank myself for being so damn awesome that I didn’t need anybody to become a superstar?” They all have a laundry list of people to thank who have helped them get there
If you need more proof of the dependency paradox at play, read up on the aforementioned researchers’ work, because it is fascinating.
For now, take it from me, a consummate workaholic (and occasional control freak with a bit of a guilt complex): you do need other people. Being totally reliant on others when I desperately needed help with my flooded basement forced me to start thinking in this way. As it turns out, despite my lack of hands-on involvement, the world did not end. My friends and family came to the house to check on the water damage while I was away. They tore out the carpet for me, they gave me their best advice on how to move forward, and one good friend even offered to install new flooring for me. Not only did they not accuse me of being needy or annoying, they were happy to help. Plus, thanks to their support, I was better able to concentrate on the work I needed to accomplish at my journalism conference.
The sooner you allow yourself to ask for help, and accept that you do need other people (without guilt), the easier your life will become. Plus, other people need you. So be reliable, be available, and be supportive when you can, and you will find everyone wins.
Crystle Lampitt is a TV Host, Executive Producer, foodie, world-traveler, dog-lover, a yoga and wellness junkie, and a recovering perfectionist.
Connect with Crystle @CrystleLampitt on Twitter and Instagram, and on Facebook.