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The Trap of Self-Sufficiency

I said it out loud and felt the weight lift.

For years I had been burying these thoughts and these feelings. I had also been carrying questions like: Why do I feel this way? Shouldn’t I be able to figure this out? I have a lot to be grateful for, shouldn’t I just be happy? Other people would just think I’m complaining, right? What would others think of me if they knew this? What if they misunderstand me?

As we grow up, we are taught to be self-sufficient: needing no outside help in satisfying one’s basic needs, emotionally and intellectually independent. There is a level of independence that is important, but we often push it so far that a stigma around needing support or asking for help develops. Today, it is rampant in our culture and contributing to the increasing mental health challenges and suicide rates we face as humans. People are struggling, they’re just doing it alone in silence. This is dangerous for all of us.

When the idea of independence gets extreme, we lose our connection to others. We start to believe we have to depend on ourselves which can be a slippery slope into isolation that can turn into selfishness, bitterness, and resentment or into shame, fear and loneliness. We lose perspective. We operate out of self-protection. Look around…is this not the norm of the world we are living in?

The truth is, we are all connected. The truth is, we need each other.

For those of us who regularly tell ourselves, “I had to…so they should have to too” or “You go about your business and I’ll go about mine” or “You just need to work harder” and on and on…my friend, you are stuck in the trap of self-sufficiency. These words are selfish. They signify a closed heart and mind. You likely believe that your words and actions do not impact others. You likely think you need to protect yourself and make choices that are in your best interest, even if they hurt others or the planet. You likely blame others for what’s happening in the world around you. This is independence gone awry.

Deep down you know your thoughts, words and actions are not rooted in truth, but you don’t let yourself go there. It’s easier to stay stuck in the selfishness, bitterness and resentment. It’s easier to blame others than take responsibility or do the hard work to make change. Your self-sufficiency doesn’t allow you to open up to others because you believe this is just the way it is, but really you are too stubborn or scared to let others in. You are missing out on peace and meaningful connection that is only possible with a change in your own heart and mind. The freedom you long for can only be yours when you’re ready to let go.

For others stuck in the trap of self-sufficiency, you consistently tell yourself things like “If they only knew…” or “I’m too afraid of being hurt” or “They’ll never understand me.” I see you. You have also closed your heart and mind, just in a different way. You long to be close to others but you won’t allow yourself to receive the connection. You fear being a burden. You are concerned about being judged. You are ashamed of needing help. You hold yourself back and keep others at bay which perpetuates the shame, fear and loneliness. You have yourself stuck, and you are the only one who can change it.

This narrative is often innocently born out of building a life around caring for others. We abandon our own needs and feelings to give to and serve those around us. “Don’t worry, I’ve got me and I’ve got you.” We get so focused on others, we forget how to receive. We feel guilty when we need something or have to take a break. We wind up tired, empty and lonely in spite of being surrounded by people. The freedom you long for can only be yours when you’re ready to receive. We cannot give what we do not have.

Self-sufficiency wrecks the natural order of things. We hold on when we need to let go. We close down when when we need to open up. We give when we need to receive. Can you see it in your own life? Do you believe that we are all connected? That we need each other?

Cultural messages and societal pressures leave us feeling: ashamed of needing help, afraid of being a burden, and concerned about being judged. It is up to each of us individually in our relationships, families, organizations and communities to unwind this narrative. We can do this by inviting others into our lives and our own stories. By inviting others in to conversation and connection. By allowing others to help us and give to us. By allowing ourselves to rest and receive so the people around us see that it’s OK too. When we live, lead and work connected and in community, a whole new realm of possibilities opens up.

I have lived in both traps of self-sufficiency. No one knew on the outside, but on the inside I was closed off, bitter and resentful. I blamed others for everything that went wrong in my life. I pointed out the flaws in others and spewed judgements out of self-protection. As I started to heal and open up, that transformed. I let go of what was not mine to control and instead of focusing on everyone else, I started to focus on what I needed to do to improve my own life and the world. I fall into old patterns from time to time, but the bitterness and resentment is mostly gone. It has been replaced by curiosity and compassion for others. I feel free.

I still struggle with the second trap. There are days I hold back because I don’t want to be a burden to someone, or I find myself focusing on everyone else so I don’t have to think about how I’m feeling. The path to health and wholeness is a never ending journey. I have invited a few people close to me to call me out when I’m overdoing it on the giving or helping others so they can help me recenter and work on receiving. As I have opened up and been honest when I’m struggling, I have found that people love me and respect me even more. No judgement. I simply need to get out of my own head and out of my own way. Allow the connection to happen. Receive the love and support.

What if instead of chasing a successful life we desired a connected life? How much healthier and whole would we be as individuals, families, communities and organizations? Loneliness would vanish. Violence would subside. Peace and love would prevail. That’s the life I’m after. Will you join me?

Written by: Lindsay Leahy, Dream Builder at The Restoration Project

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