Counter-Dependency

That’s me! I never think to ask for help until after a crisis is over. Then I tell people what happened and they get mad at me for not letting them know at the time. They are frightened (what if something bad happened and they had no idea what was going on?) and rejected and feel I don’t trust them. It’s natural to feel those things. Only then does it dawn on me that I should have at least let them know I had a problem and give them the opportunity to help me.

This goes for big things. Once my doctor put me on a new heart medication that dropped my blood pressure and slowed my pulse. I called for an appointment and got one the same day. Since I didn’t feel faint, I got in my car and drove the few blocks. I forget what my blood pressure was, but both systolic and diastolic were in the double digits. My pulse was 28. So I was kept for observation for a few hours and amused myself reading lot of junky magazines. When he checked me at the end of the day, he asked me how I got to the office and was appalled to hear I had driven myself. It had never even occurred to me to call a taxi, let alone tell somebody in my family or circle of friends. Oh, and I only thought of calling 911 as I wrote this!

It goes for little things, too. I no longer use step ladders so I no longer change light bulbs. Instead of asking my best friend, who would gladly do it, I automatically adjust to less light. Bulbs only get replaced when he notices that they are out. Which reminds me, there are at least four that are burned out right now.

This has been a habit of mine since childhood. The adults in my life could not be counted on to be helpful; when I asked for help in every-day life they usually blamed me and scolded me. I learned at an early age to keep my problems to myself and take care of them as best I could. That was an eminently sensible decision, because I was the most reliable person I knew. By the time I was an adult, being independent was deeply ingrained in me.

Psychology books see excessive independence in a slightly different light. They conceptualize counter-dependency as leaning over backwards to avoid dependency. It masks a deep yearning to be taken care of, to be held and cuddled and fed when hungry and cooed at. Later in life to be tucked into bed and read to and praised and fed healthy meals and given bandaids for scraped knees and smiled at for no reason at all. I would have liked very much to have had all those things, but, for the most part, I had to live without them. Both my description and the books’ description of counter-dependency are true — they go hand-in-hand.

As I age, the situation is changing. There are fewer things I can do for myself, no matter how much I want to, and so my choice is to ask somebody or do without. Naturally, there is a lot I do without these days, and consequently my life has shrunk considerably. Being barely able to walk means that if I go someplace I have to be sure there is parking real close by. I can’t use public transportation because the stops are too far away. I no longer drive at night and that means no concerts or plays. It’s sad.

There is an upside to this, though. I think of asking for help more often and I feel I am growing in this regard. I have been given the opportunity to see people in a different light, as helpful and non-shaming. I am slowly breaking the rigid role my parents cast for me. I try and see my loss of independence in a positive light — an opportunity to go and learn something new rather than as a loss of one thing after another. Some days that’s a comforting and uplifting attitude, other days it seems awfully goody-two-shoes.

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3 thoughts on “Counter-Dependency

    1. I’m glad you can relate. Somehow it is easier to deal with something when you have the words for it!

      And guess what? Jeff is changing my light bulbs this afternoon!

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