Have you ever met someone who is dreadfully determined in their independence? I mean the person who refuses to ask for help, refuses to accept help when offered, and is determined not to be a burden and not to need anything from anyone? Well, you have now. Hello. My name is Marjorie, and I’m obnoxiously independent.
According to my parents, I’ve been this way for a very long time – like since I was 2-ish. Apparently, my nickname as a toddler was “Miss Independence.” I’m pretty sure most toddlers start out this way as they begin to separate somewhat from their parents. They want to open the door by themselves. They don’t want to hold your hand to cross the street. They want to pour the milk by themselves. They definitely don’t want help washing their hands in the sink (even though it’s far too high up for an effective reach).
Question is, why do some of us stay that way – fiercely independent, I mean? I honestly have a visceral reaction to having to ask for help. I really do. It’s one of the most difficult tasks for me. I HATE needing help. with anything. Even when I try really hard to convince myself that people have the ability to refuse, I manage to cloak myself in a huge mantle of guilt. It rarely crosses my mind to let someone else open a door, carry my bags, help me move, give me a ride, etc. I HATE ASKING FOR HELP!
Thing is, we all need help sometimes. And, it isn’t just about needing help with tasks or during hardships, it’s about being connected. It’s about community.
If there’s anything I’m learning as I get older it’s that I can’t do life independently. I mean, I can try. I can open my own doors and lug my own grocery bags. I can even haul boxes and hail a cab. But, at the end of the day, if I really want to find meaning in my life and to live fully and wholeheartedly, I can’t do that in isolation. I have to be open to connection.
In my life, I have hurt friends and sabotaged potential love relationships by refusing to connect fully. It isn’t an intentional choice – not connecting. Here is where I could insert a quote from my last post about that which makes us afraid. Connecting is scary. Allowing ourselves to open to and be vulnerable to relationships of all kinds is frightening. It means being known. It means exposing our imperfections and often those things about ourselves we work so hard to hide. And, ultimately, it means we might get hurt.
Have you ever had your heart broken? And, I don’t mean by your kindergarten sweetheart who broke up with you on the playground (although admittedly traumatic at a young age). I mean the kind of heartbreak that actually hurts in your chest. The kind that leaves you sobbing yourself to sleep for weeks. The kind that causes you to question every ounce of your own worthiness. If not, let me tell you – it sucks!
What happens to many of us after this kind of hurt is that we armor up. And, I don’t mean we protect our temporarily sensitive hearts, I mean we gear up in full on body armor. Head to toe, “I will not let anyone hurt me again. Ever.” When we feel exposed and vulnerable, the last thing we want (or so we tell ourselves) is to be known, for our secrets or those parts of ourselves of which we’re not particularly proud to be seen by another. And, for some of us, it’s difficult even to reveal the parts we like because we’ve convinced ourselves we aren’t worthy of the connection.
I’m currently a professional counselor, and I used to be a hospital chaplain. So, I’ve managed to make a living out of knowing others without ever needing to be known. Because of professional ethical boundaries, it’s important that I not reveal much about myself to my clients. In the hospital, I witnessed some of the most vulnerable and sacred moments in others’ lives while they really knew nothing more about me than the name on my badge.
I burnt out at that hospital job and am quickly shrinking away from my current occupation. I’ve wondered for a while why. What occurs to me now is the isolation, the reality of not opening myself up to others. For a long time I convinced myself that I could be ok carrying intimate knowledge of others without needing to share my own story, without needing to experience mutual connection.
I was wrong. It takes a village, people. I need my village. I need to connect and to experience the fullness of being in community. I was wrong when I thought hiding and ‘protecting myself from hurt’ would actually be less painful than being disconnected and unknown. It isn’t. It’s just as painful and perhaps more so to realize that I can count on one hand the number of people I’d say really know me.
And, so, I’ve started answering more honestly when people ask me how I’m doing. I’m attempting to swallow my pride and perfectionism and show my true colors (even when they’re bleeding into one another). As difficult as it is, I’m trying to be more intentional about letting others in and allowing myself to be known. It’s a little frightening. I take that back. It’s a LOT frightening. Writing this blog is simultaneously terrifying and liberating. Most of you don’t know me. But, some of you do. Some of you are part of my village, whether you realize it or not.
And, that’s just it. Being in community with others means knowing we’re in it together. It means not being afraid to be seen. It means feeling safe in our vulnerability and imperfection. It means raising one another up and helping one another to find our voices and our authentic and best selves.
So, in case you’re one of those fiercely independent types who thinks you can take on this life by yourself, my encouragement is to acknowledge your village. And if you don’t have one, find ways to cultivate community for yourself. It’s really that important. Pretending that we can keep ourselves safe and protect our abilities to be self-sufficient by refusing to connect is hurting not only ourselves but those who wish to join us on our journey.
It takes a village, indeed…