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Relatedness versus Autonomy

    In Greek mythology Penelope spent her days weaving and her nights unraveling her work so as to delay its completion. She had good reason for her actions, but we would usually prefer NOT to waste time unraveling the progress we have just made toward one goal or another. Yet, often, we do. Why? And how can we stop working against ourselves?

    There are many areas in our lives where both ends of a dimension are, in their own way, desirable. One example is being independent and at the opposite end being related/connected with others. Both are desirable, but at extremes each tends to work against the other. At another time I will look at other dimensions that give us similar difficulties, but this month the focus is on the independence and connectedness problem.

    We tend to move back and forth on this dimension, at one moment eager to be free and independent of everyone, at another yearning to be enfolded in the bosom of a loving community. Then, feeling that enfoldment to be too smothering, we push indignantly away again. In young children this ambivalence is almost comic in its obviousness. In some adults it continues so that they spend time and energy on achieving goals in one direction, only to undo them when they feel a need to move back in the other.

    The truth is that all normal human beings have need for both independence and connectedness. The issue is, how much? How much independence are we prepared to surrender in order to retain the support of our family or community? How much connectedness are we prepared to give up so as to pursue our independence and do our own thing?

    For each of us the answers are very strongly affected by the "tribal ethic" of our family or community. The pressures can be intense. In my work as a substance abuse counselor I have seen people whose health, even lives, are endangered, but who are unable to work the effective recovery that they desperately desire because, in order to do so, they would have to separate from family members who continue to use. Psychologists call such families "enmeshed." Another way to put it is, "If one person stubs her toe, the rest of the family limps for a month." With the best of intentions these communities (not always families) may hold each other back from important change and growth. In the opposite direction, there are families like my own, whose traditions may involve separation through boarding schools, travel, and emigration across the world - greatly increasing independence but reducing the availability of support and connectedness.

    For many families and individuals, a compromise is reached by family togetherness at the holidays and the maintenance of distance and independence the rest of the year. For others, the push/pull may continue daily, leaving them rarely comfortable or free from external pressures and 'shouldas,' and from internal yearnings and 'wannas.'

    It is because there are no definite right or wrong standards to guide us that these decisions are so difficult, and therefore often remain unmade. Independence is good. Connectedness is good. Tough choice! Yet if we do not choose, we may spend our lives alternately seeking and then fleeing from opposing goals and lifestyles at either end of the dimension. The more extremely we approach one end, the more likely is a rebound to the other.

    Ideally each individual needs to decide where s/he is most comfortable, and then consciously work toward establishing a lifestyle that encompasses the chosen levels of both independence and connectedness. This is often a difficult choice and may involve a compromise with oneself that can only be guided by careful and deliberate self-examination. In other words, as always, "know thyself."

    How do you respond to these competing pressures?

    Do you find that your need for independence and your need for connectedness continue to war with each other in your decisions and your lifestyle?

    Have you created for yourself a community that offers both space AND support?

    Can you? Why not?



    People who fidget burn many more calories per hour than those who remain physically relaxed. Consider, not as an alternative to aerobic exercise but as a extra "bonus," when you could exercise one or more muscle groups while doing something else. Tighten and hold some portion of your anatomy for the count of ten while driving? Waiting at a red light? Sitting at your computer? Rhythmically move arms and/or legs while waiting for a web site to load? Strengthen foot muscles by raising on tiptoe while standing in line or in front of the mirror? The muscles strengthen and the calories burn - it's a win/win actively with no down side! Try it.


    � 2005 by Diana Robinson, Ph.D.
    Choices Success Strategies Coaching
    Work in Progress may be reproduced in its entirety only, including this copyright line. Disclaimer -The contents herein are solely the opinions of Work in Progress owner, and should not be considered as a form of therapy nor advice. There is no guarantee of validity or accuracy. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, services of a competent professional should be sought. TO SUBSCRIBE to Work in Progress send a blank e-mail to workinprogress-On@lists.webvalence.com. To offer feedback e-mail Diana.