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The Real Scoop on Your Dependency and Suffering

Don't let anyone shame you for being "too dependent."

Dependency has gotten a bad rap. (Can’t you say “interdependency"? a colleague wonders.) The fact is, we all depend on others. It’s part of the human condition. We can pretend this isn’t so when we’re young and healthy and our work is going well.

But even when things are moving along swimmingly, we all rely on multiple services, systems, and structures just to get through the day. We don’t notice this fact when all goes well, as it often does for middle-class folks. But let’s say your computer crashes, your health insurance gets canceled, your best friend moves away, your car gets stolen, and you can’t find a dentist in an emergency. When the systems that support you break down, you learn just how dependent you really are.

The cultural emphasis on independence is so strong that we may actually feel ashamed of our dependence. The shaming of people who have special emotional or physical needs runs so deep that we fail to question it, yet we need to. Writer Anne Finger puts it so well. “We have this notion that some dependencies are OK and others are not,” she writes. “It’s OK to need a car; it’s not OK to need a wheelchair. It’s OK to go to a hairstylist to get your hair done; it’s not OK to need an attendant to wash your face and hands.”

People may also feel shame for their honest suffering. Everyone suffers sometimes, yet we’re taught to tuck it away, to deny grief rather than welcome its expression. As bell hooks notes, we may feel shame especially about grief that lingers: “Like a stain on our clothes, it marks us as flawed, imperfect. To cling to grief, to desire its expression, is to be out of sync with modern life, where the hip does not get bogged down in mourning.”

Surrendering to forces or events larger than we are isn’t our cultural orientation. We have a constitutional right to pursue happiness (not truth or wisdom, mind you), and it’s our job to “take control of our lives” and run the show. We’re expected to turn even the most unfathomable losses into an opportunity for personal growth. Writer Michael Ventura calls this cultural expectation our “consumer attitude toward experience,” and notes that other cultures find this attitude unnatural.

Dependency and suffering are essential components of the human condition. Sooner or later, harsh experience teaches us how much we need each other. The only aspect of either that’s really shameful is the persistent and false societal belief that people can bootstrap their way to health, wealth, and happiness. In fact, it’s wise to get some experience in voicing your vulnerability and strengthening your connections during calmer times—before the universe sends you a crash course on how much you really need people.