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Every Day Is Independence Day, and Interdependence Day

One out of many: Balancing the seesaw of independence and intimacy

Meeting individual needs while maintaining groups ties is hard work. Constant small adjustments are necessary. We are better at this than we realize.

For example, when I go to a yoga class, I sit in the front so I can’t see what other people are doing. That saves me from judging myself, and it forces me to listen hard so I'm distracted from my muscle strain. I didn't notice my strategy until I brought my daughter to my yoga class one day. She said she usually stays in back so she can see what others are doing. She may have had a different strategy, but both of us were adjusting for our individual needs to get the benefit of a yoga class.

Mammals evolved to live in groups, but each brain is constantly analyzing its own best interest. For example, a wildebeest runs with a herd of thousands, but when it reaches a riverbank, it makes an individual decision. If it jumps in too soon, it might be isolated and a crocodile will eat it. If it waits too long, it might get left behind and a lion could eat it. If it hesitates too long it might get shoved in by the crowd building up behind it. But if it jumps impulsively it might knock into others and get injured. The animal’s brain is working furiously, even when it seems to be just following along.

We have inherited a brain good at meeting its needs while living with others. Sociologist Deborah Tannen explains that your brain starts worrying about independence as soon as you achieve intimacy, and it worries about intimacy as soon as you achieve independence. The more we satisfy one need, the more we seek the other. You forget your successes because your brain is onto the next thing.

The mammal brain rewards you with dopamine when you meet a need, and it rewards you with oxytocin when you create intimacy. Your mammal brain takes what you have for granted and focuses on what you lack. Once your dopamine is stimulated, you would like some more oxytocin. Once you have enough oxytocin, you long for more dopamine. Both are important, but in each moment, a mammal weighs one need against others.

Every day is independence day, and intimacy day. You get both by making lots of small decisions. Sometimes it feels like people are using you as protection from crocodiles. Other times, you stick with safety in numbers though you’d rather be alone. You don’t have everything in every moment. But you don’t need to. You only need to know that you are skilled at choosing. You may get frustrated with your fellow mammal, but you can make adjustments and meet your needs.

There's lots more on this in my books I, Mammal and .