in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

Sunday Firesides: Dependence to Independence

A crying baby.

When you’re a baby and a toddler, you’re helpless: you can’t articulate what you need and what’s bothering you. You can only cry or throw a tantrum or rely on your parents to accurately read and interpret your mood and body language.

You’ve probably never thought about it, but you first learned to get what you want by getting other people to give it to you. This was your foundation for navigating the world.

Unfortunately, many people don’t outgrow this phase of infantile dependence. They still primarily try to get what they want by manipulating others, by having a “tantrum,” by metaphorically quivering their lip or pooping in their pants and then waiting for someone to notice. They wait for a solution to their problems to arrive from the outside.

Maturing means growing in your capability to meet your own needs, as you become progressively more skilled, competent, and emotionally intelligent. And it means becoming less needy in general. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants and to serve them oneself?”

No one ever becomes completely independent of other people, and it would not be desirable to do so. But when you do need help, you ask for it directly. You don’t expect other people to read your mind, and then act put out when they fail to manifest these psychic powers. Many a relationship is sunk by such implicit assumptions: “You should know how I feel without my saying so.” “You should know what I need without my telling you.”

Growing up means growing out of an indirect, infantile, dependent way of meeting your needs, and into a direct, mature, independent approach to obtaining what you want.

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