Autonomy vs Dependency

Self-determination and self-respect are the necessary keys  to take full responsibility for and control over your own life. Without these keys, it’s easy to be caught up in the fantasy  that there is someone else who will make it better, who can or should take total care of you, who is able to be responsible for you more effectively than you can yourself. 


We have this dream for two reasons:
1) when you were little your parents took care of you and made it better; and/or
2) overloaded or incompetent parents failed to teach you the skills necessary to take care of and feel capable of being responsible for yourself. 

You start to learn autonomy when you realize how false and destructive this dream is. When you understand that no one can take care of you better and that only you are responsible for your life and you start to learn effective methods for doing these things yourself.

Autonomy can be called several things:
self-government: this is the dictionary definition of autonomy; making your own rules and living by them; also called self-reliance.

• self-trust: being able to make a promise to yourself and keep it, as you would a promise to a respected friend. Extending the same careful consideration to yourself that you would wish from a friend.

self-determination: deciding your own future through planning and careful action.

• self-confidence: the security that comes from having a sense of purpose, and the confidence to accomplish your purpose. 

• self-esteem: appreciation of your talents and abilities, the recognition that you are a healthy, capable and loveable person.

• higher purpose: self-motivation, a desire to create and accomplish, regardless of outer rewards, but for the satisfaction of accomplishment.

• self-love: the healing of old pain and resentment, comfort with your own feelings, self-nurturing and self-support.

By achieving the ability to take care of and be responsible for yourself, you acquire:

1) The emotional tools necessary to free yourself from dependency. When a problem arises, instead of blaming someone else, or “running away” through denial or addictive behavior, as an autonomous person you learn the skills it takes to face it squarely, find out as much as possible about it, consider many options, weigh the possible outcome of each option, and perhaps seek advice and counsel before reaching a decision. As an autonomous person, you can ask directly for help, but you remain in charge of how much and what kind of help you accept, and you make clear agreements about what is expected in return.

2) The role models that enable you to choose appropriate friends and a suitable mate. The interaction you have with yourself is a role model for all your other relationships. Learning about autonomy in yourself also helps you see it in others. When you have a caring, responsible relationship with yourself, you develop an internal relationship model to use as a basis for your friendships and intimate relationships with others.


3) the understanding that you are responsible for yourself and must learn whatever you need to make your life successful, functional and happy.

The popular idea of parents' “responsibility” for children can be counter-productive.  Because parents think in terms of owning and controlling their offspring rather than teaching them to make choices on their own, many children are taught dependency, not autonomy. These parental attitudes prevent children from learning self-esteem and the pleasure of self-love. Children who don’t learn self-love and self-control (rather than guilt and duty) become addictive adults. Those children who are taught self-esteem and autonomy and therefore take care of themselves are viewed with disbelief (she can’t be that good) suspicion (yes, but if we only knew...) and envy (some people have all the luck) by the others.

Another reason autonomy can seem difficult is because most of our society actively discourages it. Media images of love and caring, a parental “I know what’s best for you” attitude among helping professionals, religious and political figures, and the generally accepted idea of parents’ duty create an atmosphere in which autonomy appears to be selfish and alien. We are influenced to value caring for others to the point of martyrdom, and to regard caring for ourselves as self-centered and egotistic.

Contrary to these beliefs, independence and autonomy actually enhance relationships with others, and allow giving and receiving to be truly unconditional. Only a person who is fully able to care for him or herself can be free to love and give freely; deprived people give grudgingly. The following chart will help you compare what autonomy is and isn’t:


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