Autonomy vs Dependency

Here are several situations, which are common for people who have dependency problems; first as they are usually handled by dependent people, and then as they are handled by those who have achieved autonomy:

• You find yourself letting your exercise routine go, because your new lover doesn’t exercise. Dependency: You notice this, but you do nothing about it. Autonomy: You notice it, and go on to discuss the situation with your lover, explain how important your routine is to you, and discuss possible solutions until you find a mutually satisfactory plan. 

Your raise is due, and you deserve it, but it hasn’t been mentioned. Dependency: You’re afraid to ask about it. Autonomy: You request an appointment with your supervisor, and calmly remind her of the due date. 

• You call a plumber to fix a stopped-up drain, and he wants to tear out the whole wall and replace all the pipes. Dependency: Even though you think he’s wrong, and you’d like another opinion, you let him do it.  Autonomy: You ask him for a clear explanation of why he wants to do the extra work. When you find out that boring the drain out would be a temporary solution, you ask him to do that, and give yourself time to get another estimate on the larger job. When you have two or three estimates, you make your decision.

• You feel anxious, and you go to the doctor to see if your thyroid is overactive. Your physical says everything’s OK, but the doctor prescribes Valium to calm you down.  Dependency: You don’t think it’s good for you, but you take it because he said so. Autonomy: You tell her that you’re unwilling to take tranquilizers or relaxants, and ask for alternatives. She recommends therapy, yoga or meditation. You ask your friends for recommendations and join a class in relaxation techniques.

• Your friend, who has had a number of accidents, asks to borrow your car. Dependency: You worry about it, but you give him the car keys. Autonomy: You say, “I'm sorry. I'd like to help, but I can’t loan you my car. Can I drive you somewhere?”

• Your brother, who’s always in debt, and never pays you back, asks for money. Dependency: You resent it, but you give it to him. Autonomy: You explain that you don’t have extra to give away, and carrying the debt he owes you is beginning to hurt your relationship. You care too much about him to let it go any further.

• Your wife always wants to spend Thanksgiving at her mother’s. Dependency: Even though you miss holidays at your family, and they complain that they miss you, you give in to keep the peace at home. Autonomy: You tell her that you miss holidays at your family, and they complain that they miss you, so you want to talk about other options. Together, you discuss the problem, talk to your respective families, and decide that this year you’ll go to your parents on Thanksgiving, and your wife’s family on the Sunday after.

• Your husband is much harsher with your children than you think is right. Dependency: You say nothing because you're afraid of him. Autonomy: You call a child psychologist to get an independent opinion, and when the psychologist says the behavior is abusive, you request that your husband go with you to family counseling. If he refuses, you go to counseling yourself to find out how to protect yourself and your children.

• Your former roommate has too much to drink at your party. Dependency: You don’t think she should drive home, but when she insists, you let her. Autonomy: You don’t think she should drive home, so you call a taxi and keep her car keys. The next day, you call and make arrangements for her to get her car.

• You hear that your friend spread a rumor about you. Dependency: You’re hurt and confused, but you don’t ask her about it; you just let the friendship deteriorate. Autonomy: You’re hurt and confused, so you ask her to have lunch with you. At lunch, you tell her what you heard, ask her if it’s true, and get an explanation that clears things up.

“Autonomy, wrote Denton Roberts in Able and Equal, “is the knowledge that we are the owners of our lives. We are not owned by parents, bosses, government, church, neighbors, spouses, children or cars....we are not, sometimes much to our dismay, victims of people and institutions. No longer being a victim means we determine our lives and what to do with them. Our ability to respond to life is both and asset and a challenge. Without the indulgent feeling of being victimized by the world or circumstances, we take possession of life.”


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