Farewell, Independence!

Do you find yourself saying “no” to offers of help from others, because you can handle it all on your own no matter what? Do you feel that you can’t ever ask for support even when you could really use some, because you don’t want to be a burden to others or appear weak or needy? Do you pride yourself on being strong and independent all the time? If so, I hate to break the news to you: There’s a good chance that you’re dysfunctionally independent and aren’t able to receive genuinely and graciously. Take heart, though, as you’re far from alone, and I know firsthand how you feel!

Shift HappensDysfunctional Independence

One of the books I’m reading and working with is Shift Happens! by Robert Holden. (Note: Don’t miss the “f” in “Shift”! :-)) The book is a compilation of short essays, with each brief, accessible chapter dealing with a specific aspect of consciousness to be shifted in order to live an inspired life. In the essay about independence, Dr. Holden lists a number of questions to help us assess whether we are what he coined “dysfunctionally independent.” He says (pg. 38):

Independence is not a strength, it is a wound. Independence is inspired not by love, but fear, and not by wholeness but aloneness. Independence is ego’s attempt to be its own god.

Ouch. For most of my life, I took pride in being independent, and have worked hard to remain so. But, when I read Dr. Holden’s description of independence and answered his questions about how I became independent, the revealed truth deeply stirred my soul. Here are the questions (pg. 40):

  • When did you decide to become so independent?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • Who hurt you? Who let you down?
  • When did you lose your faith?
  • What are you defending against?

Receiving is the Key to Giving

Earlier this year, I wrote about recognizing that my true self is Pure Love, and how I embrace being an instrument of Love in service of others. At the same time, though, I knew that I wasn’t nearly as comfortable with receiving as giving. It’s so much easier to give than to receive, because to receive genuinely and graciously requires me to be vulnerable and to be open to the possibility of being hurt. Yet, I also knew that when I don’t receive, I cut off the circulation of love, which requires both giving and receiving. Besides, as Dr. Holden says (pg. 89):

Receiving is the key to giving. If you do not receive, all your giving eventually deteriorates into sacrifice. … and you play the victim.

Ouch again. I realized how dysfunctionally independent I had become, and how much I had inadvertently committed to being alone in all areas of my life—in the name of remaining strong and independent. Independence was the defense I had adopted and exercised most of my life to avoid feeling like a burden to others, and to protect myself from the pain of being unwanted and unloved.

With the above revelation, I went on a retreat in the redwoods last Thursday. The theme was “We are Love.” At the opening session of the retreat, I set the intention to be in the presence of Love. Almost as soon as I energetically released that intention, it was set in motion. Before that session was over, I felt a lifetime of trying to hold it together as a strong, independent woman crumbling. It felt as if a million lights were all at once shone on my humanness. There was no place to hide, as tears poured out uncontrollably.

In my emotional nakedness, I felt extremely vulnerable, and needed more than anything to be physically held by a loving pair of arms. Seated next to me at the time happened to be a spiritual counselor friend with whom I’ve taken classes for the past 2 years. I couldn’t bring myself to ask him to hold me. Instead, I turned my need to be held over to my God, the Love within me, and fully succumbed to the experience of giving up the defenses I had built up inside against receiving love. Before I knew it, I felt my friend’s arms wrapped around me, pulling me gently toward him. I completely surrendered my need to be strong, and let him hold me as I sobbed next to his heartbeat. I ended up asking him to do the same for me again the next evening, as more tears fell while I continued to surrender decades of pent up control.

Releasing the Need to be Alone

On the last day of the retreat, I walked the labyrinth at the retreat center. I entered the labyrinth with the intention of releasing the old agreement with myself to be alone, energetically releasing remnants of being hurt in the past that fueled my defensive independence. As I followed the same path in reverse out of the labyrinth, I did so with the intention of opening my heart to giving and receiving love, complete with corresponding yoga movements to facilitate the energy flow through my body and my consciousness.

That whole experience at the retreat was extremely powerful, healing and transformational. It reminds me of what one of my favorite mystics said:

Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi

With my spiritual study and practice over time, I have dismantled some of the barriers, especially those revolving around forgiveness of others and myself. The defensive need to be alone was a formidable barrier that came down last week. I’m excited about allowing myself to receive love more abundantly in all areas of my life—and letting receiving inspire a whole new level of giving, as per Dr. Holden!

Are You Willing to Receive?

I don’t know if you share my defensive need to be independent. Regardless, if you’re like most, receiving graciously doesn’t come naturally, but instead takes conscious willingness to be vulnerable. Being willing to receive is also a function of feeling worthy of receiving. Even though we were all born whole and complete, most of us ended up learning unworthiness—whether from emotional and/or physical abuse or some other difficult experiences that made us withdraw. This unworthiness became the rock on which internal barriers against love were inadvertently built, as depicted by Rumi.

If you indeed find yourself to be defensively independent, please know that this awareness is a great gift and a first step toward changing that. I strongly recommend that you read Shift Happens! At the minimum, give yourself the space and time to answer the questions he posed, which I listed above. Also, to pass on Dr. Holden’s gentle, loving advice, don’t answer the above questions on your own. Get together with a loved one or a group of like-minded others to be supported through it. I did, and I’m most grateful to my loving friends!

Here’s to our bidding farewell to dysfunctional independence and welcoming love of all forms!

Before you leave, please share your thoughts/feelings in the comment box below.


Photos of waterfall, labyrinth and statute: http://www.stillheart.org/index.php/facilities/the-grounds.

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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Rodolfo Rosales
Rodolfo Rosales

Thanks sharing your thoughts and experiences regarding giving and receiving Alice. I realized once again that the "No's" I experience or have experienced in my life have nothing to do with me . . . curiously the same applies to the "Yes's" :)


HI Alice! What a great post - as usual. This exact topic has just come to light for me in the past week. I love your comment about using your intellect to protect your heart. I have lived that very independent sort of life and am now just exhausted by it. Any time I had to ask for help I would think of myself as a failure. If someone offered something I thought was too much of themselves, I would usually say no or if I accepted would experience GUILT. As I told her on another post, I am doing a class with Mama Gena. As the weeks go on, I have realized that I have difficulty accepting the unconditional acceptance and support from my classmates. Of course I am allowing it, but it isn't so easy. If I am the giver, then it feels great - I think from a control standpoint. However, if I am the recipient, I almost feel as if I am wincing. Now that I am aware of this reaction, I can see how it has affected so much in my life. Earlier this week, a new friend from my workout place offered to do a professional trade with me. She does Theta healing and I would give a Feng Shui consult in return. Any other time I have done trades, I insist on going first and then never seem to get the reciprocation. This time I asked to be the recipient first. I did not really have a clear idea what Theta was. She gave me two full hours of her time and was completely present and invested in the session. This is someone I really do not know well, so having to be accepting of her giving and deciding to go full hog into being open was a huge challenge for me. Believe it or not, I still feel guilty about it! How crazy is that? So - once again your post reflects and provides exactly what I need at the exact moment. I wonder if it is some kind of energetic thing that is causing this to reach so many people at once??? What do you think? I am definitely going to check out your book suggestions. Thank you!

Kumar Gauraw
Kumar Gauraw

Consciously being willing to receive, to choose to be vulnerable definitely requires high self image and as you said, while we are mostly willing to help, we are skeptical when it comes to receiving gracefully and probably so because we are defensive. May be we have those walls built around our hearts and minds to protect our vulnerability. What an incredible information! I am going to pickup this book, "Shift Happens". I would love to read such an inspirational book. I loved especially this quote - Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi Thank you for sharing, Dr. Alice!

Deone Higgs
Deone Higgs

Hi Alice, This was truly a difficult lesson for me to fully grasp. My issues with receiving stemmed deep from my childhood (where most of my issues formulated :D ). Along with my issue with receiving, I had major hangups with asking for what I wanted and needed. I had gotten so used to being told "No" that I had completely stopped asking any form of questions to anyone. Now, that's not to say that I didn't ask questions, but when it really mattered and I found myself in a great need - I went without because I didn't want to experience the "pain" of rejection. So whenever someone would offer something to me, I thought they were being put out and I didn't want to live with myself knowing I was responsible for doing such a thing to anyone. However, I had to realize that was a part of my conditioned mindset. It's what my mind formed to protect me from the feelings I subconsciously asked it to protect me from. The mind is a powerful thing, isn't it. When we speak, even indirectly, it listens. Most people have no idea that they're, more often than not, telling their mind what they need it to fix for them. When we "awake" from our deep sleep, we truly are able to reprogram our self-talk. Ultimately, we begin taking back our life, and staying open to whatever life offers us - receiving freely. Awesome read, my friend. I'm so delighted to have connected with you. Thank you for sharing and sharpening this topic.

Ann-Michele Timmerman
Ann-Michele Timmerman

Excellent article! This is somewhat reminiscent of what we in Social Work call "self-differentiation," and can often have to do with the "avoidance" aspect in terms of interpersonal relationships. A concept developed by family and systemic therapist, Dr. Murray Bowen. Fascinating stuff. :) I am off to purchase this book you've spoken of in this article as I feel it would be a wonderful resource! Thank you so much for that and for your incredible ongoing insight and personal sharing!! ~ Ann-Michele.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you for adding your comments, Rodolfo. It's true, while we all mirror each other and our internal beliefs in our interactions, what others do in any given moment reflects their internal state, even if consideration of us factors into their decision to act one way or another. When someone says, "no" to us, they have their reasons, just like when they say "yes." Thanks again for sharing!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Carol! So appreciate your thoughtful share! Your story perfectly illustrates the discomfort so many of us have in receiving. Especially for women, though not exclusively, we were socialized since a very young age that we're supposed to suppress and yield our needs and wants, as if we didn't have rights to have them, and take care of others. After a lifetime of that, we don't know how to receive. We feel unworthy of receiving. It's like exercising muscles that we weren't aware of having. We get really sore, and it takes time and practice to build up muscle tone. Eventually, we build the strength from the repetition. In terms of your comment about the synchronicity of my posts, I'm grateful you keep pointing that out to me. On a few occasions, they came exactly at the right time when I was wondering if I was doing what I was supposed to do--including this post! Just like my book, every post that I write week in week out has been guided by my intuition. I open myself up to be a channel of Love and Grace, and allow myself to be guided toward what my readers could benefit from, along with the firsthand experience I'm open to feeling, processing and articulating as a guide. So, yes, there's a collective consciousness that unites us all, because we really are One. Those, like yourself, who are open to feeling and experiencing it for their own growth and transformation become a part of this evolving consciousness of One. With all that said, I'm deeply grateful for having you in this community, Carol! Many Blessings to you!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Kumar, you nailed it! It's completely because we want to protect our vulnerabilities that we're uncomfortable with receiving. What if we reached out for help and we got "no" for an answer? What if, by receiving from someone, we become ingratiated? These are the kinds of concerns our ego tells us to keep us isolated. When we realize that when someone can't help, it doesn't reflect on us, or when someone gives graciously, there are no strings attached, we're free to receive. In fact, it's loving to allow others to be able to give to us, as it brings them joy. Thanks again for sharing your remarks, Kumar, much appreciated!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Deone, so very honored that you took the time to share so deeply your own experience on this topic. Yes, most of our programming comes from our childhood, when we had such little capacity to make sense of why we were hurt and needed to cope and avoid further pain. When we're all grown up, we often don't know these outdated defensive strategies and tactics still operate until we shine a light on them and consciously replace them. I'm so with you on the mind working to protect our feelings. Up until several years ago, I wasn't aware of using my intellect to protect my heart. Once I had the awareness, I'd be able to recognize that whenever I get extra analytical, that's a sign that I feel emotionally vulnerable. While all this can be challenging to go through, it also makes me realize how rich, varied and amazing this human experience is and how much power we have to create whatever we want, as long as we never lose faith or connection to our soul. I, too, am grateful that social media connected us. You are a kindred spirit, Deone, and thank you again for sharing your authentic, heartfelt insights!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Ann-Michele! Dr. Robert Holden is a psychotherapist by training, who integrates a lot of spirituality into his work. Instead of just focusing on diagnosing problems and "fixing" them, he guides us through how to raise our consciousness to our true selves, or what he calls our "unconditioned self" - just a different label for higher self, soul, authentic self, etc., which I use interchangeably, as it all means the same thing. In any event, I think you will indeed find this book a great resource. Many Blessings, Alice


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