In 2000 Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams all threw their hands up in the air in what would be a landmark vocal for female independence. ‘Independent Woman,’ went to the top of the Billboard Charts in the USA, but more importantly, it heralded the beginning of female empowerment in the genre of R'n'B music. Beyoncé would go on to be a global superstar and smash the market with statement independence songs like, ‘Single Ladies’, ‘If I Were A Boy’ and the chilling "Irreplaceable".
However, despite its brilliance, ‘independence R'n'B’ has struggled to define independence aside from the old motifs of financial independence, relationship independence and life unshackled from the burden of work.
Without a positive definition, we are in danger of becoming highly dependent to demonstrate our new found ‘independence’. For example, we become dependent upon success to fuel a wealthy and independent lifestyle or we become uncommitted in relationships because we are afraid of losing the independence we have on our own. I can see that songs titled; ‘Healthily Independent’ or ‘Individual but connected’ are unlikely to top the charts, but they could be a better goal to aim for.
If we are going to avoid replacing one form of faulty dependence for another we must define terms more clearly. On the negative side with ‘dependency’ there is something to work away from; in the psychological world this is known as ‘codependency’ whereby “One person’s help support (enables) the others underachievement, irresponsibility, immaturity, addiction, procrastination or poor mental or physical health.” (Dr Burn, Psychology Today)
Both individuals in a codependent relationship are overly needy, one to be needed and the other to receive help. Behind their roles within a relationship, the helper’s low self-esteem is fuelled by a sense of being useful, whilst the recipient’s low self-esteem is fuelled by being cared for. Codependency is an emotionally damaging behaviour that inhibits a person’s ability to develop healthy reciprocal relationships. Codependency is not the same thing as being taken for granted, having a lazy boyfriend or him failing to ‘put a ring on it’[ii].
There is a danger that the popularisation of the term ‘codependent’ has legitimised a cultural quest to live without relational responsibility. Whilst codependency is wholly negative, God did not intend for people to live independently from each other or Him.
If we follow that train of thought; all ‘intense’ relationships, honest criticism, accountability or sacrifice can become labelled as overbearing and unhealthy, when they may be the very thing we need most. St Paul describes our life’s purpose as a calling into dependent relationship;
“God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Christianity requires us to sacrifice our desire for independence from God for complete dependence upon God. What, then, should we be looking for when it comes to garnering the right balance between independence and dependence? Safe to say it has much more to do with who we are than what we do. Healthy relationships are often termed Interdependent, expressing a balance between relational offering and relational receiving.
Christian author Joni Ericson Tada was 17 when she was left a quadriplegic after a diving accident. She says,
‘I have an interesting perspective on depending on others. I think it gives people a chance to serve. And I'm not so much big on independence, as I am on interdependence. I'm not talking about co-dependency, I'm talking about giving people the opportunity to practice love with its sleeves rolled up.’
Interdependence acknowledges that we have both gifts and needs: That others can be both the recipients of our blessings and a blessing to us. It is expressed best in Jesus instruction from John 13:34,
‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ (John 13:34)
The love that Jesus offers is not narcissistic, (self-orientated) it is generous and self-giving. If codependency and independence are two extremes of scale, interdependence is the centre-point at which we are neither ‘needing to be needed’ nor ‘not needing at all.’
In practice, relationships are complex and a balance needs to be worked, but all of life’s most rich and rewarding relationships are born out of this struggle. We will also need to review and redress our emotional boundaries as we get older and our relationships change. The greatest source of constancy in these fluctuations is undoubtedly an identity rooted in the unfaltering love of God.
The best you can do is to:
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” - Brennan Manning
Will Van Der Hart is Pastoral Chaplain at Holy Trinity Brompton and a director of The Mind and Soul Foundation a think-tank dedicated to emotional health and Christian spirituality. Alongside his colleague Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Rob Waller, Will has written The The Perfectionism Book: Walking the Path to Freedom, The Guilt Book, The Worry Book 'The Mind and Soul Course', The Stuff of Life. Find out more at www.mindandsoul.info.