Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant

Zen Habits

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I’m the first to admit that for many years, I have been a bit emotionally needy.

Not in a crazy, desperate way, but in the way that many of us are. I wanted someone else to make me happy, blamed others for my unhappiness, sought to fulfill my emotional needs through others.

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This caused all kinds of problems I didn’t even realize were there: I’d have relationship problems because if the other person wasn’t meeting my needs, I’d resent it. I’d be unhappy lots of the time, because I thought happiness was outside of me, and therefore it was unreliable and elusive. I was helpless, because if other people are supposed to make me happy and fulfill my needs, then what could I do if they didn’t? What could I do if they hurt me instead?

Only in the last few years have I been becoming more emotionally self-reliant. It’s made my relationships better, and has greatly increased my happiness.

I can’t claim to be an expert on this topic, but I can share some things I’ve been learning. It’s a very, very useful process, as those who are already emotionally independent can attest to.

Test Yourself

Are you emotionally dependent? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you looking for a romantic partner to make you happy?
  • If you have a partner, do you look to this person for love, for sex, for support, for reassurance, for validation?
  • Are you upset if your partner doesn’t react in a certain way, doesn’t meet a need?
  • When you’re alone, do you feel the need to fill the loneliness void with distraction? Are you always on your phone when you’re alone?
  • Do you complain a lot about other people? Get mad because of things they do?
  • Is your relationship the center of your universe? What about your relationship with friends or your kids?
  • Do you get bothered if your partner does something that doesn’t include you, or cuts out something that you’ve been doing together?
  • Do you get jealous?

This list isn’t comprehensive, of course, but some of you can probably see yourselves in a couple of those questions (or more), if you’re completely honest.

And that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I still have some of these issues myself, though I’m getting better at them. Most people have a few of these issues, though many wouldn’t admit it, because they worry it would make them look bad. No one likes to look bad, or to think of themselves as bad. But having any of these issues doesn’t make you bad — it’s just who you are right now.

However, while this isn’t an issue of being a “bad person”, I think the skills of emotional self-reliance are useful ones to learn. They can transform your relationships and happiness.

How We Got This Way

Usually this way of thinking starts in childhood. We rely on our parents for our emotional needs — love, comfort, support, validation, etc. And we don’t often develop emotional self-reliance skills as kids, because parents (out of love for us) do their best to provide for all these needs.

And then we become adults, without having learned emotional self-reliance. And so we look for someone else to fill our emotional needs. We look for the perfect partner, and will probably go through a few breakups, because 1) we’re not emotionally independent, and so we do needy things that hurt a relationship, and 2) our partner is probably the same way.

If we’re ever hurt, we blame the other person for hurting us. If they aren’t there for us, we blame them. If something bad happens to us, we become victims, because you can’t move on with your life if someone has done something bad to you, right?

However, there is a solution.

We have to learn this: Happiness is not outside ourselves.

Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant

We look for happiness from others, but this is an unreliable source of happiness. Other people will come and go, or they’ll be emotionally unavailable for their own personal reasons.

And here’s the thing: it’s not their job to fill our emotional needs. They are struggling trying to meet their own needs.

So instead of looking for happiness from someone else, we have to realize it’s not out there. It’s within us.

Happiness isn’t in the future, it’s not somewhere else. It’s available right inside us, right now, all the time.

How can we find this happiness? It takes some inner searching, but consider these suggestions:

  • Sit by yourself, without a device or distraction, for a few minutes. Look inside. Notice your thoughts as they come up. Get to know your mind. See how fascinating it is. This in itself is an endless source of entertainment and learning.
  • One of my sources of happiness is creating, coming up with ideas, producing something. I don’t need anyone to do those things, and they give me wonder at my own abilities.
  • I also love learning. It gives me happiness, helps me grow.
  • Curiosity is a boundless source of happiness for me.
  • Learn to fix your own problems. If you are bored, fix it. If you are lonely or hurt, comfort yourself. If you are jealous, don’t hope that someone will reassure you … reassure yourself.
  • Take responsibility. If you find yourself blaming others, tell yourself that the other person is never the problem. Of course, you can believe the other person is the problem, but then you are reliant on them for the solution. If you believe that they aren’t the problem, then you look inside yourself for the solution.
  • If you find yourself complaining, instead find a way to be grateful.
  • If you find yourself being needy, instead find a way to give.
  • If you find yourself wanting someone to help you, help yourself.

Create your own source of built-in happiness. Walk around as a whole, happy person, needing nothing.

Then come from this place of wholeness, of self-reliance and independence, and love others. Not because you want them to love you back, not because you want to be needed, but because loving them is an amazing thing to do.

 
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