I have been reflecting about Independence Day ever since this past July 4. Besides commemorating America’s independence from England, for Joyce and me it is also a celebration of independence in general, our personal freedom. Our personal independence allows us to choose our lives, live them however we want, decide who we marry, what kind of work we do, if we want to have children, and the religion or spiritual path we follow. Independence gives us freedom of choice.
In all this celebration of independence, however, we can easily forget an equally important thing … dependence. Dependence is rarely celebrated. Instead, it is too often seen as something negative, an unfortunate condition of the weak. The obvious dependence of babies and children, the clear way they need their parents, is usually seen as a temporary state. Children will grow up and become independent, and often this process is hurried by the parents. Many children receive the message that dependence equals weakness. They feel the pressure to grow up and become independent.
I remember feeling this pressure and the sadness of saying goodbye to my childhood. I also remember needing to armor myself against the lack of safety and my sensitivity. I remember riding home after school one day on the school bus. The boy sitting behind me didn’t like me and was picking a fight with me. I was a timid, introverted thirteen-year-old. In that moment, I literally hid away that sensitive child and put on the disguise of a tough fighter. The bus stopped. I got out, followed by the instigator and his friends, who circled around to watch me get beaten up. I adopted a fighting stance with my fists up, like I’d seen in the movies. I must have looked formidable enough, because it kept him away. However, that and a number of other moments like it, also sealed off the child part of me. It has taken years for me to reclaim my inner child.
Sometimes I have gotten a little carried away in the celebration of my need and dependence. Once, a number of years ago, Joyce and I were invited to lead one day of a longer training program. We were brought in as the “relationship experts.” For some reason, I especially addressed the importance of need and dependence in our relationships. Perhaps I sensed the resistance in the room, so I became quite vulnerable about my pain and struggle to find my inner child and his deep need for love and nurturing. Finally, someone spoke, “Barry and Joyce, it seems you both are unaware of what we have been learning these past days. We have focused on standing in our full power, rather than the need and dependence of our inner child. Now I see that we can’t be powerful until we embrace our dependence. Thank you.”
In another workshop, I spoke passionately about my need for Joyce’s love. During a break, a woman approached Joyce and said, “How can you stand it? Barry is so needy!” Rather than answer her, Joyce told her to wait, then ran to find me. She said, “Barry, there’s a woman who thinks you’re too needy.” It brought such a smile to my face. I rushed up to the woman Joyce had pointed out and said, “Really! You think I’m too needy. Thank you so much. That means so much to me.”
When the group reconvened, I could hardly contain myself. I shared with everyone what had happened and how happy it made me. Someone really saw the depth of my need and dependence. No matter that it turned her off. It was so refreshing to not hide my dependence from myself and others. It took so much energy to push away my dependence.
Our real independence is our acceptance of our dependence. As long as we hide or ignore our inner child who needs love, we are not free. When I finally realized how much I need Joyce, I felt free at last.
Remember the difference between “need” and “neediness.” Many people, like the woman in our workshop, don’t realize they are two different things. “Neediness” expects someone else to give you what you need. It is other-directed and, unless perhaps you are a small child or infant, usually a turn-off. “Need” is inner-directed. It expects nothing from anyone else.
In my early years of awakening to my need, I would sometimes call Joyce from my job in the middle of the day and announce, “Joyce, I’m feeling my need for your love.” Joyce knew I did not expect anything from her. It was simply a celebration of my dependence. She would smile and thank me, and feel my cherishing of her.
Our highest dependence is on God. It is our independence that often keeps us separate from the highest power in the universe. When we feel our complete dependence upon divine love, we feel like a child being held by the most perfect parents.
One of my favorite stories is about the disciple who approached his teacher and urgently said, “I must know God. Please help me, Master.” The teacher brought his disciple down to the river and proceeded to hold the disciple’s head under water. At first the disciple thought, “How great, he is baptizing me so I can be born anew.” After a minute or so, and he was running out of air, the disciple had a new thought, “Why is my master drowning me?” When he finally saw the bubbles and understood his disciple was out of air, the teacher lifted the student’s head out of the water and spoke, “When your need for God is just as great as your need for air, then you will know God.”
I hereby nominate a new international holiday: Dependence Day. We could celebrate Dependence Day by reflecting upon and expressing our need for one another, our interdependence, as well as our need for the divine. We could rejoice in the dependence of our inner child, and thus really feel loved.
*subtitles by InnerSelf
Book co-authored by Barry Vissell:
The Shared Heart Relationship: Relationship Initiations and Celebrations
by Joyce & Barry Vissell.
This book is for those of us who are learning the beauty and power of the monogamous or committed relationship. For the deeper we go with one other person, the more we learn about ourselves. In addition, the less we hide in ourselves, the more our heart is available to others, and the deeper our capacity for joy.
For more info and/or to order this book.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA. They are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift. Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Oct 10-16, 2018—Assisi Retreat, Italy; Feb 10-17, 2019 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island; and Jul 21-26, 2019—Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon. For further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org.
To Really Love a Woman
by Barry and Joyce Vissell.
How does a woman really need to be loved? How can her partner help to bring out her deepest passion, her sensuality, her creativity, her dreams, her joy, and at the same time allow her to feel safe, accepted and appreciated? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.
To Really Love a Man
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.
How does a man really need to be loved? How can his partner help to bring out his sensitivity, his emotions, his strength, his fire, and at the same time allow him to feel respected, secure, and acknowledged? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.