A few months ago, I decided to end my financial dependence on my mother.
I had eighty-four cents in my bank account, nowhere to live, and the only income I had was from a part-time job and a few freelance projects. Although the timing may have been somewhat dramatic, there was a sense of urgency in my decision. I was desperate to break out of the cycle of leaving home again and again, with my tail between my legs and no money to come back and speak of.
Every time I come home, my mom offers to pay my bills, and even though we secretly resent each other, I accept. I realized I wasn’t living up to my greatest potential because I didn’t want to. I never stuck to anything for long because I knew my mother would always be there to bail me out if I failed. I can quit when things get too difficult, boring, or routine.
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I quit. Not only did I take advantage of her, but I also sabotaged my own growth and personal development.
Establishing my financial independence from my mother meant no longer accepting her offers of support. It also meant diligently pursuing my writing career to generate additional income. I walked three miles to or from work to save money on gas and transit passes. I slept on a terribly uncomfortable futon in someone else’s living room. Sometimes I didn’t eat for days until the next paycheck.
It was such a humbling experience and a lesson I will not repeat. But, I’ve learned a lot about who I am and what I’m truly capable of by challenging myself to be independent.
The relationship between a child and a parent is just one of many relationships where one or both may need to develop independence. Other examples include relationships between romantic partners and friendships.
While every relationship has its own complexities, what I’ve learned is that there are three general steps on this road to independence: expressing, breaking up, and reconnecting.
The first step in the process is to declare your independence. Think of the expression stage as cutting the emotional umbilical cord. In this stage, you share your intention to become independent with the other person.
This statement can be met with confusion, anger, sadness, and various other reactions and emotions. Here are some things to keep in mind when declaring your independence:
- Communicate your message confidently and firmly.
- Keep your message short and to the point.
- Use “I” statements to communicate that your decision is about you, not theirs.
- Don’t feel the need to justify or apologize for your decision.
- Release the need to take responsibility for the other person’s response.
- The actual content of the message may be relatively simple. Consider this example.
“I’m making some positive changes in my life even though I can’t do it easily. I am trying to take more responsibility for myself and my life. I want to be more independent and find who I am. I depend on you for (insert specific information) and I need to move away from depending on you and into myself more fully. My decision is not a reflection of yours. It is a statement about me and where I am in my life. That’s why I will lose contact with you for a while.”
They may ask you for a specific time frame; Simply state that you will take as much time as you need to develop your independence and discover who you are.
Separation means creating a clear boundary between you and the other person. This can be done by separating physically, sexually, financially or emotionally – depending on the nature of the relationship.
If physical separation is not possible, limit the time you spend talking or interacting with this person. Focus on defining healthy emotional boundaries and living by them.
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Ultimately, the purpose of detachment is to allow you to see more clearly and discover what you need for your well-being. In the space created by separation, you allow your inner self to speak. Obstacles created by the other person’s needs, ideas, thoughts, and feelings begin to fall away. You can finally distinguish what is true, true and honest.
You become aware of needs that were once fulfilled because of your dependence on the other person and find ways to meet those needs yourself. Maybe you depend on the other person to encourage you, to comfort you, to distract you from your problems, or to make you feel loved.
What do you do when this other person no longer plays that role in your life?
You learn to take responsibility for motivating, calming and loving yourself. You can also start solving problems that you once avoided and ignored. Detachment allows you to truly experience your independence and reclaim power over your choices, behaviors, beliefs, and the emotional footprint you create and leave behind.
Paradoxically, the more responsibility you take, the more freedom you have – to be yourself and live your life purposefully.
“How long should I be apart?” You might be asking.
This depends on the circumstances and nature of the relationship between you and the other person. However, it should be long enough for you to independently identify and understand your needs, ideas, thoughts, and motivations. For some, this may take days, weeks, years, or even decades. Others may decide during a breakup that getting back together is not a healthy decision, no matter how long it takes.
A simple test is this; Tune in for yourself. What feelings come up when you think about or interact with this person? If they are still predominantly negative or confusing, you may not be ready to reconnect.
If you can’t deal with the other person without losing, evaluate whether this person deserves a place in your life.
Reconnect when you’re ready
The final stage is reconnection. This phase involves making new agreements and renegotiating roles within the relationship. Both of these roles must be clearly stated and agreed upon.
This process requires you to be completely authentic and act with integrity. If something isn’t working for you and you accept it anyway, you’re being dishonest with yourself and the other person. This often leads to confusion and anger.