Tasks of Living: Sense of Self-Reliance

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by Nicholas E. Stratas

Following “Individuation”, the acquisition of the “sense” of self-reliance is important for a comfortable adult. While the “skills” of self-reliance are important, so is the notion about oneself that for myself and with others “I manage”.

This is an experience of self that develops over a period of time starting in early life and continuing through maturation. All of us are born “needy”. The human being is the most vulnerable species, unable to survive without some protection, attentiveness and nurturance. We continue to have needs throughout our life. Many we can and do meet ourselves while for some we are dependent on others. A person with many skills of self-reliance may have a poor sense of self-reliance while a person with fewer skills may have a strong sense of self-reliance.

The sense of self-reliance is not about being disconnected or not needing others. We always need others. We learn to create interdependent relationships for those needs. Research shows relationships with others as integral to those who are comfortable with themselves. To be comfortable we are self-reliant and interdependent.

The earliest phase of life is the “take care of me” stage. As newborns we are “dependent”. As we experience our parents as overprotective, hovering and/or over controlling, or as absent, inattentive or manipulative, we are left with a vulnerable sense of self-reliance. When we experience being taken care of adequately and timely, (for us), we evolve a strong sense of assurance. I say “when we experience” since development is a function of the child, in interaction with the parent and others.

Parenting may under or overshoot the mark. The same parenting tactics with different children in the same family produce different results. At all times parents do the best they can. The experience of the child in the world can significantly augment and/or modify genetic patterns. For example, studies show that with little mentoring children identified as “musical” can become quite proficient musically.

As we grow we move to the “independent exploratory” phase – “I explore how I take care of myself”. We look about, feel, smell, move away from our parents checking frequently to assure ourselves. With experienced affirmation, attentiveness, mirroring, our sense of self strengthens. Exploration is in order.

Continuing into adolescence the “independent assertive” phase. This may include rebellious, even aggressive behavior. We experience “not needing” our parents even while expressing our dependence, e.g. “Don’t tell me what time to be home, but I need your car.” Hopefully, we navigate this phase without stubbing our toes too badly or breaking more than our nose when we fall on our face. Declaration of independence, “I can take care of myself!” characterizes this phase. If we perceive rejection or thoughtlessness as the return behavior this may undermine our sense of self-reliance. We may be left with a lingering tentativeness, we may react with arrogance, a sense of entitlement, and even a pattern of acting out continuing into adulthood.

Independence, of course is an American myth. Older cultures are more comfortable with dependence and understand it is inherent in the human. The best we achieve is “self-reliance” and interdependence, managing our self and our dependence. The young person looks for the parent’s eyes and the look on their face. When the message “my daughter or son — you are a wonderful woman or man!” is received, the young person reflects and experiences the wonderful and empowering “sense of self, thus self-reliance”.

With experienced protectiveness, attentiveness, nurturance, and affirmation to be whom we are, be ourself, expressing ourself, we are likely to move forward with increasing self-confidence. In the process of being taken care of and our exploration of taking care of our self, we have “self-ideation”: thoughts about ourself. We develop a way to think about our self and a way to express our self. We develop an affirming internal conversation. Internal conversation, of course, will develop regardless, whether affirming or self-defeating. As we reflect on our thoughts, our words, our writings, our actions and our productions our self-image emerges. In turn this leads to self-expression, a sense of self and ultimately our sense of self-reliance. “I do take care of myself” – “I am ok” – the ultimate stage in maturity. Again here as with other articles in this sequence, females have an additional factor towards individuation and acquiring the sense of self-reliance since they know/experience from early they have childbearing capacity, carrying forward the intimate connectedness.

The sense of self-reliance is the knowledge of, and acceptance of the responsibility for doing for one’s self – understanding and meeting one’s own needs alone and in interaction with others; clarifying and knowing one’s thoughts, values and beliefs, while hearing those of others; sensing and appreciating one’s own feelings and so those of others; clarifying one’s own wants and goals and developing resources and strategies to meet them and being supportive of others. Protectiveness, attentiveness, nurturing, acceptance and mirroring are identified with and internalized by the growing young person and therefore available as an adult, for self and for others.

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