It is common today for people to walk around thinking that all we need to succeed and be happy and healthy, is to believe in ourselves and love ourself. Although those are important elements, what I have learned and reflected on in the year that I’ve spent in a lonely job, in a city where I know no one, is that: you can love yourself and take care of yourself all you want, but you can’t do everything yourself. And even if you can, you need people by your side to cheer you on and remind you of who you are, when you forget.
I do think that the western culture spends a lot of time and effort emphasising that you are all that matters, and I think as a result, we have started to believe some false truths about independence, and lost touch of the importance of communities and have stopped learning how to be interdependent (or maybe I should just speak for myself here, but then again, I see this in others too – leave a comment if this is something you can relate to, I am sincerely interested).
Anyone who knows me well, has probably heard me talk about the differences between Individualistic Cultures and Collective Cultures. The reason they are of such interest to me, is because my family is from Egypt (a highly collective culture) and I am raised in Denmark (a highly individualistic culture) and have been navigating between the two (and other opposing dimensions of the two cultures) my entire life.
This table shows the comparison of the six cultural dimensions between Egypt and Denmark, according to Geert Hofstede. I have highlighted the “Individualism” dimension.
There are pros and cons to both, and I think the bliss point lays somewhere in the middle of the spectrum (as it does with most things). But I am writing this section, to share some things we can learn from the collective cultures and interdependence, and debunk some false truths about individualism and independence that enhance the development of barriers ares. Below, I outline what I think they are, what we can learn from collective cultures, and how we should do for better health and happiness;
- False Truth: You have to be super independent in order to be your healthiest and most successful.
Alternative Truth: Being independent is vital for existence, but maybe not so vital for survival. Yes- it is good to make sure that all your life admin stuff are in order and you can take care of your bills, chores, etc all yourself, but life is more than that. When you are having a bad day, knowing you paid all your bills on time or you achieved that one thing on your own, isn’t what you need to turn your day around. On a bad day, you need to reach out to someone, and better yet, you should make relationships an essential part of your everyday (being relationship centric) to reduce the number of bad days you have.
- False Truth: On your journey to greatness, no one else matters.
Alternative Truth: Today, we live in a very individual centric world, where many people think that to get to where they want to go, they cannot let anyone get in the way. I do think this is a good trait to have to an extent no one should get in the way of achieving what you wan. I think the problem arises when it becomes an extreme, in the sense that narrative consumes a person’s life to the point that they are unwilling or unable to help others. We become unable to sacrifice something for ourselves for the greater good. Having said that, you should respect yourself enough to know where that boundary is without being disrespectful to the person asking for your help. Sometimes it is ok to sacrifice a little time, or do something you don’t want to do if it is going help someone else. I think there is merit in being able to give graciously, generously, and selflessly for the greater good of the community. It also helps you think less of yourself in two senses; you get out of your own head and learn to empathise more and you become more humble within yourself.
- False Truth: If you reach out to someone for help, you are weak or incapable.
Alternative Truth: This is maybe my most crippling quality, I am unable to ask others for help. It has been brought up to me by my friends and managers, and I know can be bad sometimes! But I want to believe that I can do it all myself aannddd, the most toxic part is that I truly believe I am being a burden on them, especially if I know they have other things going on, I see myself as one more nuisance for them to deal with (I am working on this). Anyway, enough about me. What I would like to offer here is, is that there is actually a strength is asking for help when you need it. It is recognising that you are not good at something, and that shows self-awareness, willingness to grow, and an ability to be vulnerable. I also see others who need help, but don’t ask for it because they don’t want to be seen an incapable or weak, and it is in those moments where they will also overcompensate in some way, for instance, by over explaining the entire situation so you know they have everything under control and they have the answers, or putting you down to make themselves feel like they are doing better than you. Those two things (and I’m sure there’s more) show more weakness, than simply just saying “It is tough, I don’t know what to do, I need help!”
- False Truth: If you are not independent, you are not as valuable.
Alternative Truth: This might sound very similar to the previous one, but this one is more focused on the stigma and shame behind being perceived as dependent or less independent. I think part of the reason why people do not like to ask for help or reach out, is because there is a stigma behind doing so. I am happy that it is Mental Health Awareness Week this week, as that is at least one step in the right direction towards removing this stigma! When we talk about romantic relationships and refer to a couple as being “co-dependent” we say it with such disdain on our face. A high level of co-dependency can be unhealthy and toxic, and I think many people want to be able to do everything on their own and not rely on anyone else to do anything for them. My idea of being in a relationship is to be with someone who complements me, and I, them, and we each bring out the best in one another. Is that wrong? Does it make me less valuable of a person that I am not good at managing my finances and think that it would benefit me to be with someone is who good at managing finances? Does it take away from everything else I have to offer? It is healthy to be able to recognise what you are not good at, even if you have tried to learn and failed, you should be able to say it and ask for help without there being a stigma around it. I think the reason I came up with the co-dependent relationship example is because I had a long talk yesterday with a new friend about relationships, so I am going to keep it there because it is still relevant in my head, but the stigma manifests itself in several other ways too. For instance, the idea that if you don’t love yourself, others won’t love you! Which is just utter malarkey!! That is saying to someone “because you don’t feel good about yourself, or you’re just not in a good place, than you are not worthy of other people’s love”, excuse my french, but what horse shit! People who really love you, love you flaws and all, and will be there by the side lines to cheer you on! And of course you are worthy of love when you’re down, that is probably when you will need it the most! So reach out and make those connections!
- False Truth: When you succeed individually, you are more impressive than if you succeed collectively.
Alternative Truth: Everyone has the ability to achieve what they set their mind to and do a great job. But doing it with other people has its benefits too. For instance, dividing the workload, having support, and sharing perspectives to develop ideas among many others. Studies have shown that the best outcomes in a work environment are of diverse groups, mainly because everyone has a unique perspective to share and represent different groups and communities of people, that otherwise would not have been represented. It may take longer to reach the outcome because of the lengthy discussions and disagreements that will arise, but the result is often better than someone working alone or a group of like-minded people (Simons&Rowland, 2011, Herring, 2008). What we can learn from this is, if you look at the people you have in your life, I am sure you will find that each one has something that you don’t have and that you can learn from to enhance your perspective on a situation in your life. Reach out to them and learn more!
- False Truth: You are independent, you don’t need others.
Alternative Truth: This is again a narrative I hear a lot through media: “I don’t need a man, I got my friends” or “I don’t need friends, I got a good career and healthy family”. Rely on yourself, you don’t need anyone else but you. I say, you do need other people, you need to make your world relationship centric, instead of individual centric. Even in what you do on a daily basis, you should be considering others in most things you do. But back to the idea of not “needing” someone, Of course you do! You need all types of relationships as they all contribute to something in your life. Romantic relationships fulfil needs that platonic relationships don’t and vice versa. We need all types of people and relationships in order to make ourselves whole. We also need to give to other people (whatever you have to offer) so make ourselves feel happy.
How have you dealt with loneliness? Do you have any barriers that keep you from reaching out?