Skip to Navigation

Chaplain's Corner + Healthy Dependence

by Fr. George Morelli

An irrational belief: that is what cognitive clinical psychologists consider an attitude of desperate need to depend on others (Ellis, 1962). However, they distinguish between unhealthy dependence and psychologically and spiritually healthy dependence. The characteristic signs of unhealthy dependence are the high intensity of the emotional need, a sense of self worthlessness, and a lack of confidence and ensuing helplessness and hopelessness when not dependent on others. To discern between them in and for oneself, a good beginning would be a realistic assessment of one's strengths (talents) and weaknesses. It is important to know one's God-given strengths in the various domains of life, academic, cognitive, creative, social skill and sport. Then one can build on those gifts of strength, often by enhancing them with the aid of others who can guide because of their more advanced skills. If our weaknesses can be compensated for, then others may help us in this regard as well. Another way of looking at this is to say that we attain independence by recognizing our strengths and weaknesses while remaining open to guidance from others to attain even greater competence. Thus, we develop a healthy dependence. Many of those engaged in the most demanding professions, who demonstrate what we consider great personal acts of bravery and skill, may initially appear 'independent.' However, such individuals would be first to acknowledge their reliance on others around them. Frequently heard among those in the military and among emergency first-responders are: "I got your back," and "it was a team effort."

We can look to various spiritual traditions to discover a symbiosis between independence and dependence. A Buddhist spiritual writing contains these poetic verses: "My hut is roofed, comfortable, free of drafts; my mind, well-centered, set free. I remain ardent. So, rain-deva. Go ahead & rain." (Thag 1.1) A contemporary Buddhist scholar's interpretation of these poetries elucidates it. "The monk doesn't need anything from anyone. He is free and determined. He is ardent. Along with these traits, one might characterize him as independent. The very writing of this poem, however, implies dependence on the part of the monk. Without dependence, he could not have written, "So, rain-deva, Go ahead and rain." His mind's freeness depends on the comfortableness of his hut, which depends on the hut's roof."1 The mutual interaction between dependence and independence is also noted in a recent Hindu commentary. "When the mind is focused on the Lord, there are no insurmountable problems."2 In this matter we can think of the counsel of an anonymous writer: "Believe in yourself the way God believes in you."3

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, in the Book of Psalms, David, the king and warrior, says of God: "His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night. Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday devil. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee." (Ps 90 5-7). An Eastern Christian Church spiritual father, St. Nikiphoros the Monk, quite explicitly tells us of the crucial importance of having an enlightened guide in life "so that under his [her] instruction we may learn how to deal with the shortcomings and exaggerations [that beset us]" (Philokalia IV, 205)4 Thus we are able to live a life of 'healthy dependence.'

 


1 [http://sophia.smith.edu/blog/buddhistthought15/2015/02/22/dependence-and-attachment-in-buddhism/]

2 [http://www.thehindu.com/2004/03/31/stories/2004033100060800.htm]

3 [http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13850032.yel]

4 Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I IV. London: Faber and Faber.