zen habits : breathe

Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant

By Leo Babauta

I’m the first to admit that for many years, I was a bit emotionally needy.

Not in a crazy, desperate way, but in the way that many of us are. I wanted someone else to make me happy, blamed others for my unhappiness, sought to fulfill my emotional needs through others.

This caused all kinds of problems I didn’t even realize were there: I’d have relationship problems because if the other person wasn’t meeting my needs, I’d resent it. I’d be unhappy lots of the time, because I thought happiness was outside of me, and therefore it was unreliable and elusive. I was helpless, because if other people are supposed to make me happy and fulfill my needs, then what could I do if they didn’t? What could I do if they hurt me instead?

Only in the last few years have I been becoming more emotionally self-reliant. It’s made my relationships better, and has greatly increased my happiness.

I can’t claim to be an expert on this topic, but I can share some things I’ve been learning. It’s a very, very useful process, as those who are already emotionally independent can attest to.

Test Yourself

Are you emotionally dependent? Ask yourself these questions:

This list isn’t comprehensive, of course, but some of you can probably see yourselves in a couple of those questions (or more), if you’re completely honest.

And that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I still have some of these issues myself, though I’m getting better at them. Most people have a few of these issues, though many wouldn’t admit it, because they worry it would make them look bad. No one likes to look bad, or to think of themselves as bad. But having any of these issues doesn’t make you bad — it’s just who you are right now.

However, while this isn’t an issue of being a “bad person”, I think the skills of emotional self-reliance are useful ones to learn. They can transform your relationships and happiness.

How We Got This Way

Usually this way of thinking starts in childhood. We rely on our parents for our emotional needs — love, comfort, support, validation, etc. And we don’t often develop emotional self-reliance skills as kids, because parents (out of love for us) do their best to provide for all these needs.

And then we become adults, without having learned emotional self-reliance. And so we look for someone else to fill our emotional needs. We look for the perfect partner, and will probably go through a few breakups, because 1) we’re not emotionally independent, and so we do needy things that hurt a relationship, and 2) our partner is probably the same way.

If we’re ever hurt, we blame the other person for hurting us. If they aren’t there for us, we blame them. If something bad happens to us, we become victims, because you can’t move on with your life if someone has done something bad to you, right?

However, there is a solution.

We have to learn this: Happiness is not outside ourselves.

Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant

We look for happiness from others, but this is an unreliable source of happiness. Other people will come and go, or they’ll be emotionally unavailable for their own personal reasons.

And here’s the thing: it’s not their job to fill our emotional needs. They are struggling trying to meet their own needs.

So instead of looking for happiness from someone else, we have to realize it’s not out there. It’s within us.

Happiness isn’t in the future, it’s not somewhere else. It’s available right inside us, right now, all the time.

How can we find this happiness? It takes some inner searching, but consider these suggestions:

Create your own source of built-in happiness. Walk around as a whole, happy person, needing nothing.

Then come from this place of wholeness, of self-reliance and independence, and love others. Not because you want them to love you back, not because you want to be needed, but because loving them is an amazing thing to do.



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