Photo by Irina Blok on Unsplash

I thought I knew what independence was.

Independence was living in your own house, buying your own food, deciding how to spend your day and dealing with the consequences.

You might call this ‘financial independence’ or ‘physical independence’. It’s a nestling taking its first leap into the world.

But independence is not only physical, it’s emotional. I might have freedom to act but do I have freedom to feel?

Emotional independence isn’t being independent from your emotions. It’s feeling emotions that are independent from the social pressures around you. It’s feeling sad at a funeral because you feel sad, not because it’s socially expected of you.

Emotional independence is the ability to observe and express your authentic self.

A Path to Independence

Developing emotional independence is one of the hardest things for humans to do. Our brains are hard-wired to survive in a 50,000 BC hunter-gatherer world, where social rejection meant certain death. Today, the ability to think different is a skill, not a flaw.

Tim Urban personifies the part of our brain that feasts on social approval as the Social Survival Mammoth, and writes about ways to tame it in his wonderful blog post.

Rather than try to become emotionally independent, I find it helpful to take a look at my emotional dependence. This can be explored with a few questions:

  • Who do I seek approval from?
  • In what situations do my emotions feel out of my control?
  • When do I feel like I need to be someone else, and when do I speak my mind?
  • What do I depend on to feel happy?

These are difficult questions to answer, but the simple act of asking them is the first step to challenging the authority of the Social Survival Mammoth, and discovering our independence.

Thanks for reading! You can find more of my writing here.