“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~ Nelson Mandela
I’ve never been a huge fan of 4th of July celebrations.
They always seemed like an excuse to drink too much and play with explosives, which, as the daughter of a retired fire chief, always made me nervous and uneasy even as everyone around me was having fun.
So while I appreciate the moment we all take as a nation to stop and be grateful for the freedoms our country affords us, I’ve always had a greater appreciation for Independence Day from a more personal perspective. I’ve taken quiet moments on this day each year to commit privately to creating more of the freedom and independence in my own life that I’ve always wanted — and needed — which was always more than most people I know needed.
I’m not sure when the overwhelming need for independence began. It’s funny, because it’s something that my kickass therapist and I have been working on to get to its roots. I jokingly (but not at all jokingly) throw around my own personal motto, “You’re not the boss of me,” more than most people in my life probably care to hear. But the more I say it, the more I realize how deeply ingrained it is in my being.
I was always a pretty independent person…even as a child. I would spend hours in my room reading and didn’t have — or need — too many friends. Just a few close, trusted ones. I remember family coming to visit and always being worried about how much time I spent alone. An inordinate amount to them, apparently. But to me, it felt normal.
I was not sad or lonely — I mean, aside from the lifelong existential loneliness I’ve always felt. And that simply stemmed from feeling like there weren’t many people in the world who understood me, my deep-feeling heart, or my soul that seemed to speak a different language than anyone around me. I just enjoyed my own company and liked being alone.
I was so independent as a kid that I even asked my parents if I could go to boarding school for high school. I remember feeling very strongly that I was just ready to be on my own and create who I wanted to be — even at the tender age of 14. Everything in my soul told me that that was the path for me, and I trusted my intuition and followed what it said.
And that need for freedom and independence has never left me. If anything, it’s only gotten stronger over the years — especially since my divorce.
As a Libra, I just want everyone to be happy and I’m all about compromise. But after sharing decision-making duties with someone else for 25 years, it’s profoundly liberating to make All The Decisions on my own. When I was furnishing my apartment, I considered getting a turquoise or a purple couch — just because I could. In fact, I might go so far as to say that there’s not a single item in my apartment right now that my ex-husband would have agreed to.
Much like the car I recently bought. It’s one that I have always admired — not that I’ve ever cared much about cars. But this one was one that I’m not sure I would have bought if I was still married. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have. It’s too…what? Fancy? Expensive? I don’t know. I just know it wouldn’t have happened had I needed the agreement of my ex. How fun it was to drive it off the lot knowing that it was exactly what I wanted and that I didn’t have to compromise.
But sometimes my need for freedom and independence can hurt those around me.
When I bought that car, a dear, sweet soul I know who has a passion for cars got excited about the prospect of me looking for a new car and couldn’t wait to dive in and help me. He has a wealth of knowledge in that area and was ready to put all that expertise to work for me — just so he could help me find the exact right car, for the exact right price. But I got my freedom feathers ruffled and told him this was something I needed to do by myself.
So in my stubborn, I-am-perfectly-capable-of-doing-this-on-my-own way, I made him feel marginalized — when all he wanted to do was help. Ugh.
A similar thing happened when I began the process of buying a townhouse for me and my kids recently. My parents, who have always been so supportive and generous and helpful, offered to give me some advice — and my freedom feathers got ruffled again. I absolutely appreciate people wanting to help me — but there’s another side of me that is determined to be completely independent and do things on my own now.
Like I said, my therapist and I are working on it. I’m guessing it’s going to take some time to unpack it all and process it.
And now, I find myself in the position of being able to make sure someone I care deeply about feels the same freedom and independence that my own soul needs so desperately. Another soul who is just as wild and free in his heart and in his spirit. And whose wings I only ever want to preen — never clip. Ever.
As someone whose world has revolved around those words, “You’re not the boss of me,” I would never in a million years want to be responsible for making someone else feel less than completely free.
So how do we make sure the people we love feel supported and cared for — but not put back into a box they just broke out of?
How do we make sure that our loved ones are getting everything they need out of our connection, but nothing else that makes them feel like less than the perfectly divine souls that they are?
“What would love do now? No other question is relevant, no other question is meaningful, no other question has any importance to your soul.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch
My therapist and I came to a pretty solid conclusion to this question for me, that I hope will help me navigate this with all the people I care about in my life. And it goes back to a few months ago, when I was having a horribly difficult day trying to help one of my kids manage a very tricky and overwhelming situation with one of their friends.
I didn’t know what to do and my ex-husband was looking to me for answers — even though he knows I never have any. But God bless him for continuing to believe in me to actually have them.
That particular day, when I was at a complete and total loss about what to do to help my kiddo, a wise and loving soul I know asked me very calmly, “I know I’m not the boss of you, but can I please offer you some advice and tell you what to do right now to help your kiddo?”
And I shit you not, in that moment…I felt my soul exhale and realize that that was all I needed to hear.
He didn’t try and take over. He didn’t make me feel incapable of handling the situation on my own. He simply asked if he could help.
He. Simply. Asked.
On that day, I felt more seen and heard and understood than I had in a lifetime. This person…this extraordinary soul…got me. He knew what I needed, asked me if he could help, and told me the exact steps to take in order to help my kiddo. (And his advice was spot-on, by the way…and worked like a charm.)
So perhaps the answer to my question about how to support those we love…is to simply ask.
How can I support you as you’re going through such a tough time with your family, my sweet soul sister?
How can I be here for you as you navigate all the emotions this pandemic is causing in your daily life, lovely friend?
And beautiful stranger, how can I help you feel the blissful freedom you want to feel — you deserve to feel — and help you put your own soul first for the first time in decades?
I am working on asking myself questions like these, too.
Asking my higher self how I can take care of my heart without guarding it — and how I can put my own needs first, even while helping and taking care of so many other loves around me.
And the answer for me is all about keeping my heart open and surrendering to whatever life wants to offer me.
Because I have all the freedom and independence I need now.
And…I still don’t want anyone to be the boss of me. I got that covered.
“You don’t need someone to protect you. But you got me. And I get you. And you get me. And I got you.” ~ Noah Reid
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer.